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Review of  Talk That Counts

Reviewer: Richard Cameron
Book Title: Talk That Counts
Book Author: Ronald K. S. Macaulay
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Book Announcement: 16.1592

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Date: Wed, 18 May 2005 12:48:08 -0500 (CDT)
From: Richard Cameron <>
Subject: Talk That Counts: Age, Gender, and Social Class Differences in

Author: Macaulay, Ronald K.
Title: Talk That Counts
Subtitle: Age, Gender, and Social Class Differences in Discourse
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2005

Richard Cameron, Joint Appointment in the Department of English and in the
Department of Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese, University of
Illinois at Chicago.


In this new work by the distinguished sociolinguist Ronald Macaulay, he
formulates and presents a new approach to variation at the level of
discourse across a range of speakers of English from Glasgow and Ayr,
Scotland. Written primary for a professional audience, Macaulay explores a
remarkably wide range of discourse features in the speech of 33 adults and
adolescents, balanced by two categories of age, social class, and gender.

Although the book consists of 15 chapters, the chapters may be divided
thematically into three broad types. Chapters 1 through 5 provide
introduction to the discourse features of study, methodology, the data
base, background assumptions and theory. Chapters 6 through 12 present
various in-depth studies of the social and discourse patterning of
numerous discourse features. Chapters 13 through 15 provide summary,
discussion, and generalization. I will selectively review the chapters
here in greater detail, though no review can match the level of detail of
this book.

Chapter 1 on Discourse Variation provides the reader with a brief overview
of variationist or quantitative treatments of Social Class, Gender, and
Age. Other extralinguistic factors such as personality, ethnicity,
network, or ambition are also mentioned though not discussed. Here,
Macaulay seeks both to align his current project with the variationist
agenda and to distinguish his project from previous work both in discourse
analysis and quantitative sociolinguistics. Perhaps most fundamental to
this chapter are the following three points:

First, in contrast to research which takes social class as an element in
the analysis of language change in progress, his focus is on the stable
correlates of class and language use within Scottish English as spoken in
Ayr and Glasgow.

Second, despite the pervasive rejection of Basil Bernstein's early
pronouncements on social class and language, Macaulay finds Bernstein
useful as a basis for formulating testable predictions, most of which he
then goes on to falsify throughout the book. Indeed, Macaulay draws on and
reconsiders Bernstein in ways reminiscent of early research into language
and gender which drew on Robin Lakoff's (1975) important work.

Third, and to my estimation most importantly for his agenda, Macaulay
addresses the vexing issue of how to quantify discourse features. In
quantitative sociolinguistics, a sociolinguistic variable may be
understood, broadly, as two or more ways of saying or accomplishing the
same thing. Thus, the analyst quantifies the differing variants of a
variable over the total number of occurrences of the variable . For
instance, if we were to study Puerto Rican Spanish word final (s) in a
stretch of recorded speech, we would first identify the variants. In this
case, there are three:[s], [h], and a deleted variant [0]. In turn, we
quantify the total number of times that each variant of the variable does
occur. Then, we derive the frequency of occurrence of each variant
relative to the overall number of possible occurrences of the variable
(s). Using simple fractions as a model, the quantities of each individual
variant would be a numerator over the total number which would serve as
the denominator. But, in order to study discourse features such as the use
of discourse markers or adverbs or articles, there is no denominator
because the discourse features which Macaulay has chosen to investigate
cannot be conceived of as variants of a variable. His solution is to
measure the number of times a given discourse feature appears within a
stretch of 1000 words. With 1000 as the denominator, Macaulay is then able
to derive relative frequencies of occurrence and test them for
significance using the Mann-Whitney nonparametric test in the speech of
individuals classed according to three social categories of identity:
Adolescent vs. Adult, Middle vs. Working Class, and Female vs. Male.

Chapter 2 addresses important specifics of how Macaulay gathered spoken
samples of speech and the assumptions which accompany his methods. It
should be stated that although Macaulay did the interviewing of speakers
from Ayr, all of Macaulay's work on Glasgow in this book relies on the
samples gathered through the innovative work of Jan Stuart-Smith (1999,
2003). Stuart-Smith arranged for 1/2 hour open-ended tape-recorded
conversations among friends in the absence of the researcher. In total
there were 33 adults and adolescents, balanced by two categories of age,
social class, and gender. In Chapter 2 Macaulay also gives a few
preliminary illustrations of the social distributions of Minimal
Responses to give the reader a sense of the utility of his approach and
results. Chapter 3 provides further details of the speakers from Ayr and
Glasgow, the overall word totals per individual and group, the presence of
narrative, and brief discussions of transcription and statistics.

Chapters 4 and 5, which treat Social Class and Bernstein's sociology of
class and language use, clearly show the imprint of a sociolinguist of
experience, hard-won practicality, and honesty. Though brief, Macaulay's
discussion of Class revisits the tensions between sociological and
sociolinguistic approaches to class as found in Labov and Trudgill. For
the uninitiated, his review of Bernstein is even-handed, thorough, and
critical. In particular, he criticizes the wide-spread acceptance of
Bernstein's views in educational circles despite the vagueness of
Bernstein's claims and the slender-to-nonexistent empirical support for
these clams. One should note, however, that Macaulay does not provide
similar discussions of Age and Gender, a point we will return to in the
Critical Evaluation.

Chapters 6 through 12 turn away from method and theory to an extensive
catalogue of findings. Chapter 6 reviews the social and discourse
patterning in the Glasgow data of Minimal Responses, Question Asking,
Imperatives, and the English Discourse Markers of Oh and Well. Chapter 7
adds more on Oh, Well, You know, I mean, and Like. Chapters 8 through 12
follow similar formats of presentation for such features as Coordinate and
Because Clauses, Passives, Clauses of Movement such as Left and Right
Dislocation, Modals, Adverbs and Adjectives, Articles, Personal and
Impersonal Pronouns, Relative Pronouns, and finally, Direct Quotations and
Quotatives within Narrative. Each of these chapters is packed with details
of textual occurrence and statistical representation of social
distributions. In total, Macaulay subjects 42 discourse features to the
Mann-Whitney nonparametric test of significance. This is a remarkable

The remaining three chapters, 13 through 15, summarize and explore the
implications of the findings reported in the preceding chapters. In
Chapter 13, he notes that out of the total number of tests of
significance, 46 sets of significant differences emerge. Overall, the
smallest number of significant differences were associated with Social
Class. Age differences, between Adolescents and Adults, provided the
largest set of differences. Gender differences provided the second largest
set. Thus, Age more than Gender and Gender more than Social Class
correlate significantly with frequencies of discourse feature use. Chapter
15, entitled Discourse Sociolinguistics, serves to summarize and revisit
the methods and main assumptions that Macaulay initially laid out in the
first 5 chapters. Chapter 14, however, sets out to do more than summarize.

Entitled Discourse Styles, Macaulay begins Chapter 14 by distinguishing
discourse style from style as conceived and debated within variationist
research. Though he provides no clear definition, it appears that
Discourse Style may be conceived of as ways of talking that are
constituted by sets of discourse features which significantly distinguish
one social group from another or, more specifically, which significantly
distinguish the peer-based interactions within one social group from the
peer-based interactions in other relationally defined social groups. He
begins with Adolescents whose initial set of distinguishing features would
include the use 'like' as well as taboo words. However, such items as
these show little connection to the quality or nature of routine
interaction between adolescents. For example, Macaulay found less use of
certain discourse markers in adolescents yet significantly more use of
questions and imperatives. The higher frequencies of questions and
imperatives seem to result from a more demanding manner of interaction
among adolescents when compared to adults. This notion of demanding style
also shows up in his analysis of Working-Class boys who tease and
playfully insult one another in a consistent fashion. Similar intersecting
or interacting factors emerge in his discussion of Male and Female
discourse styles. For example, because females overall told more stories
with embedded dialogues than males, and because these stories tended to be
about other women, female speakers relative to males showed a higher use
of personal pronouns and coordinate clauses. Likewise, when comparing
Middle Class with Working Class speakers, even as both groups clearly
share the same grammar, they do show differing frequencies of adverbs and
evaluative adjectives. Specifically, Middle Class speakers, relative to
Working Class speakers, when telling narratives tend to add more
evaluative adjectives. Because the overt expression of evaluation may
entail a particular ideology as does the relative lack of overt
evaluation, Macaulay cautiously infers a class based ideology that we may
summarize in broad strokes as this: If Middle Class, express your
attitudes and evaluations of events. If Working class, let your
descriptions of and quotations from the events do the narrative work. All
of this, then, leads to certain generalizations which I will paraphrase
here, again, in broad strokes. A preference for certain topics or for
certain modes of expression has implications such that those who prefer
these topics or modes will end up using more of some discourse features
and less of others depending on how these features are needed for the
topics or modes. Because preferred topics or modes of expression may be
functions of ways of living, one begins to see how the statistical
structuring of discourse differences patterns across such categories of
Gender, Age, or Class. After all, these categories are not essentialist
qualities of individuals. They are cover terms for different circumstances
and ways of living.


In reading this book, I was continually impressed by the attention to the
details of linguistic analysis, the care with which results were
presented, and the cautiousness with which generalizations were made.
Moreover, the range of research that he draws upon when discussing results
is top-notch. I also suspect that it will be or could be a foundational
text for a new strand of sociolinguistic research that focuses on
sociolinguistic variation with aspects of language structure in use that
cannot be captured with the tool of the sociolinguistic variable. In
particular, given his findings, future researchers in English will want to
look more closely at such features as adverbs and evaluative adjectives.
Likewise, his work on quotatives contributes to active and on-going
research in this area. At the same time, his work indicates certain
features that may not be worth further investigation by those interested
in social patterning of language. I think here of his chapter 9 on Modals
and Modality.

Yet, with all research, one may wish that certain aspects of theory or
findings could have been pursued in different ways. For example, as I
noted in the summary of the book's contents, in chapters 4 and 5, Macaulay
provides us with concise commentary on issues of measuring class and the
ideas of Bernstein. However, judging from the title of the book, I would
have expected an equal amount of background reporting on gender and on the
differences between adolescent and adult speech. Given that Age and Gender
contribute a larger number of significant differences in the use of
discourse features than Class, the lack of theoretical framing and
prediction for Age and Gender leaves me wanting more. I suspect that his
discussion of Discourse Style actually could have benefited from a close
reading of such foundational work as Susan Harding's 1975 study on "Women
and words in a Spanish village." Harding makes points that are quite
similar to some of his ideas about the relationship between discourse
features and ways of life. Also, Macaulay reports various instances where
Age, and Gender and Class interacted. Such findings clearly support an
concept prevalent in current gender research that Gender is not easily
separated from other categories of social experience, like Age or Class.
Macaulay does note these interactions. For example, on page 167 he
observes that "the Glasgow adolescent conversations underline the need to
consider social class as well as gender." Yet, I would have liked to have
seen these findings somehow framed relative to theory and prediction based
on research in Gender or Age in addition to the discussions of Class.

Overall, this is a book to which I will return again and again. It
provides us with a wealth of data, a model for future research, and a
basis for future theory building.


Harding, Susan. 1975. Women and words in a Spanish village. In R. Reiter
(ed.) Toward an Anthropology of Women. New York: Monthly Review Press. Pp.

Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and woman's place. New York: Harper and Row.

Stuart-Smith, Jane. 1999. Glasgow. In P. Foulkes & G. Docherty (eds.).
Urban voices: Variation and change in British accents. London: Arnold. Pp.

Stuart-Smith, Jane. 2003. The phonology of modern urban Scots. In J.
Corbett, D. McClure & J. Stuart-Smith (eds.) The Edinburgh companion to
Scots. London-Arnold. Pp. 101-37.


Richard Cameron teaches Sociolinguistics and Discourse Analysis in the
TESOL Program of the Department of English and in the Hispanic Linguistics
Program in the Department of Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese at
the University of Illinois at Chicago. In Sociolinguistics, he pursues
quantitative dialect research with the goal of applying or testing
linguistic and social theory. His current research interests include the
interactions of aging and gender in Puerto Rican Spanish and in Chicago

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