Thursday, February 23, 2006

The language of mothers and daughters

As AS students are moving onto looking at gender in conversation, this story might be handy. Deborah Tannen, whose best-selling books on male/female conversation, You Just Don't Understand and That's Not What I Meant came out in the 1990s, has released a new book that explores the language of mothers and daughters.

Rather excruciatingly titled, You're Wearing THAT? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation Tannen sets out to explore "another hotbed of miscommunication: the mother-daughter relationship".

While the article's rather folksy, twee style might put some people off, Tannen's work (in my opinion) has always managed to just about skirt the right side of the linguistic/populist divide, unlike the simplistic metaphors and sweeping generalisations of John Gray's Men Are From Mars and Women From Venus, and some of Tannen's observations quoted in the article look interesting.

"We talk to each other in better and worse ways than we would to anyone else," Tannen said by phone shortly before heading out on tour.

It's not that fathers and daughters, or mothers and sons, don't face some of the same conversational hurdles. But mothers and daughters tend to suffer more scorch marks because of the closeness and power struggles that often define the relationship.

"Someone said, 'Who else can I tell but my mother that I got a good deal on toilet paper?' " Tannen said. "There's just a level of interest in every detail of your life."

Of course, as Tannen herself admits above, gender is just one factor in a range of other factors, that influences conversational behaviour. And gender itself is a much more fluid and flexible identity than many people like to acknowledge when dealing with this topic.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language