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Popular writing on gender and language typically makes the claim that women and
men differ in their communication styles. For example, Deborah Tannen in her books,
You Just Don't Understand (1990) and Talking from 9 to 5 (1994), characterized
women's conversations as 'rapport-talk,' language that maintains social connection,
and men's conversations as 'report-talk,' language that asserts male status and
authority. In the academic literature, however, there is considerable debate as to
whether there are gender differences in communication, or if there are, whether the
differences are large enough to be of any practical importance. This may be due,
in part, to the tremendous breadth of research in this field, which has examined
gender differences in syntax, semantics, non-verbal behaviours, the use of particular
words or expressions and other aspects of communication. Nevertheless, popular
books about gender and language resonate with everyday beliefs about how men and
women communicate, suggesting that gender differences may exist. Indeed, research
reveals that cultural stereotypes concerning gender often do reflect actual differences
between men and women (Hall and Carter, 1999). Additionally, the literature on
gender stereotypes reveals that, in general, people consider men to be more agentic
than women and women to be more communal than men (for example Williams and
Best, 1990), stereotypes that are consistent with Tannen's popular view of gender
differences in language.
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