Genderlect Styles. A “Cross-Cultural” Communication. The creator. Deborah Tannen is an American Academic and professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
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Despite Tannen’scitings of dialogues from several movies, most students studying the theory refer to the movie When Harry Met Sally as a great example for the theory.
This scene shows Harry and Sally at their first stop on their 18-hour long road trip from the University of Chicago to New York. Harry is dating Sally’s friend, Amanda.
This scene shows Harry and Sally meeting five years later on an airplane. Harry surprises Sally saying he is engaged. She approves, but their conversation proves they still have different trains of thought.
Harry may see Sally as a member of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and Sally may see Harry as coming from Planet of the Apes.
According to folk wisdom, women talk more than men do.
Throughout the movie When Harry Met Sally, Sally continues to try to make a connection with Harry. Her rapport style of speaking transfers well in private.
On the other hand, Tannen states that men use words as weapons. Even Harry’s rare exposure of his personal life in the movie is done over competitive situations (jogging, batting cages, watching football, etc.) Harry’s report style of speaking transfers well in public.
Behind close doors, men no longer feel the urge to protect themselves with words.
Tannen mentions sensitivity training as an effort to teach men how to speak in a feminine voice. Assertiveness training is an effort to teach women how to speak in a masculine voice. She believes there is hope for men and women to bridge their communication gap through these trainings.
In the movie When Harry Met Sally, Harry finally confesses his love for Sally and then explains with her rapport style of speaking that he understands her and cares about her. Sally finally sees that Harry understands a lot more than she thought he did.
Carol Gilligan, a professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education presents a theory claiming that women tend to speak and think in ethical voices different from that of men. This view is very similar to Tannen’s theory in the sense that men want independence, seek moral maturity in terms of justice and women desire the human connection and see their ethical response as one of care.
Men’s ethical goals – Individual rights, equality before the law, fair play, and a square deal.
Women’s ethical goals – Contextual, more immersed in details and narratives, sensitive to others, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and peacemaking.
This theory is neither an interpretive nor a objective theory.
The aha factor is a way to test the validity of the “cross-cultural” hypothesis.
Aha factor – A subjective standard ascribing validity to an idea when it resonates with one’s personal experience.
If Tannen’s interpretation is correct, readers will have an aha moment when learning about the theory, connecting this theory to their own personal experiences. However, several aha moments doesn’t necessarily mean “proof”.
German linguistic SentaTroemel-Ploetz bashed Tannen on her theory and says the fact that, “If you leave out power, you do not understand talk.” She also states that from history, men are used to dominating and women are trained to please.
Troemel-Ploetz suggested doing a follow-up study on men who read Tannen’s book You Just Don’t Understand. She noted that women usually give this book to their husbands after reading it. She said that if Tannen’s theory is true, the follow-up study will show men talking more empathetically with their wives, which will not happen.