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Discussion Details

Title: Review of 'La Realización de Quejas en la Conversación Femenina y Masculina'
Submitter: Virginia Acuña Ferreira
Description: Read Review: http://linguistlist.org/issues/22/22-3639.html

Dear Zahir Mumim,

Thank very much for your detailed review of my book, 'La realización de
quejas en la conversación femenina y masculina. Diferencias y semejanzas
en el habla cotidiana de las mujeres y los hombres'. In this message, I
would like to clarify some important points made on it, following the order in
which they are commented.

Summarizing the book, it is stated that “Acuña Ferreira aims to dispel
stereotypical opinions about common characteristics of women’s speech
(i.e. euphemistic) and provide more empirical notoriety to prominent traits of
men’s speech (i.e. aggressive)”. I find it necessary to explain more precisely
what led me to collect and analyze data of complaints about third persons
both in female and male conversations, i.e., to clarify the aims of the book.

In the General Introduction, I explain that language and gender studies have
given much attention to popular beliefs and social stereotypes about
"women’s language", because these devaluate formal characteristics of the
way women (are supposed to) speak, such as the use of euphemistic
words, but also certain content features of female talk such as the practice
of gossip and other similar conversational genres focused on third parties
discussion. Following, I stress that many language and gender studies have
challenged this devaluation of female speakers resulting from stereotypes,
arguing, for example, that women are not euphemistic but polite and gentle,
or that they are not “malicious” in talking about other people but they use
gossip to obtain information, to manage conflicts indirectly, to construct
intimacy and to express moral and emotional support…

However, this tendency to “celebrate” women’s discursive practices
(Johnson, 1997) has been criticized as it contributes to reinforce popular
beliefs on gender differences between women’s and men’s talk; for
instance, research which defends gossipy practices among women does
not consider the possibility that similar discursive activities can also be
found in talk among men. Language and gender research, it has been
claimed, has given little attention to “men’s language” and has made too
emphasis on “gender differences” (Johnson, 1997), what unavoidably leads
to a strong reification of social stereotypes.

In response to these problems, the present book aims to highlight that
women’s and men’s talk in same-sex interaction can show differences but
also important similarities, in order to weaken the extreme polarization of
their characteristics that results from social stereotypes, and that has been
often reinforced by language and gender research. To illuminate this point,
the book focuses on complaint discourse about third parties as one of the
wide range of gossipy activities that have been attributed to women in many
languages and cultures in a pejorative way. Drawing on the collection and
analysis of data from female and male conversations among
Spanish/Galician bilingual speakers, which were obtained through
observant participation in “natural” settings, the book is oriented to
demonstrate that both conversation in female and male groups can focus in
the practice of this stereotypically “feminine” discursive activity, and thus be
commonly oriented to the construction of solidarity and emotional support.
Such similarities, it is argued, could be overlapped by certain differences in
content and style, as women’s and men’s complaints can refer to different
matters, and be expressed according to social norms on appropriate
“feminine” and “masculine” ways of speaking. At the same time, the analysis
is intended to offer a detailed description of the characteristics and kinds of
discursive work involved in complaint activities.

Regarding Chapter 1, it should be clarified that this chapter is offered as an
overview of language and gender research as the field to which the book
should be more specifically appointed; it has been written and organized to
explain how interest on language and sex/gender emerged with social
stratification studies that discovered the importance of sex as a social
variable in the use of standard/vernacular grammatical forms and patterns
of pronunciation, the so-called “gender sociolinguistic pattern” (Fasold,
1990), and how thereafter the field exploded with the development of
pragmatics and discourse analysis, orienting to a search for “gender
differences” in discourse; such differences, however, are searched and
explained from two main different angles or points of view, according to
many other handbooks and articles on the field (e.g. Talbot, 1998; Kendall &
Tannen, 2001; Mills, 2003): that of the so-called “dominance” paradigm, in
which differences are primarily seen as mirroring gender inequalities, and
that of the “difference/cultural” paradigm, in which they are seen as a
consequence of women´s and men´s socialization in different cultural
groups. Each paradigm puts emphasis on aspects of gender as male
dominance and female subordination versus gender as culture, but they are
commonly based on a search for differences in women’s and men’s
communicative behavior that has defined several decades of research in
the field, and which has been more recently criticized as offering a too
simplistic picture of reality, and an extreme polarization of female and male
communicative patterns. This is argued at the end of the chapter, but it is
important to stress that this way of organizing and explaining several
decades of language and gender research is based on most recent reviews
of the field (Talbot, 1998; Kendall & Tannen, 2001; Mills, 2003; Sunderland,
2006). Thus, this is a chapter in which the author “tells the story” of
language and gender studies until the 90’s, and finally evaluates their
development as excessively focused on “gender differences”, in agreement
with other overviews appeared in the last years. Also, the author supports
the notion of “linguistic sexism” and studies on it, as a really controversial
area, which has been severely questioned and criticized.

Having stressed the excessive focus on “gender differences” as an
important problem after many years of language and gender research,
Chapter 2 remarks the need for a new theoretical conceptualization of
gender which allows more dynamism and flexibility in the description of
women´s and men´s discursive styles. This theoretical framework is the
constructivist/performative approach, in which gender norms and
stereotypes about women´s and men´s talk are seen as resources for the
construction of multiple gendered identities in interaction. The main
difference in comparison with previous approaches to “gender differences”
is that women and men are not seen as a kind of robots who produce
“feminine talk” and “masculine talk”, respectively, always in concordance
with gendered norms, stereotypes and expectations, but they can be
“creative” and mix features from one type and the other in different ways,
depending on the particular context. Thus, from this perspective it is
possible to explain, for example, women´s employment of linguistic devices
linked to “men´s language” and vice versa. It is one of the frameworks that
are currently being explored in the field.

In addition, it is important to indicate that Chapter 2 also includes a review of
studies on the links between women and gossip, starting from a comment
on the proverbs that establish them in different languages and cultures, and
continuing with a review of feminist approaches to “women´s gossip”,
defending its important social functions; following, these approaches are
criticized to the extent they do not consider “men´s gossip” and thus
reinforce the stereotype, as it was briefly explained in the General
Introduction. On the other hand, studies that tend to “celebrate” women´s
gossip are also criticized as they do not take into account certain varieties
or subgenres, such as bitching (Guendouzi, 2001), which functions among
women as a discursive form of competition for “social capital” that
contributes to the reproduction of sexism (Jones, 1980). In sum, feminist
approaches to this issue are criticized because of their exclusive focus on
women´s gossipy practices, and because they tend to overlook their
negative aspects (see also Acuña Ferreira, 2004).

Having established these problems, the rest of the chapter focuses on
Günthner´s analysis of complaint stories about third parties as a narrative
genre closely tied to gossip and women, and the establishment of the
hypotheses which gave rise, from this author’s speculations, to the
constitution of a corpus of complaint activities about third parties in men´s
and women´s everyday talk and its analysis in the following chapters (3-6)
of my book.

Regarding the final evaluation, the review continues “The introduction of the
book clearly establishes current problematic issues regarding the analysis
of women’s speech by providing examples of stereotypical women’s speech
characteristics, such as frivolousness and lack of authority, which are often
intuitively accepted by the general public”. I must insist that this book is
focused on the stereotypical relationship between women and gossip, or
“talk about third parties” (Guendouzi, 2001), and this is what is advanced
and emphasized in the General Introduction, to be more extensively
explained in Chapter 2. Overall, I miss some reference to the gender-
specific attribution of gossip in this review, as this is an essential issue in the
book; in Chapter 2, stereotyped images of talk among women as “gossip”
are contrasted with stereotyped images of talk among men as “shop talk”
(see e.g. Romaine, 1999), i.e., as “serious” conversation on politics, sports
or economy. While the book addresses gender stereotypes about language
use in general, and descriptions and characterizations of female and male
talk in language and gender research, the stereotype of the gossipy or
nagger woman is the point of departure for the analysis of data here offered,
and the reason why it is considered that men´s complaints about third
parties demonstrates an important similarity with women´s talk that should
be remarked.

In respect to the extensive discussion of Lakoff’s pioneering work in
Language and woman´s place (LWP) that is offered in Chapter 1, the review
also comments: “I argue that Lakoff’s assumptions may be linguistically
applied to not only the approaches of domination and difference, but also to
the constructivist approach, in order to integrate the coherence of discourse
interaction”. I agree that LWP can be actually seen from different theoretical
perspectives, i.e., though it has been generally appointed to the “dominance
approach”, because Lakoff’s particular insistence on social norms about
“talking like a lady” as a mechanism of social control on women´s
subordination and inequality, her overall description of “women’s language”
is also of interest, of course, for the “difference paradigm” and the
“constructivist framework”. But this something that is recognized in the
book; in the final part of Chapter 1, both “dominance” and “difference”
approaches are criticized because of their opposition when they should be
seen as complementary; on the other hand, when explaining the
constructivist framework in Chapter 1, I stress that Lakoff’s Language and
woman´s place is currently greatly valued as a guide or point of departure
for the analysis of feminine speech and the display of gendered identities.

Finally, I would like to stress, once more, that the book focuses on
stereotypes of female conversation as gossip and talk about third parties,
oriented to the construction of support and solidarity, in contrast to
stereotyped views of male talk as “shop talk”, oriented to competition for
expertise and status; these stereotyped images of female and male
conversation are taken as the background against complaint activities about
third parties are emphasized as something done both by women and men in
the data collected and analyzed, as a communicative activity that is
practiced both in female and male conversation to achieve similar
communicative goals (affiliation, support, solidarity), drawing on a wide
range of common devices; Chapters 3-5 are intended to show the three
basic kinds of discursive work involved in complaint discourse, i.e., the
dramatic staging of the events, the moral censure of third parties’ behavior,
and the display of emotions; by combining extracts from both female and
male talk in the analysis here offered, these chapters are also intended to
illuminate that female and male participants draw on the same resources.
The exception, the “gender difference”, is addressed in Chapter 6, where it
is argued that female and male participants construct specific styles for
emotions display, based on certain linguistic devices for displaying affect
that are framed as “feminine” and “masculine”.


A. Virginia Acuña Ferreira
University of Vigo


Acuña Ferreira, V. (2004). “Complaint stories in male contexts: The power
of emotions”. Spanish in Context 1, 181-213.
Fasold, R. W. (1990). The Sociolinguistics of Language. Oxford: Basil
Guendouzi, J. (2001). “You’ll think we’re always bitching”: The functions of
cooperativity and competition in women’s gossip”. Discourse Studies 3, 29-
Johnson, S. (1997). “Theorizing language and masculinity: a feminist
perspective”. En S. Johnson & U. H. Meinhof (eds.), Language and
masculinity. Oxford: Blackwell, 8-26.
Kendall, S. & D. Tannen (2001). “Discourse and gender”. En D. Schiffrin, D.
Tannen & H. E. Hamilton (eds.), The handbook of discourse analysis.
Oxford: Blackwell, 548-567.
Lakoff, R. (2004 [1975]). Language and woman’s place. Text and
commentaries. Ed. M. Bucholtz. Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press.
Mills, S. (2003). Gender and politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge Univeristy
Romaine, S. (1999). Communicating gender. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.
Talbot, M. (1998). Language and gender. An introduction.
Oxford/Cambridge: Polity Press.
Date Posted: 18-Oct-2011
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
LL Issue: 22.4071
Posted: 18-Oct-2011

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