Talk that counts: Age, gender, and social class differences in discourse. By Ronald K. S. Macaulay.
Reviewed by Charlotte Brammer,
In Talk that counts: Age, gender, and social class differences in discourse, Ronald K. S. Macaulay applies quantitative analysis ‘to determine to what extent variation in the use of certain linguistic features correlates with extralinguistic categories, in this case, age, gender, and social class’ (8). He situates this text with other variation studies (notably Labov 1966, Wolfram 1969, Fasold 1972, Trudgill 1974, Milroy 1980, Coates 1996, Eckert 2000) and claims a continued interest in ‘the distribution and effects of stable differences … similar to those expressed in Bernstein’s early work (e.g., Bernstein 1962)’ (5).
To explore linguistic variation in terms of age, gender, and social class, M works with two groups of data: (i)
In terms of social class, M identifies differences in frequency of use and variation of application, and reveals as well similarities in the use of specific discourse features. For example, he found that middle-class speakers use passive voice more frequently than working-class speakers do (p < 0.05) and that working-class speakers use dislocated syntax (e.g. she was a very quiet woman my mother) more frequently than middle-class speakers do (p < 0.001) (Ch. 8). In terms of modifiers, M found that middle-class speakers use evaluative adjectives more frequently than do working-class speakers (p < 0.004) (
Gender, particularly when linked to social class, may yield the more interesting findings. Age is also an important aspect of his findings. In the Glasgow data, for example, M found that females, especially middle-class women and girls, use you know substantially more often than do males, and that middle-class females are more likely to use you know for emphasis or elaboration, reserving I mean for explanations. In Ch. 7, M proposes that ‘the use of these discourse lubricants is a distinctive part of the discourse style used by middle-class women and that their daughters are learning to follow their example’ (86). Two important discoveries include the females’ more frequent use of coordinate clauses and because clauses (p < 0.05). M found neither modals nor modifiers particularly promising as identifying either gender- or age-specific discourse features. Pronouns are more frequently used by females than males, and M points out that this is consistent with other research, noting that ‘in their use of articles and pronouns the males show themselves to be less interested in people than are the females’ (Ch. 11, 138).
In addition to the highly accessible and engaging discussion, the text’s rich context and extensive bibliography (some thirteen pages) make it an important resource for future studies in discourse and variation analysis.