When I wrote You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation I didn’t know that what everyone would respond to most strongly is the question, “Why don’t men like to stop and ask for directions?” (Before the book was published, no one talked about this gender difference; as a result of the book, it is now the ubiquitous subject of jokes, cartoons, skits, greeting cards, and casual conversations.) The answer to this question will be revealed in the lectures that follow, as it captures the essence of what this course will address: the patterns that tend to distinguish how men and women use language in their everyday lives, and the consequences of these differences (as well as similarities) for conversations and relationships between women and men.
My goal in this series, in addition to illuminating the patterns of women’s and men’s uses of language, is to enhance understanding of how language works in everyday life. I am told by students who have taken my courses that this understanding helps them in their everyday lives, as every aspect of our lives involves talking to people of the other sex—in our personal relationships, our families, at work, and in trying to get just about anything done.
My research on cross-gender communication grew out of my linguistic research on how people use language in conversation. I was invited to take part in a research project organized by a psychologist, Bruce Dorval, that was funded by the Social Science Research Council. We examined videotapes of children talking to their best friends across a range of ages. In looking at Dorval’s videotapes, I noticed a pattern of physical orientation: At every age, girls and women sat face to face and looked directly at each other when they talked, whereas boys and men sat at angles, or parallel, and looked around the room. Seeing this pattern span such a range of ages is what prompted me to think of cross-gender communication as cross-cultural.
Throughout this course, I will be developing this metaphor, drawing on my own original research as well as research by others in the fields of linguistics, anthropology, sociology, education, and psychology. Some of the topics I will explore in these lectures include:
- Who talks more, men or women?
- Who interrupts more, women or men?
- What do women and men tend to talk about?
- Who is more “indirect” in saying what we mean?
- Why would anyone be indirect in saying what we mean?
- Where do these differences come from; how early do they start?
In answering all these and many other questions, I will describe and exemplify patterns in the ways women and men tend to use language in our everyday lives. I’ll trace these patterns to the way boys and girls use language growing up, and explore, in some detail, the process by which humans express meaning, accomplish tasks, and form and manage relationships through language.
—Dr. Deborah Tannen
Lecture 1 He Said/She Said: A Framework for Understanding Conversations Between Women and Men
Lecture 2 The Source of Gender Patterns: Children at Play
Lecture 3 A Cross-Cultural Approach to GenderTalk
Lecture 4 The Role of Opposition in Men's Relationships
Lecture 5 The Role of Talk in Women's Relationships
Lecture 6 The Interplay of Power and Connection
Lecture 7 Ambiguity and Polysemy: Two Keys to Understanding Language and Gender
Lecture 8 Indirectness: Not in So Many Words
Lecture 9 Talking at Home: Gender in the Family
Lecture 10 Talking at Work
Lecture 11 Who Talks More?: Public and Private Speaking
Lecture 12 A History of Research on Gender and Language
Lecture 13 Nature/Nurture: The Source of Gender Differences
Lecture 14 Conclusion: What Can You Do?