Labov & Gender

Women’s stories and Men’s stories and the Construction of Gender

Below is two verbal narratives. One is by a women and one is by a man. Read them.

Sardines in Aspic

The narrator is discussing her eccentric mother with friends.

Actually when I first took my husband up there when Martin and I – my husband ( yes )  – ex-husband and I were first going out together and it was all new and really embarrassing you know laughs ( yeah) he only ever used to like traditional English food like  – cos he was steak and kidney pie shepherd’s pie and roast dinner on Sunday ( yeah) and that was all he’d eat (.) give him anything foreign ( yeah) and he’d have hysterics ( yeah) so I phoned my mother up before we went up for our very first visit and I said ‘He only likes plian food so just don’t go mad ( yeah) cos she always goes mad ( yeah) ‘Don’t go mad just cook something really ordinary’ she does, makes nice food though, really nice food so we got there late at night and she said ‘I’ve Made something to eat’ and she’d made sardines in aspic ( laughter ) and beetroot in natural yogurt ( laughter ) did she do it on purpose? I don’t know probably what did he say?he wasn’t very impressed ( laughter ) he kept hauling me down to the little chip shop in the village ( laughter ) because he was so hungry he wouldn’t eat anything she’d made ( laughter )

The Fight

Three men in their twenties in a pub, talking about an engineer at work who was an alcoholic.

He came in this one time, drunk, and he started ordering me about(.) with the personality I’ve got I told him to piss off I wasn’t taking any of it(.) so I was taking these um alarm bell boxes, the alarm boxes you put this bell on and you wire these – can’t remember how to do it now anyway but – wiring these upand he come out and he sss  ss  sss(mimicking noise) what he did was threw this knife at me this is honest truth threw this knife at me and then – there was this cable you know um like on the workbenches where you connect the cables into these three points a bare wire he fucking chased me with it and I thought ‘Fuck this’ and he kept like having a go and teasing me and I just smashed him straight round the face with a bell box in front of the boss crack got away with it as well I said ‘Look, he’s thrown knives at me’. It sounds like something out of a film but it’s honest truth..( 2 ) honestly it was unbelievable

In what ways are these two stories similar and different?

Both male and female speaker use spoken language devices as expected and humour. However, the humour is  aggressive in the male piece and self-deprecating in the female. There were also topical differences which can fit in with the next question because talking about relationship is usually associated with typical female talk. What is interesting is that the male story is almost like bitching which is associated with females not males. The male speaker gives less detail than the female speaker and uses more elliptical sentences to add to the fast pace whereas, the female uses longer sentences with more detail and specialised vocabulary – this is another typical female talk assumption.

Obviously due to the nature of the conversation teh male one has a lot of dynamic verbs whereas the female one has more direct quotations. In this particular data this appear to the result of the content.

In what ways are these typical of male and female talk?

In these stories  there is real evidence for the assumptions discussed before. For example, it is claimed that men tend to swear more and come across aggressively and this is true e.g. ‘fucking chased’. 

Using hedges and being indecisive is usually associated with female talk and this is evident in this data set. For example ‘probably’. It is also interesting that it is the female speaker who uses more fillers and spoken language devices e.g. ‘like’. 

The listeners of each speaker are interesting too because both anecdotes are told in single sex groups.  The female speaker as we have seen before tends to support and use back-channeling e.g. ‘yeah’ whereas male listeners don’t mind having a short pause and only contributing if it is too add the humour e.g. ‘mimicking noise’. I think this is also to show where is the authority/dominance lies in the conversation.

If Labov’s narrative structure affected by gender?

Both anecdotes follow Labov’s narrative structure but it is interesting that both genders alter the formulations slightly. The male speaker has a very short orientation – this could be either because of the context i.e. that all his friends are aware of the existing scenario or it could be that men tend to use less specialise vocabulary and detail. Furthermore, the female speaker lacks a resolution to her story – this could be the nature of the content or it could be evidence that women talk too much.

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