LINGUIST List 26.1066

Tue Feb 24 2015

Review: Discourse Analysis; Socioling: Coates (2013)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 12-May-2014
From: Victor Lucio <>
Subject: Women, Men and Everyday Talk
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Jennifer Coates
TITLE: Women, Men and Everyday Talk
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Victor Lucio, University at Albany, State University of New York

Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“Women, Men and Everyday Talk” provides a thorough overview of the author’s
investigation of language and gender in English throughout the past few
decades and the theoretical trends that have guided her work.

The book begins by noting the author’s previous works on gendered talk that
have been revised and adapted for this compilation, which has a focus
primarily on conversational data from both genders, in both same-sex and
mixed-sex environments. Transcription conventions are then defined for a clear
reading of the data throughout the book. The author prefaces her work with a
brief overview of her career development and recognizes instances of
professional collaboration and others’ scholarship in language and gender that
have inspired different parts of the book. The book is organized into four
parts that describe and compare speech inside and outside of friendly
contexts, closing with a final note on past and present theoretical frameworks
within the field. References and an index appear at the end.

Part I, “Language in All-Female Groups”, includes Chapters 1-5 and ranges in
topic from an analysis of female conversations between friends to an
examination of the social and developmental contexts in which they are

Chapter 1, “Women’s Stories: The Role of Narrative in Friendly Talk [1996]”,
analyzes data from eight stories told by female friends to one another. The
chapter deconstructs women’s narrative into different parts following the
approach laid out by Labov (1972); the parts include an orientation or
introduction of the story’s setting, time, and persons involved, a commentary
which evaluates events and suggests a specific interpretation to the listener,
and a coda which closes the story and may define or clarify its purpose. The
author describes how women’s narratives tend to be of a collaborative nature
and focus on daily life, with an emphasis on triumphs, disaster, frightening
experiences, and embarrassments that occur ‘in the privacy of the domestic
sphere’ (11). While their narratives are intended to construct or reconstruct
personal identities, the story is often oriented around other people. Women’s
narratives include the use of quotation as part of the portrayal of specified
characters and are mostly reactive to some event. Men’s narratives, on the
other hand, are often pro-active and more self-oriented, and typically include
a nameless description of the parties involved.

Chapter 2, “‘So I Mean I Probably...’: Hedges and Hedging in Women’s Talk
[2003]”, discusses the role of hedges between women in the author’s corpus of
conversations from the 1980’s and 1990’s. Females ranged in age from pre-teen
to mid-forties. Common hedges include the use of modal auxiliaries such as
‘may/might’, modal adverbs such as ‘perhaps’, and discourse markers such as ‘I
mean’ and ‘well’. The reasons for their employment vary depending on context
and interlocutor, and may presume a false degree of uncertainty or
unassertiveness. Each instance of hedging in the corpus is assigned to one of
four function categories: to express doubt or degree of confidence, to express
sensitivity to another’s feelings, to search for the right word, and to avoid
self-portrayal as ‘expert’. Rather than viewing hedges as a crutch for
indecisiveness, the author concludes that women, by avoiding explicit
commitment to a given point of view, make use of hedges to promote open
discussion, inclusion, and collaboration in talking to one another.

In Chapter 3, “Competing Discourses of Femininity [1997]”, the author examines
the performance of femininity in exchanges between older and younger adult
women by approaching discourse as ‘a system of statements which cohere around
common meanings and values’ (Holloway 1983:11). Women utilize discourse to
distinctly position themselves in the world, but also, more specifically, to
define what it means to be a woman in a particular society. Competing
discourses in the conceptualization of femininity, however, have led to
various tensions and contradictions. The author also considers the role that
men (directly and indirectly) play in the construction of gendered women as
heterosocial. She notes, as there are no self-identified lesbian women in the
analyzed sample, a non-heterosocial discourse is not treated.

Chapter 4, “Changing Femininities: The Talk of Teenage Girls [1999]”,
investigates the conversations of four white, middle-class girls from North
London and the discursive techniques they employ while ‘doing’ femininity at
12-13 and later at 14-15 years of age. The author analyzes the range and
evolution of conversation topics and how the girls maneuver among them while
performing friendship through femininity. At the younger stage, the girls
change topics rapidly, the conversation is less collaborative, and
disagreement is overt. Conversely, at the older stage, topics are more likely
to be sustained, there are fewer interruptions, and hedges are employed
suggesting an approximation to the feminine prototype. From younger to older,
the talk is increasingly personal and femininity is expressed through a
reanalysis of their involvement with family, friends, and male figures in
generally all heteronormative capacities. The chapter closes with a
metalinguistic commentary by two of the girls at roughly 18 years of age where
they reflect upon possible changes in their discursive patterns.

Chapter 5, “Women Behaving Badly: Female Speakers Backstage [2000]”, explores,
with the use of dramaturgical terminology suggested by Goffman (1971),
‘frontstage’ and ‘backstage’, women’s performance of themselves in discourse
as gendered members of their society. Frontstage performance is carefully
controlled for a determined audience, whereas backstage scenarios are
generally informal and involve less self-monitoring. According to societal
norms, femininity is expressed frontstage by being ‘nice’ to others while
potentially repressing one’s true feelings. By contrast, for men and
frontstage masculinity, ‘non-niceness’ and abusive behavior are lauded and
politeness is commonly frowned upon. The chapter looks at backstage
conversations between women of all ages, where women are comfortable
discussing non-canonical topics and socially taboo thoughts. While being
‘backstage’ results in a sense of solidarity for women and even acclaim for
‘deviant’ behavior, recognition of frontstage norms is still necessary in
defining what is acceptable within the group.

Part II, “Language in All-Male Groups”, includes Chapters 6-9 and investigates
conversational turn-taking, linguistic acts of male closeness, and the range
of masculinities available to present-day British men.

Chapter 6, “One-at-a-Time: The Organisation of Men’s Talk [1997]”, looks at
the practice of turn-taking between groups of men in casual conversation.
Unlike women, men often shift the attention from one speaker to the next. The
following speaker is then invited, often by use of a question, to exhibit
‘expert’ knowledge of the topic at hand. Men are reluctant to discuss the
personal, but will instead lean toward information-oriented themes in order to
express closeness. The notable lack of interruption between conversing men
indicates interpersonal support, a mutual understanding of the one-at-a-time
procedure, and the permissibility of extensive monologues. The author cautions
that findings in this chapter involve white, well-educated English speakers
and thus may not be representative of all men.

In Chapter 7, “‘So I Thought “Bollocks to It”’: Men, Stories and Masculinities
[2000]”, the author, through an analysis of male narratives, describes how the
male construction of self stems from a man’s understanding and performance of
heterosocial masculinity. She proposes that different factors motivate the
production of a spectrum of masculinities with varying degrees of
acceptability for both individuals and social groups. Goals found in
narratives told by men in an all-male setting may include the desire to
exemplify achievement, to ‘one-up’ another speaker, or to potentially
discourage or undermine displays of vulnerability. The introduction of
personal issues into male narratives is rare. In order to avoid
self-disclosure and consequential compromise of one’s masculine image, men
often circumvent personal involvement by attending closely to story details,
by swearing, or by rerouting the discourse entirely.

In Chapter 8, “‘My Mind Is with You’: Story Sequences in the Talk of Male
Friends [2001]”, the author examines the frequency, contiguity, and thematic
coherence of stories told in 30 conversations between men. She argues that
storytelling is a ‘collaborative achievement’ by all participants rather than
an act involving a narrator and a passive audience (169). In the author’s
sample, men acknowledge their committed attention to the speaker(s) by linking
additional stories to a central narrative. They are able to thus convey a
sense of connectedness and solidarity through their language, without an overt
expression of closeness, which is stigmatized among heterosexual males.

Chapter 9, “‘Everyone Was Convinced That We Were Closet Fags’: The Role of
Heterosexuality in the Construction of Hegemonic Masculinity [2007]”, lends
evidence to the close relationship between masculine ideals in Britain and
heterosexuality. Hegemonic masculinity, while contestable, is derived from and
maintained through the denial of femininity and the ‘othering’ of women and
homosexual men. In this chapter, the author looks at data from 32 all-male
conversations and a few conversations from mixed-sex contexts. She argues that
heterosexual men systematically perform hardness and coolness, dominance, and
control while differentiating themselves from women, often excluding them from
their narrative storyworlds. Blatant displays of homophobia in all-male
environments may occur to reinforce the heterosexual ideal and to distance the
speakers from what is considered ‘feminine’. Although men in the sample also
participate in collaborative story-telling in mixed-sex situations (a practice
typically associated with women), the author suggests that they do this to
emphasize heterosexual relationships, thereby adhering to contemporary
hegemonic masculinity.

Part III, “Gendered Talk in Other Contexts”, explores the role of gender in
data gathered from men and women in workplace environments, performances of
humor, and deaf discourse.

Chapter 10, “Language, Gender and Career [1994]”, reviews literature from
studies involving gendered language in the workplace and the discursive
patterns realized in both male and female-dominant professions. The
professional fields investigated in this chapter range from the British
Parliament and the court system to medicine and in-home elder care. The author
reminds the reader of the association of masculine language with the public
sphere and women’s speech styles with the private domain. Since men prefer a
more information-focused and adversarial style, the same is expected in the
public arena and in male-dominant industries. On the other hand, an emphasis
on collaboration and inclusion is more acceptable in the private world and in
workplaces where women are the majority. Questions and directives are common
in the assertion of authoritarian status in either sphere, but their level of
appropriateness and/or acceptability depends on their degree of directness and
the gender of the person employing them.

In Chapter 11, “Having a Laugh: Gender and Humour in Everyday Talk [2006]”,
the author draws from conversational data gathered over the past two decades
in order determine the functions of humor in all-male and all-female
friendship groups. Hay (1995) suggests that humor is performed to denote
differences in power, to protect oneself in a precarious situation, and/or to
create or maintain solidarity within the speaker group. Coates shows how men
tend to enact humor with jokes and verbal sparring in an effort to appear
quick-witted and in-charge, whereas women are more likely to tell funny
stories from a personal point of view. Through the collaborative construction
of humor, speakers establish a sense of solidarity among themselves since both
narrator and respondents must rely on their in-group knowledge to allow for
verbal ‘play’.

Chapter 12, “Turn-Taking Patterns in Deaf Conversation [2001]”, compares
practices of turn-taking among deaf friends with patterns found in spoken
discourse. Two possibilities for alternation found in spoken conversations
include a one-at-a-time model typically employed by men and a shared-floor
scenario found among women. After analyzing deaf discourses in two participant
groups, one male, and one female, the author finds a tendency toward
one-at-a-time discourse among the males and more collaborative, shared-floor
talk among the females. Coates provides three scenarios for signer overlap:
the use of affirmative remarks, the repetition of lexical items, and/or the
holding of a particular sign. Coates observes that by calling attention
through holding and repeating signs, signers often rely on each other’s
peripheral vision to attend to their attempts to ‘take the floor’, ultimately
aiding in the transition from one signer to the next.

Part IV, “Language and Gender -- Changing Theoretical Frameworks”, consists
solely of Chapter 13, which reviews past linguistic theories of gender and
their contribution to contemporary gender research.

In Chapter 13, “The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Mars and Venus in Language and
Gender Research [2009]”, the author recounts the changes that have occurred
over the last 35 years in the conceptualization and study of gender in
linguistics. Recognizing the inevitable approximation in identifying time
periods, she loosely divides the timeline into three phases, with
corresponding sections within the chapter. Phase 1 (1970s and 1980s) reminds
the reader of the early use of the term ‘sex’ to refer to what is now called
‘gender’, since linguists initially reserved ‘gender’ for the description of
grammatical categories. This led to a problematic binary between ‘men’s
language’ and ‘women’s language’ as well as an ambiguous interpretation of
what constituted ‘language and sex’. During Phase 2 (1980s and 1990s), the era
during which the Mars and Venus myth was most popular, researchers
acknowledged the distinction between ‘sex’ as biological and ‘gender’ as
culturally constructed. The author references several of her studies that fall
into Phase 2, noting the eventual celebration of women’s talk as distinct,
rather than simply as ‘deviant’ or ‘opposite’ from men’s linguistic
tendencies. Phase 3 (end of 1990s) includes the recognition of gender
plurality, the emergence of queer theory, and a discussion of the connection
between gender and sexuality. The chapter closes with a section called
‘Re-emerging binaries?’, which observes a contemporary reappearance of gender
ideologies that continue to influence everyday interaction.


As the author explains, material for this compilation originates from a number
of works on language and gender published at various stages of her career.
Thus, many of her earlier findings in the book reappear as objects of
reanalysis with different contextual considerations. Depending on one’s
knowledge of the subject, the reader may find this either repetitive or
useful. Nevertheless, due to the presence of recurring data, the transition
between chapters is seamless and each section comfortably builds upon the
previous one. The author’s early work on women’s talk and later work on the
talk of men have resulted in an expanded application of her methodologies and
the study of gendered language in different social situations, at the same
time as it has paved the path for further investigations in language and

A surplus of clearly transcribed examples and the author’s focused discussions
provide the specialists in language or gender studies with ample material for
critical thought. For the non-specialist, each chapter’s thorough review of
past literature and terminology make the reading accessible. A healthy
sprinkling of personal anecdotes naturally reflect the ‘everyday’ aspect of
the types of talk found in the volume. Coates cautions the reader from
generalizing her findings too extensively, as her data from the last few
decades represent only speakers of British English. Lastly, the author’s
straightforward presentation of the history of language and gender studies
makes this book an ideal supplement for an introductory course on gender,
discourse analysis, or sociolinguistics. The scope and progression of
discussed topics faithfully reflect the contributions of the author and her
contemporaries to the evolution of gender theory.


Goffman, Irving. 1971. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books.

Hay, Jennifer. 1995. Gender and humour: beyond a joke. Unpublished
MA dissertation. Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Holloway, Wendy. 1983. Heterosexual sex: power and desire for the other in
Sue Cartledge and J. Ryan (eds) Sex and Love: New Thoughts on Old
Contradictions. London: Women’s Press. 124-140.

Labov, William. 1972. The transformation of experience in narrative syntax in
Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 354-396.


Victor Lucio is a PhD candidate in Spanish Linguistics at the University at
Albany – SUNY. His areas of interest include language and gender, language and
sexuality, and Spanish sociolinguistics.

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