Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Say goodbye to the female brain. Say hi to the female mouth

If you're an avid blog-reader, you'll remember last year's Myths of Mars and Venus story in which top linguist Deborah Cameron tore into the American bestseller The Female Brain. To summarise it, the writer of The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine made a claim that women use some 6000 more words a day than men, while Cameron (who is writing her own Myths of Mars and Venus) makes the point that there can be no "average" man or woman, least of all an average number of words we speak, because we use language differently depending on who we are, what we do, where we go and why we're doing it, and while gender may have some part to play in our language, it's one of many many factors.

The latest take on this comes in last week's news stories on a piece of research in Science magazine, reported here and here. According to The Guardian's story on this, "Men and women talk as much as each other, suggests a study which says that, on average, both genders speak around 16,000 words a day - a fact challenging the traditional notion that girls are considerably more chatty than boys".

The research is covered in more detail in The Times article here:

The first rigorous study exploring the verbosity of men and women has found both sexes equally capable of irritating jabber. The typical woman speaks an average of 16,215 words a day, while an average of 15,669 words pass the lips of men, a difference so small it is not statistically significant.


The most loquacious people of all, indeed, tend to be men, but men are also the most taciturn. All three of the biggest talkers who took part in the research were male, the most prolific of whom yakked his way through 47,000 words in a day. The most effusive woman managed a mere 40,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, one man spoke an average of just over 500 words each day. There were nine men who spoke fewer than 2,000 a day, compared with only four women.


As an average of 16,000 words are spoken each day, people who talk at 120 words per minute — the speed at which the BBC’s Huw Edwards reads the news — would end up speaking for a little more than two hours of the 17 they typically spend awake.
The Little Britain character Vicky Pollard, by contrast, speaks at 330 words per minute, and would get through the average daily word allocation in just 49 minutes.


The findings, from a team at the University of Arizona, overturn a notion that is not only popular with the public, but which has also found its way into scientific research.


The debate about male and female talk is continued here in a Times editorial, here on the BBC website and here in an article from today's Guardian. But as many commentators point out, the stereotype of women being chatterboxes is such a deeply ingrained social myth, that whatever the research presented to counter it, many refuse to accept it.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Male female conversation

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