Hostname: page-component-7479d7b7d-wxhwt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-14T07:07:03.406Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Gender and academic discourse: Global restrictions and local possibilities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 August 2008

Department of Linguistics and English Language, Adam Ferguson Building, 40 George Square, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9LL, United Kingdom,


This article investigates the academic speech of humanities and natural science instructors and students in 32 lectures and interactional classes at a U.S. university. It examines how structural markers, questions, question tags, and turn-initial response tokens contribute to variations of style in response to academic division, context, gender, and communicative role in academic discourse. Data analysis couples qualitative discourse analytic methods with a quantitative sociolinguistic analysis. The quantitative analysis shows the factors of communicative role, academic discipline, and speech mode – not gender – to be the most influential in the use of the structures investigated. It is argued that the lack of significant results for gender arise from global discourse restrictions in academic speech. However, despite the global restrictions shown by quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis suggests that such restrictions can be overridden, especially in contexts of structural breaks and disruptions of information flow, and that features that contribute to more interactional and cooperative speech styles, frequently linked to females, can emerge.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Algeo, John (1988). The tag question in British English: It's different, isn't it? English World Wide 9:171–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beach, Wayne A. (1993). Transitional regularities for ‘casual’ “okay” usages. Journal of Pragmatics 19:325–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boulima, Jamila (1999). Negotiated interaction in target language classroom discourse. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bucholtz, Mary (1996). Black feminist theory and African American women's linguistic practice. In Bergvall, Victoria L.Bing, Janet M. & Freed, Alice F. (eds.), Rethinking language and gender research: Theory and practice, 267–90. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Calnan, A. C. T., & Davidson, Marilyn J. (1998). The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status on the use of tag questions in meetings. Women in Management Review 13:1936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cameron, Deborah (1995). Rethinking language and gender studies: Some issues for the 1990s. In Mills, Sara (ed.), Language and gender: Interdisciplinary perspectives, 3144. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Cameron, Deborah; McAlinden, Fiona; & O'Leary, Kathy (1988). Lakoff in context: The social and linguistic functions of tag questions. In Coates, Jennifer & Cameron, Deborah (eds.), Women and their speech communities: New perspectives on language and sex, 7493. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Coates, Jennifer (1993). Women, men and language. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Dines, Elizabeth R. (1980). Variation in discourse – “and stuff like that.” Language in Society 9:1331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dubois, Betty L., & Crouch, Isabel M. (1975). The question of tag questions in women's speech: They don't really use more of them, do they? Language in Society 4:289–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eckert, Penelope (2000). Linguistic variation as social practice: The linguistic construction of identity in Belten High. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Eckert, Penelope (2005). Variation, convention, and social meaning. Plenary talk at meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, San Francisco.Google Scholar
Eggins, Suzanne, & Slade, Diana (1997). Analysing casual conversation. London: Cassell.Google Scholar
Erman, Britt (1987). Pragmatic expressions in English: A study of you know, you see, and I mean in face-to-face conversation. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.Google Scholar
Erman, Britt (1992). Female and male usage of pragmatic expressions in same-sex and mixed-sex interaction. Language Variation and Change 4:217–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fishman, Pamela M. (1978). Interaction: The work women do. Social Problems 25:397406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gass, Susan M., & Varonis, Evangeline Marlos (1986). Sex differences in NNS/NNS interactions. In Day, Richard R. (ed.), Talking to learn: Conversations in second language acquisition, 327–51. Rowley: Newbury House.Google Scholar
Goffman, Erving (1981). The lecture. In Goffman, Erving (ed.), Forms of talk, 162–96. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Grässel, Ulrike (1991). Sprachverhalten und Geschlecht: Eine empirische Studie zu geschlechtsspezifischem Sprachverhalten in Fernsehdiskussionen. Pfaffenweiler, Germany: Centaurus.Google Scholar
Greenwood, Alice, & Freed, Alice F. (1992). Women talking to women: The function of questions in conversation. In Hall, KiraBucholtz, Mary & Moonwomon, Birch (eds.), Locating power: Proceedings of the second Berkeley Women and Language Conference, 197206. Berkeley, CA: BWLG.Google Scholar
Heisler, Troy (1996). OK – a dynamic discourse marker in Montréal French. In Arnold, Jennifer (ed.), Sociolinguistic variation: Data, theory and analysis, 293312. Stanford, CA: CSLI.Google Scholar
Henley, Nancy (1995). Ethnicity and gender issues in language. In Landrine, Hope (ed.), Bringing cultural diversity to feminist psychology, 361–96. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heritage, John (1988). Current developments in conversation analysis. In Roger, Derek & Bull, Peter (eds.), Conversation: An interdisciplinary approach, 2147. Clevedon & Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Holmes, Janet (1982). The functions of tag questions. English Language Research Journal 3:4065.Google Scholar
Holmes, Janet (1984). Hedging your bets and sitting on the fence: Some evidence for hedges as support structures. Te Reo 27:4762.Google Scholar
Holmes, Janet (1986). Functions of you know in women's and men's speech. Language in Society 15:121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Holmes, Janet (1998). Women's talk: The question of sociolinguistic universals. In Coates, Jennifer (ed.), Language and gender: A reader, 461–83. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Holmes, Janet, & Marra, Meredith (2004). Relational practice in the workplace: women's talk or gendered discourse? Language in Society 33:377–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Holmes, Janet, & Schnurr, Stephanie (2006). ‘Doing femininity’ at work: More than just relational practice. Journal of Sociolinguistics 10:3151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Holmes, Janet, & Stubbe, Maria (1997). Good listeners: Gender differences in New Zealand conversation. Women and Language 20:714.Google Scholar
Lakoff, Robin (1975). Language and women's place. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
Lavandera, Beatriz R. (1978). Where does the sociolinguistic variable stop? Language in Society 7:171–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levin, Harry, & Gray, Deborah (1983). The lecturer's OK. American Speech 58:195200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarthy, Michael (1991). Discourse analysis for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
McCarthy, Michael (2002). Good listenership made plain. British and American non-minimal response tokens in everyday conversation. In Reppen, RandiFitzmaurice, Susan M. & Biber, Douglas (eds.), Using corpora to explore linguistic variation, 4972. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mehan, Hugh (1979). “What time is it, Denise?”: Asking known information questions in classroom discourse. Theory Into Practice 18:285–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meyerhoff, Miriam (1996). Dealing with gender identity as a sociolinguistic variable. In Bergvall, Victoria L.Bing, Janet M. & Freed, Alice F. (eds.), Rethinking language and gender research: Theory and practice, 202–27. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Mills, Sara (2003). Third wave feminist linguistics and the analysis of sexism. Discourse Analysis Online. Scholar
Milroy, Lesley (1987). Observing and analyzing natural language. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
O'Barr, William M., & Atkins, Bowman K. (1980). Women's language or powerless language. In McConnell-Ginet, Sally et al. (eds.), Women and language in literature and society, 98110. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
Ochs, Elinor (1992). Indexing gender. In Duranti, Alessandro & Goodwin, Charles (eds.), Rethinking context: Language as an interactive phenomenon, 335–58. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Östman, Jan-Ola (1981). “You know”: A discourse-functional approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poos, Deanna, & Simpson, Rita (2002). Cross-disciplinary comparisons of hedging: Some findings from the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English. In Reppen, RandiFitzmaurice, Susan M. & Biber, Douglas (eds.), Using corpora to explore linguistic variation, 323. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Romaine, Suzanne, & Lange, Deborah (1991). The use of like as a marker of reported speech and thought: A case of grammaticalization in progress. American Speech 66:240–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rosenblum, Karen E. (1986). Revelatory or purposive? Making sense of a female register. Semiotica 59:157–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schachter, Stanley; Christenfeld, Nicholas; Ravina, Bernard; & Bilous, Frances (1991). Speech disfluency and the structure of knowledge. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60:362–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simpson, Rita C.; Briggs, Sarah L.; Ovens, Janine; & Swales, John M. (2000). The Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English. Ann Arbor, MI: Regents of the University of Michigan.Google Scholar
Sinclair, John, & Coulthard, Malcolm (1975). Towards an analysis of discourse: The English used by teachers and pupils. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Stubbs, Michael (1983). Discourse analysis: The sociolinguistic analysis of natural language. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Swacker, Marjorie (1975). The sex of the speaker as a sociolinguistic variable. In Thorne, Barrie & Henley, Nancy (eds.), Language and sex: Difference and dominance, 7683. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.Google Scholar
Swann, Joan (2002). ‘Yes, but is it gender?’ In Litosseliti, Lia & Sunderland, Jane (eds.), Gender identity and discourse analysis, 4367. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tannen, Deborah (1990). You just don't understand: Women and men in conversation. New York: William Morrow.Google Scholar
Tannen, Deborah (1994). Gender and discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Tannen, Deborah (2002). Agonism in academic discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 34:1651–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tottie, Gunnel (1991). Conversational style in British and American English: The case of backchannels. In Aijmer, Karin & Altenberg, Bengt (eds.), English corpus linguistics, 254–71. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Zimmermann, Don H., & West, Candace (1975). Sex roles, interruptions and silences in conversation. In Thorne, Barry & Henley, Nancy (eds.), Language and sex: Difference and dominance, 105–29. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.Google Scholar