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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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genderlect styles
Genderlect Styles


“Cross-Cultural” Communication

the creator
The creator
  • Deborah Tannen is an American Academic and professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
  • She began research when she did a microanalysis of six friends during a two-and-a-half-hour dinner conversation at Thanksgiving.
  • The focus of the theory is interpersonal relationships.
the basics
The basics
  • Genderlect was NOT coined by Tannen, but it encompasses her theory very well.
  • Genderlect is a term suggesting that masculine and feminine styles of discourse are best viewed as two distinct cultural dialects.
  • Tannen describes that conversation between men and women is much like a communication gap between cultures, however, we do not know we will encounter it.
  • Tannen explains that the messages between men and women are seen as alien, threatening, “different words from different worlds”, and the same terms, but “tuned to different frequencies”.
when harry met sally
When harry met sally
  • 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.
    • Restaurant scene
  • 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.
    • Airplane scene
  • Harry may see Sally as a member of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and Sally may see Harry as coming from Planet of the Apes.
connection vs status
Connection vs. status
  • Women seek connection in conversation.
  • From the movie:
    • Sally is sad because Harry says that men and women can’t be friends.
    • Sally is also shocked because Harry ends by saying that sex in the end of intimacy rather than a beginning to a relationship.
    • Harry is implying that a true, non-intimate relationship with a male is impossible.
connection vs status cont
Connection vs. status (cont.)
  • Men are concerned primarily with status.
  • They are always hard at work to preserve their position in the hierarchy.
  • From the movie:
    • Harry is urging Sally to ignore her friendship with Amanda and accept his pass.
    • Harry initiates conversation, starts to argue, talks the most and loves the last word.
  • A woman’s desire for intimacy threatens the male independence and his need to be one up.
  • Tannen states that sometimes men want intimacy and women want power also, but it isn’t always possible.
rapport vs report
Rapport vs. report
  • Rapport talk– Typical conversation style of women, which seeks to establish a connection with others
  • Report talk – Typical monologue style of men, which seeks to command attention, convey information, and win arguments.
  • In order to state that women focus on intimacy and men focus on power, Tannenanalysizes conversations between men and women.
  • Tannen focuses on speakers from feminine cultures and masculine cultures to identify their core values.
  • The linguistic differences between the two verifies her statement.
private speaking vs public speaking
Private speaking vs. public speaking
  • 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.
telling a story
Telling a story
  • In conjunction with Narrative Paradigm, Tannen agrees that stories reveal much about a person’s hopes, needs, and values.
  • In men focusing to preserve their hierarchy status, they tell jokes and stories. This is their way of saying “Can you top this?”, which holds your attention.
  • Their stories often portray themselves as heroes, overcoming great obstacles on their own.
  • Women express their desire for community when telling stories about others, often sharing stories of foolishness and downplaying themselves.
    • Telling a story
  • Throughout conversation, women offer head nods, eye contact and react with small responses to show they’re listening.
  • To men however, agreeing means to put himself in a vulnerable position, or a one-down stance. Because of their lack of agreement, women usually think men aren’t listening.
    • Cooperative overlap – A supportive interruption often meant to show agreement and solidarity with the speaker.
  • Women see cooperative overlap as a means of agreeing and supporting, however, men see it as an attempt to steal power.
  • The differences in style of conversation are the root of irritation between males and females.
asking questions
Asking Questions
  • According to Tannen, women ask questions in order to establish a connection with someone. Women often tag their opinions with questions.
    • Example: “Look at our Christmas tree, isn’t it so pretty?”
    • Tag question – A short question at the end of a declarative statement, often used by women to soften the sting of potential disagreement or invite open, friendly dialogue.
  • On the other hand, a man asking questions is, in his eyes showing ignorance and weakness.
    • Example: Asking for directions
      • Asking questions
  • According to Tannen, men are comfortable with confrontation because this is their chance to win an argument.
  • Women, however, avoid conflict because this is a chance of threatening her connection with someone.
  • This scene shows Sally trying to calm Harry down after he yelled at his friends because of his own personal frustration.
    • Conflict
  • Another conflict between men and women is when a woman tells a man what to do. This also threatens the man’s need to feel in control of the situation.
understanding each other
Understanding each other
  • 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.
    • Final scene from When Harry Met Sally
women who care vs men who are fair ethical reflection
Women who care vs. men who are fair: Ethical reflection
  • 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.
critique of the theory cross cultural or not
Critique of the theory: Cross-cultural or not?
  • 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”.
critique of the theory cross cultural or not cont
Critique of the theory: Cross-cultural or not? (Cont.)
  • According to Tannen, women don’t want advice; they want the gift of understanding.
  • Tannen suggests throughout her theory that women embrace connection and deny autonomy, while men seek autonomy and avoid connection. Neither group usually feels any sense of contradiction.
  • As stated in the introduction of the chapter, there is more diversity within each gender as opposed to between each gender.
critique of the theory cross cultural or not cont1
Critique of the theory: Cross-cultural or not? (Cont.)
  • Adrianne Kunkel of the University of Kansas and Brant Burleson challenge Tannen’s cross-cultural perspective.
  • Kunkel and Burleson, from their research, state that while it’s true that women often do want a connection, both sexes place an equally high value on comforting communication.
  • Due to their research, Kunkel and Burleson rejected the cross-cultural perspective and said that both men and women understand.
critique of the theory cross cultural or not cont2
Critique of the theory: Cross-cultural or not? (Cont.)
  • 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.
class participation
Class participation
  • Who was the creator of the Genderlect Styles theory?
    • A. Adrianne Kunkel
    • B. Carol Gilligan
    • C. Deborah Tannen
class participation cont
Class participation (Cont.)
  • The term “Genderlect” was coined by Deborah Tannen.
    • A. True
    • B. False
class participation cont1
Class participation (cont.)
  • In the first two scenes from When Harry Met Sally, their argument is about their views on what topic?
    • A. Politics
    • B. Sex
    • C. Their evening plans
class participation cont2
Class Participation (Cont.)
  • _________ talk is to women as _________ talk is to men.
    • A. Rapport : Report
    • B. Autonomy : Connection
    • C. Harry : Sally
class participation cont3
Class Participation (Cont.)
  • When men tell stories, they portray themselves as a _______.
    • A. Jerk
    • B. Hero
    • C. Weak man
class participation cont4
Class Participation (Cont.)
  • Does Tannen believe that men and women will ever understand each other?
    • A. No, there is absolutely no hope
    • B. Only if men change their way of thinking forever
    • C. Yes, the gap can be bridged with sensitivity and assertiveness training
class participation cont5
Class Participation (Cont.)
  • Genderlect Styles Theory is classified as ________.
    • A. Objective
    • B. Neither
    • C. Interpretive