"Rethinking gender as the source of conversational variation among Tunisian Men and Women".
1) General overview:
The major goal of my study is to review the persisting pre-occupation of the research on language and gender with difference. Rethinking difference will essentially rest on a revising of the idea that gender is the sole source of conversational variation between women and men. According to this view, women and men are attributed exclusive conversational features. Therefore, this study would put into question the assumptions that men interrupt more than women, men are lecturers and women are listeners, women tend to use more back-channel signals than men, women use more hedges than men. The research will also reconsider the assumption that women and men have different conversational goals since female speakers aim at maintaining the conversation while males' goals are more competitive than cooperative. Thus, this work will be an attempt toÂ "deconstruct" the binary opposition set by researchers on language and gender. It is then more oriented towards gender similarities in the use of conversational features. By analyzing women and men's conversation in the workplace, this study attempts to prove that as long as women occupy the same position they would use the same conversational features in a balanced way. Any difference will only be noticed in case women and men are of different status. Consequently, the analysis will be centered on several types of conversations: mixed-sex conversations (men and women of the same status, men and women of different status) single-sex conversations (men and women of different status).
The choice to investigate gender similarities in the use of conversational features is driven by several reasons. First, a large proportion of the works on language and gender have concentrated on difference paying little attention to similarities. Since 1960's, Trudgill, Labov, Romaine have emphasized the distinction between women's and men's talk. They have asserted that women are closer to standard forms than men at the phonological, morphological and syntactic level. Feminist linguists too have consolidated the idea of sex differences in language. Lakoff and Spender have usually viewed women's language as powerless. According to them, difference is essentially linked to women's subordinate position. Feminist linguists have also looked at differences from another perspective. In addition to their focus on the difference in the way women and men use language, they have brought to the fore the difference in the way language treats women and men. For them, sexism is an inherent feature that characterizes language and therefore duplicates women's subordination and male dominance. Another reason for investigating similarities is that differences in the use of language have been used to serve political ends. Feminist linguists have been so obsessed with difference either to empower women by proving that women have a distinct and authentic language or to emphasize gender inequality manifested in language. Finally, it is not always valuable to draw a distinction between women and men's language and to link exclusive conversational features to women and others to men. Women's and men's conversational styles are relative, they don't depend solely on their gender and there are factors other than gender like status, age, settingâ€¦which affect the selection of certain conversational features.
3) Research questions:
a) * Do women and men having the same position show similar use of conversational features?
* Is turn-taking smoothly organized between women and men?
* Do men interrupt more than women?
* Do women use more back-channel signals than men?
* Do women use more hedging terms than men?
* Do women use more polite terms than men?
* Do women and men use these features to achieve different conversational goals?
b)* Do women and men having different status differ in the use of these conversational features?
c)* Does these conversational patterns persist in the talk of same sex-participants having the same status?
1) Women and men having the same status would use the conversational featuresÂ with equal frequency.
2) Differences in the use of conversational featuresÂ between women and men having different status are due to status and not to gender.
3) Same-sex participants who have different status would differ in the use of conversational features.
The main data collection tool which is going to be adopted in this study is conversation- recording. Working on conversation would provide the researcher with a more accurate and reliable data about women's and men's spontaneous talk. Conversation analysis would offer a deep inquiry into details that a questionnaire or an interview cannot give access to. Actually, interlocutors can answer a questionnaire or an interview on the content of their conversation like the issues they raised or the topics they discussed. It would be very difficult for them however to answer a questionnaire about how conversation went on, that is the frequency of interruptions or of back-channel signals.
The study will be mainly centered on three types of conversations. The first type of conversation would take place between women and men having the same status. Its analysis would be an attempt to test the hypothesis that as long as the participants have the same status; they won't differ in the use of conversational features. If women and men are found to use conversational features with equal frequency, then, it can be concluded that their status determines the use of these features. If participants however are found to differ in the use of conversational features, then, it can be deduced that the use of these features is shaped by gender. The second type of conversation would take place between women and men having different status. The analysis of this conversation would reveal whether the difference in the use of conversational featuresÂ would be due to gender or to status. If the conversational featuresÂ usually associated with women like the overuse of politeness terms or of back-channel signals would be noticed in the talk of female participants who are in a position of power and the conversational featuresÂ usually associated with men like interruption would be found in the talk of male participants who are in a subordinate position. Then, it can be concluded that assumptions put forward by researchers (Fishman, Tannen, Lakoff) about gender differences would be valid. However, if conversational featuresÂ associated with women would be found in the talk of participants in a subordinate position while features associated with men would be noticed in the talk of participants in a position of power. Then, it can be proved that the difference in the use of conversational featuresÂ is stimulated by status. The third type of conversation would take place between same-sex participants having different status. If participants are found to differ in the use of conversational features, then, it can be affirmed that status is more influential than gender in determining the use of these features. If participants would use the conversational featuresÂ with equal frequency, then, it can be asserted that gender has still a vital role in shaping these features.
6) Literature review:
There is no doubt that the relationship between language and gender has been massively investigated. Researchers have explored it from different perspectives. This intense preoccupation with issues related to language and gender has created a separate area of study devoted to treating the relation between women, men and language. A close analysis of the development of language and gender research would enable the researcher to identify two major trends. In the first move researchers were preoccupied with two seminal questions: the way language differs in treating women and men and the way women and men differ in the use of language. In the second move, research has been hugely influenced by postmodern thought which revolutionizes/ deconstructs the conventional views about language and gender.
One of the major questions upon which the first shift is based is the way language differs in the treatment of women and men. Actually, the emergence of women's movements in the 1960's has considerably marked the beginning of a new era where women became fully aware of the intrinsic relationship between language and their social conditions. In this context, Robin Morgan claims "the very semantics of the language reflect women's condition". Women's awareness of the relationship between language and their subordination has created a fervent need to analyze language. In their analysis, they discovered that language is ponderous with sexist items which consolidates women's subordination and sustain negative attitudes towards gender roles. In this vein, Emily Toth asserts that the English language "define, degrade and stereotype women". According to her, the discriminatory aspects in the English language are mainly reflected in some lexical items such as Â«Â Mrs / MissÂ Â», generics Â«Â heÂ Â» and Â«Â manÂ Â» and terms of endearment for women which are terms for food (honey/sweetie).
In the same framework, feminist linguists like Lakoff and Spender showed a great concern about sexism in the English language. In her account for language patriarchy, Spender asserts that the sexist language would inevitably perpetuate and reinforces sexist ideas.
"I would reiterate that it has been the dominant group - in this case, males- who have created the world, invented the categories, constructed sexism and its justification and developed a language trap which is in their interest. Males have produced language, thought and reality. Historically it has been the structures, the categories and the meanings which have been invented by males- though not of course by all males- and they have then been validated by reference to other males. In this process women have played little or no part".
Another question that researchers on language and gender raised is the way women and men differ in the use of language. There is a consensus among researchers that women and men differ in the use of phonological, morphological, and syntactic forms. As long as phonology is concerned, Trudgill found that women use the standard form (in) while men use the stigmatized variant (n). As for syntactic differences, Cheshire found that boys use more Â«Â non-standard grammatical forms like non-standard Â«Â sÂ Â» Â«Â non-standard hasÂ Â» more than girls. A lot of researches on language and gender have been devoted to examining the differences between women and men in interaction. Fishman noticed that while women showed a great interest in maintaining the conversation by asking questions using attention beginnings and back-channel signals, men tended to dominate and monopolize the conversation which was manifested in the overuse of interruption. To account for the differences in interaction, researchers resorted to two main paradigms which are difference and dominance theories. Proponents of dominance theory who are mainly Dale Spender, Pamela Fishman, Don Zimmerman and Candyce West believe that differences in interaction are mainly due to males's tendency to dominate. Proponents of difference theory like Tannen however believe that the difference in interaction is due to a difference between women and men in their upbringing and their socializing habits. Tannen believes that men grow up in a competitive environment where they aim to dominate, women however tend to communicate in order to gain cooperation, support and understanding. Women therefore see the world as "a network of connections seeking support and consensus". Similarly, Tannen presents another dichotomy (advice vs. understanding). While women are in an endless quest for sympathy in their complaint, men usually seek practical solutions.
Yet, research on language and gender has not always been looked at in terms of difference. Postmodern thought had considerably revolutionized understandings of language and gender. Postmodernists tend to deconstruct fixity and categorizations. Following this line of thought, postmodernists aimed at demolishing the binary oppositions that researchers on language and gender have for so long emphasized in their ardent preoccupation with difference. Women's and men's language cannot be defined as it is a constant and permanent process of change depending on several factors including participant's status, age, social classâ€¦ In this framework, this study is an attempt to refute categorizations and dogmatic assumptions about women's and men's language.