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Male and female backchannel strategies in face-to-face conversation

Male and female backchannel strategies in face-to-face conversation



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Published by elisabet.steiner
Elisabet Steiner. 2005. C-level assignment for the Department of English, Uppsala University, Sweden.
Elisabet Steiner. 2005. C-level assignment for the Department of English, Uppsala University, Sweden.

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Published by: elisabet.steiner on Mar 30, 2008
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Male and female backchannel strategiesin face-to-face conversation
C-level assignment for the Department of English, Uppsala UniversitybyE. Täljeblad-Steiner Supervisor: Pia NorellAustrasse 27CH-8134 Adliswil 2005Key words: backchannel, form, function, men, women, gender, mixed, conversation,support, difference, strategy, laughter
Table of Contents1. INTRODUCTION 21.1. Informal conversation 21.2. Aim of study 31.3. Material and method 32. BACKGROUND 42.1. Turns and backchannels 42.2. Identifying backchannels 62.2.1 Back-backchannels 72.2.2 Unnoticed turns 82.2.3 Comment on the transcription marker (>) 82.3 Backchannel functions 92.4 Laughter 93. RESULTS 113.1 Backchannel forms 113.2 Backchannel functions 123.2.1 Defining a "level of interest" scale 133.3 Appropriate timing 173.4 Elicited backchannels 184. CONCLUDING REMARKS 185. REFERENCES AND NOTES 19APPENDIX
1. INTRODUCTION1.1 Informal conversation
In one of her TV programs, the journalist Stina Dabrowski had as her guest the prominentpolitician Carl Bildt. The atmosphere was relaxed and Dabrowski picked the moment tocomment on the fact that she had never heard Bildt make one single mistake when hespoke, regardless if he was prepared or not; no grammatical errors, no repetition of words,not even a hesitation. Dabrowski said this in an unmistakingly disapproving tone, and Bildthad to defend himself, asserting that he made as many errors as the next man when itcame to spontaneous speech. This was, however, expressed with such eloquence that theaudience burst out laughing and Dabrowski said something like "Well, you are incorrigible".Bildt seemed a little embarrassed.This example shows how important it is to know how spoken language functions and whatimpact this knowledge or lack of knowledge has on our daily life. Crystal & Davy (1969:104)explain the phenomenon as follows:
Informal, spontaneous conversation is characterised by a very high proportion of 'errors',compared with other spoken varieties, involving hesitation features of all kinds, slips of the tongue (though these are by no means restricted to this variety), and a substantialamount of overlapping or simultaneous speech
Is there an interesting point to make in the fact that the above exchange took placebetween participants of different sex? Thirty years ago, language and gender did not existas a research area in sociolinguistics (Coates, 2003). By tradition, research concentrated onsocial class, ethnicity and age. Although gender has been said to be the primary category bywhich the social world is organised, it was long avoided. Why? As Coates states, still afterthe Second World War, the concept of man and person coincided. Man was the heart of thesociety, holding all important positions, and this 'maleness' was not remarked on (2003:10).A shift came with the Women's Movement and with well educated women, who focussedtheir research on women's characteristics. From a deficit and dominance approach(assuming that woman is powerless and subordinate, which is mirrored in her language),modern research often takes the view that 'gender' – an alternative expression to thebiological 'sex' – is socially constructed, and that women and men are equal, but usedifferent communication strategies. This is the stance that I take.

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