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Review of  La Realización de Quejas en la Conversación Femenina y Masculina

Reviewer: Zahir Mumin
Book Title: La Realización de Quejas en la Conversación Femenina y Masculina
Book Author: A. Virginia Acuña Ferreira
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 22.3639

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AUTHOR: A. Virginia Acuña Ferreira
TITLE: La realización de quejas en la conversación femenina y masculina
SUBTITLE: Diferencias y semejanzas en el habla cotidiana de las mujeres y los
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Semantics. Vol. 04
YEAR: 2011

Zahir Mumin, Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University at
Albany, State University of New York (SUNY)


Acuña Ferreira analyzes the informal speech characteristics of men and women’s
complaints about the behavior of third persons in order to differentiate between
prescriptive speech (i.e. stereotypical assumptions about speech trends) and
descriptive speech (i.e. real-life speech tendencies). She contends that speech
style is one of the most predominant factors that distinguishes women’s speech
from men’s speech. 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). The
author expounds the analyses of speech style by arguing that men and women’s
dynamics of social interaction embody strong traces of solidarity against third
persons. The book comprises an introduction, six chapters, and an appendix which
highlights important transcription conventions. The Introduction and Chapters 1
and 2 investigate theoretical issues that encompass the relationship between
language and gender. Chapters 3 through 6 apply these issues to transcription
analyses of women and men’s speech. The author uses pseudonyms throughout the
book to protect the anonymity of research participants.

Chapter 1 reviews prior research studies correlating language and gender in
order to investigate the polarization of discourse interaction between men and
women. The author argues that social stratification of data, language sexism,
and pragmatic functions of speech style illuminate social and gender
inequalities between males and females. Acuña Ferreira defends her argument
regarding social stratification of data by highlighting Douglas-Cowie’s (1978)
findings dealing with a community in North Ireland. These findings show that
socially stratifying women according to their husband or father’s occupation and
socially stratifying men according to their actual occupation may confound the
interpretation of data. This is because the stratification of data
asymmetrically favors males’ occupations without considering females’
occupations. Acuña Ferreira also buttresses the language sexism aspect of this
argument through analysis of Calero Fernández’s (1999) “dualismos aparentes”
(“apparent dualisms,” p.18) -- words that change meaning through a change in
gender, i.e. “pupilo/pupila” (“male pupil/ female prostitute,” p.18) -- in order
to demonstrate that general language use unjustly derogates women in relation to
men. Acuña Ferreira supplements this language sexism analysis with an
examination of the referential and affective pragmatic functions of speech
styles for men (referential) and women (affective) in order to manifest the
stereotypical conceptualization of the active/competitive male and the
passive/courteous female.

Chapter 2 explores the constructivist approach to analyzing women and men’s
discourse interaction, which includes conversations amongst women, amongst men,
and between men and women. The author defines the constructivist approach -- the
reaffirmation of gender identity and sociocultural opposition between the
lifestyles of men and women -- in order to argue that this approach is more
insightful than the approaches of domination (i.e. emphasis on gender
inequalities) and difference (i.e. elucidation of stereotypical speech style
dissimilarities). Acuña Ferreira asserts that these two latter approaches
excessively illuminate gender differences in relation to women and men’s speech
trends. She underpins this constructivist approach argument by juxtaposing males
and females as interlocutors and comparing stereotypical masculine and feminine
discourse characteristics such as competitiveness and individualism (masculine)
and cooperativeness and insecurity (feminine). These juxtapositions and
comparisons show that constructivist analyses encompass females’ ability to
express masculine gender identity and males’ ability to express feminine gender
identity through the employment of opposing stereotypical discourse strategies.
These discourse strategies are used to exhibit masculine and feminine discourse

Chapter 3 assesses the effectiveness of metadiscursive strategies and
metapragmatic discourse techniques used to narrow the spatial-temporal gap
between narrative events (i.e. the communicative contexts of a story) and
narrated events (i.e. narrations of the original actions of a story) of
complaint stories about the comportment of third persons. The author outlines
Labov’s and Waletzky’s (1967) narrative structure model “resumen, orientación,
complicación, evaluación, resolución y coda” (“summary, orientation,
complication, evaluation, resolution, and ending,” p. 57) and explicates
directly referenced discourse in order to claim that the employment of present
and past narratives and perfective and imperfective actions help first person
narrators/protagonists accomplish two main objectives: captivating the attention
of second party audiences; and denouncing the unacceptable behavior of third
persons/antagonists. Acuña Ferreira substantiates this claim by highlighting an
example of a complaint story about a shoe salesman who inconsistently changes
the prices of shoes:

27 [Carlos] ocho mil pesetas}^
[Carlos] eight thousand pesetas}^

28 [Isa] dije yo
[Isa] I said

29 {[f] o sea ^
{[very strong voice volume] that means ^

30 que el otro día me pedías siete mil^
so the other day you asked me for seven thousand^

31 <1>
(one-second pause)

32 y ahora me pides ocho mil?}^^
and now you ask me for eight thousand?}^^ (p. 59)

Line 27 shows Carlos’ response to Isa’s previous request (in the present tense)
for the sale price of a pair of shoes which are usually priced at seven thousand
pesetas. The author argues that the changes from the preterit tense/perfective
action (Line 28) to the imperfect tense/imperfective action (Line 30) to the
present tense (Line 32) align with the orientation and complication stages of
the aforementioned narrative structure model (see above). Orientation
foreshadows complication by describing a completed action “dije yo” (“I said,”
p. 59) in the first person. Complication physically inserts the protagonist
(Isa) inside the narrated story and clashes the protagonist’s dialogue with that
of the antagonist (Carlos). In this example, the author clearly shows that the
interactional dynamics of Isa’s present and past narratives, namely, the
strategic use of the present and past verb tenses within the communicative
context of the narrated story, represent directly referenced discourse because
second party audiences exposed to the narration become persuaded by the oral
depiction of reconstructed facts and the condemnation of inappropriate behavior.

Chapter 4 examines how women and men construct stories in order to vehemently
express moral censure towards the repulsive behavior of third persons. The
author analyses discourse strategies such as detailed descriptions, exemplary
narratives, and reasoning practices to elucidate first person
speakers’/protagonists’ desire to impede any second party’s (the audience)
possible justification of “immoral” behavior exhibited by third person
antagonists portrayed in complaint stories. Acuña Ferreira resorts to Drew’s
(1998) investigation of moral censure to argue that detailed descriptions
extensively delineate protagonists’ moral innocence and antagonists’ immoral
culpability in order to persuade and convince second parties to concur with
protagonists’ point of view. This detailed descriptions argument complements
Acuña Ferreira’s exemplary narratives argument, which expands on the former
argument through examination of protagonist speakers’ interactive functioning
within the stories they construct. For example, the author furnishes an
exemplary narrative in which Isa (the protagonist) simultaneously functions
interactively with Ana (the second party) and with the third person (the
antagonist), whose behavior Isa morally censures. Isa’s initial dialogue with
Ana denounces the antagonist as an uneducated person who gossips too much. Then,
Isa creates a second dialogue in which she orally portrays the antagonist’s
voice in a conversation between Isa and the antagonist while Ana is a second
party interlocutor:

408 [the antagonist]: qué te voy a deci:r >
what am I going to tell you >

409 tu hermana::
your sister

410 y carina estévez se enfada-
and Carina Estévez is mad-

411 están enfadados?}=
are they mad?}= (pp. 98-99)

Through this example, the author emphasizes how Isa’s focalization of the
antagonist and explicit censure of the antagonist’s unacceptable behavior
persuades Ana to favor Isa’s morality perspective. The author reminds readers
that the antagonist probes Isa for confidential information about her family
members in order to later disclose this information to other people. In addition
to exemplary narratives, Acuña Ferreira provides transcription examples to
support the frequent use of reasoning practices strategies -- discourse
interaction developed without an original story -- which enhance the disapproval
of immoral behavior of third parties (third persons).

Chapter 5 furnishes a linguistic analysis of male and female speakers’
purposeful intensification of emotions used to gain moral support from second
party interlocutors and magnify behavioral transgressions of third persons in
different contexts of discourse interaction. Acuña Ferreira defines important
theoretical terminology, such as emotional communication (i.e. actions triggered
by non-conscious affective states), cognitive communication (i.e. actions
activated by conscious affective states), and emotive communication (i.e.
actions influenced by subconscious affective states). She contends that male and
female speakers often exhibit speech characteristics of emotive communication, a
combination of emotional and cognitive communication characteristics, because
these speakers are able to exercise a sufficient amount of psychological control
over the oral and physical manifestation of their affective states. Acuña
Ferreira upholds this argument by probing into the importance of emotive-driven
discourse interaction strategies dealing with metaphors, prosody, and lexical
repetition. The author demonstrates the relationship between metaphors and
prosody by analyzing Lola’s complaint to Mari about the disrespectful behavior
of a third person female coworker who Lola dislikes:

144[Lola]: [hai quen (xx) nace con estrella]^
there are some who are born with star quality ^

145 MARI: {[f] [o sea que ti]}>
{[very strong voice volume] [that means you]}>

146 LOLA: [e estrellado] v
[and others with destruction] v (p. 112)

Acuña Ferreira argues that Lola uses the following Spanish proverb, formally
spoken as “hay quien nace con estrella y hay quien nace con estrellado” (“there
are some who are born with star quality and there are others who are born with
destruction”), as a metaphorical representation of the moral conflict between
Lola and her fellow female coworker in order to intensify the contextualization
of Lola’s emotions, influence Mari to favor Lola’s perspective, and reprehend
the coworker’s adverse behavior. The author also asserts that the prosodic
change from high to low intonation (Lines 144 and146) reinforces the explosive
effectiveness of Lola’s emotions. Acuña Ferreira provides additional support for
her emotive communication argument (see above) by explicating the integration of
lexical repetition and prosody in an example of discourse interaction where the
protagonist/storyteller intensifies the dialogue with the constant repetition of
the Spanish phrase “se acabó” (“it is over,” p. 115), accompanied by an
accelerated tempo.

Chapter 6 expounds Chapter 5’s analysis of emotive communication by focusing on
additional discourse strategies that characterize women’s and men’s speech
tendencies: ascending inflectional tones and suspended statements (i.e.
statements that omit a comparative syntactic structure) (feminine) and very
strong voice volume and profane language (masculine). First, the author argues
that women’s speech comprises more prosodic variation than men’s speech. Then,
she contends that women’s suspended statements strengthen the explosiveness of
their emotions whereas men’s profane language powers the high intensity of their
emotions. Acuña Ferreira bolsters this first argument through examination of
Isa’s (the first person/protagonist) complaint story to Ana (the second
person/interlocutor) about the appalling behavior of her former female coworker
(the third person/antagonist):

424 ANA: =ah {[a] es que tiene una cara}^^=
=ah {[sharp tone] it is just that she has nerve}^^=

425 ISA: =y le dije yo=
=and that is just what I told her

426 ANA: =es que tiene [un moRRO::]>
=it is just that she has [such neRVE::]>

427 ISA: [y le dije yo] tienes [(xx)]
[and that is just what I told her] you have [(xx)] (p. 129)

In this example, the author demonstrates that the combination of the suspended
statements in Lines 424 and 426 and the statements of reaffirmation in Lines 425
and 427 explicitly exhibit the co-indignation of ISA and ANA towards the
coworker’s abominable behavior and the effectuation of solidarity between ISA
and ANA. Acuña Ferreira also shows how prosodic variation is manifested with
marked ascending high tones at the end of the sentence and normal voice volume
of individual segments (Line 424) and phonetic elongation of the “O::” vowel
with high voice volume of the final three segments of the word “moRRO::”
(“neRVE::” p.129) (Line 426). The author counteracts this discourse interaction
example of female speech with one of male speech to demonstrate how Fran’s (the
first person/protagonist) complaint to Luis (second person/interlocutor) about
the unacceptable behavior of ticket office personnel of a soccer team (third
persons/antagonist) exposes readers to extremely profane language (i.e.
blasphemies) and very powerful voice volume (marked by capital letters).


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. The author could
enhance this introduction by supplementing these examples with examples of
common stereotypical male speech characteristics in order to exhibit a more
integral perspective of the sociocultural dynamics which show how gender and
language complement each other. The author could also supplement important
definitions of terminology such as “aproximación de la dominación y de la
diferencia” (“approach of domination and of difference,” p. 2) with brief
empirical examples to elucidate how these two approaches are distinguished with
regard to social inequality and communication styles of discourse interaction.

In addition to the author’s main argument (see above) in Chapter 1, she
extensively discusses Lakoff’s (1973) identification of stereotypical women’s
speech traits such as triviality, insecurity, and courteousness in order to
argue that Lakoff’s general assumptions about women’s speech have often been
misinterpreted as substantiated postulates. However, the author does not
directly associate these assumptions with the “polarización excesiva de las
diferencias” (“excessive polarization of differences,” p. 38) between women and
men’s speech. Therefore, 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. For example, the author could incorporate an applied linguistics
analysis of how male speech which exhibits feminine speech characteristics (e.g.
triviality, insecurity, and courteousness), and female speech which exhibits
masculine speech characteristics (e.g. assertiveness, power, and authority)
harmonize in discourse interaction in order to denounce unacceptable behavior of
third persons.

Chapter 2 auspiciously describes and outlines Günther’s (1997) three main
components of complaint stories: narrator-protagonist, audience, and antagonist.
The description and outline facilitate readers’ understanding of the qualitative
analyses of discourse interaction in Chapters 3 through 6. However, there is a
very sharp transition from these three components to the author’s description of
research methodology, which discusses the principal objectives of data
collection and the hypotheses developed prior to data collection. In order to
smooth out this transition, I suggest discussing how collecting data
simultaneously from narrator-protagonists, audiences, and antagonists in
different contextual settings may affect the analysis of discourse interaction.
At the end of this chapter, the author made an appropriate decision to
foreground the topics of most of the complaint stories about third persons in
order to demonstrate the thematic cohesion amongst the remaining chapters.

In Chapter 3, the author highlights meticulous discourse interaction examples
which help decipher the pragmatic complexity of discourse strategies dealing
with Spanish verbs of movement “llegar, ir o andar”(“to arrive, to go, or to
walk,” p. 68) and the reconstruction of interaction between first person
protagonists, second person interlocutors, and third person antagonists . Acuña
Ferreira also contextualizes the physical setting of all of these examples by
describing background details that explain why protagonists are censuring the
immoral behavior of third persons. These contextualizations are vitally
important for understanding the empirical data because without them, readers may
become confused about the people who play the different roles depicted in the
complaint stories.

The author could provide a clear definition of ‘moral censure’ in Chapter 4 in
order to facilitate readers’ understanding of how it is pragmatically applied to
the discourse interaction examples provided. I suggest modifying the author’s
explanation of “el trabajo moral” (“moral work,” p. 86), by replacing this term
with the term “censura moral” (“moral censure,” p. 86) in order to thoroughly
define moral censure:

[la censura moral] es realizado de manera abierta o explícita: el significado
moral del discurso se localiza en la superficie interaccional del habla y la
moralidad [censurada] se convierte a menudo en el tema de la conversación (p. 86).

[moral censure] is attained in an open and explicit manner: the moral meaning
of discourse is localized in the interactional surface of speech and the
[censured] morality often becomes the topic of conversation (p. 86).

The conclusion of the chapter sheds some light on the author’s pragmatic meaning
of moral censure by describing how first person/protagonists develop moral norms
for their complaint stories in order to illuminate unacceptable behavior of
third persons.

The author successfully uses the emotive communication characteristics of
speakers’ discourse interaction in Chapters 5 and 6 to enliven the content of
Chapters 3 and 4. Acuña Ferreira enlivens this content by examining the
co-indignation and emotional reciprocity exhibited in second party
interlocutors’ assenting oral responses to first person protagonists’ censure of
third persons’ immoral behavior.

Acuña Ferreira vitalizes the contextualization of the social dynamics of
discourse interaction in order to determine how masculine and feminine speech
characteristics censure immoral behavior of third persons, connote solidarity
between protagonists and second party interlocutors, and intensify affective
states. While the book successfully illuminates men’s speech tendencies in
opposition to women’s speech tendencies, it lacks empirical emphasis on the
similarities between women and men’s speech tendencies in discourse interaction.
The content of this book attracts professionals who specialize in discourse
analysis, conversational pragmatics, semantics, and sociophonetics.


Calero Fernández, María Ángeles. (1999). Sexismo lingüístico: análisis y
propuestas ante la discriminación sexual en el lenguaje. Madrid, SP: Narcea.

Douglas-Cowie, Ellen. (1978). Linguistic code-switching in a northern Irish
village: Social interaction and social ambition. In Peter Trudgill (ed.).
Sociolinguistic Patterns in British English. London, ENG: Edward Arnold. 37-51.

Drew, Paul. (1998). Complaints about transgressions and misconduct. Research on
Language and Social Interaction 31, 295-325.

Günther, Susanne. (1997). Complaint stories: Constructing emotional reciprocity
among women. In Helga Kotthoff & Ruth Wodak (eds.). Communicating Gender in
Context. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins. 179-218.

Labov, Willam & Joshua Waletzky. (1967). Narrative analysis: Oral versions of
personal experience. In June Helm (ed.). Essays on the Verbal and the Visual
Arts. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.12-44.

Lakoff, Robin. (1973). Language and woman’s place. Language in Society 2, 45-80.

Zahir Mumin teaches Spanish courses at the University at Albany, State University of New York and conducts research in the field of linguistics. His primary research interests include sociolinguistics, phonology, phonetics, translation, language acquisition, language contact, bilingualism, multilingualism, language change, and historical linguistics.