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Becky Vella Muskat

Directed Studies: Essay 2 Page 1 of 6

Becky Vella Muskat

University of Malta

Directed Studies
Assessment type: Assignment part 2

Date: June 2013

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Directed Studies: Essay 2 Page 2 of 6

Present and contrast two ways in which data relating to language and gender have been collected and
analyzed in the relevant literature

In the first half of the 20
century, anthropologists and ethnographers went out into the field to collect
data so as to be able to document languages that for them were new, such as the languages of the
Americas. With this, came the birth of language and gender, as researchers noticed that these
languages differentiated between womens and mens speech on the basis of grammar, phonology, and
lexicon (Bucholtz & Hall, 2006, p. 756). Thereafter, interest spread and academics from various fields,
including sociology, anthropology and linguistics became interested in the data being collected. It
eventually became evident that these so-called womens languages and mens languages were
characterized as vastly different and mutually exclusive, and were often held up as evidence for the
rigidity of gender roles in traditional societies in contrast to the enlightened gender liberalism of
Western modernity (ibid. p. 756). This paper will deal with the development of language and gender
as a field of study. It will first look at the role that Robin Lakoffs seminal paper Language and the
Womens Place had to play in this development, before analyzing two more recent studies, one by Kira
Hall and one by Deborah Cameron, to look at new ways in which data is being collected in the field.
Coming up with a methodology that will allow the investigation of the link between language and
various social aspects of gender is no easy task. Since the birth of the field many attempts have been
made to come up with an adequate methodology. The paper said to have founded the field and the
interest in the correlation between language and the social construction of gender, is Robin Lakoffs
1972 paper. Her seminal paper outlined the different ways that men and women speak in English.
Lakoff used this paper to argue that the English language contributes to keeping women marginal to
the serious concerns of life, which are pre-empted by men (Lakoff, 1973).
Many studies today begin with a very carefully thought-out methodology that will allow one to analyze
the particular phenomenon under investigation and come with empirical evidence to prove their point.
Lakoff received much criticism for her study, as many were of the opinion that she lacked the empirical
evidence to backup many of her claims. She herself admits that in fact her claims were largely based on
her own introspection. She examined her own speech, that of people she knew and the media, as well
as her own intuition to make claims about how womens speech renders women weak partakers of
society. In a study that makes claims such as these, intuition alone lacks the required evidence that a
paper of this kind would necessitate.
More recent studies attempt to avoid such criticism, by basing their claims on empirical evidence though
some sort of data collection. Two examples of such studies are those by Kira Hall and Deborah Cameron.
In the first instance, Hall (1995) investigated the way in which fantasy hotline workers are able to do
their jobs by performing a role based on the speech of highly gendered stereotypes. In the second,
Cameron studied the speech of a group of male university students in order to make generalizations
about the features of their conversation that reinforce their gender and sexual orientation of straight

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Halls main research question was aimed at discovering how for example a male bisexual can pass as an
attractive Southern Bell or sexy Mexican chica, with only language as a tool. The workers at the hotlines
are able to fulfill callers fantasies by adopting a certain linguistic style. When looking at a handbook that
is given out to workers of a New York-based hotline, she saw that fantasy makers (a name for the people
that work on the phones at the hotlines) are given advice and instructions on how they can (verbally)
perform a particular character, like the ideal woman, the nymphomaniac etc., how to start and finish a
conversation, how to keep the caller interested, amongst other advice, rules and regulations. It is clear
from the start that although Halls study is interested in gender performance, she is ultimately
interested in the way these workers perform gender and sexuality through language. Hall mainly used
qualitative data in order to come up with the evidence that would match her research aims. Therefore,
her data mainly consisted of interviews that she conducted with employees of the hotlines themselves.
As a preliminary tool, Hall used a transcription of the prerecorded message from one of the hotlines. She
used the transcription of a 2 minute message to observe the way that the language that the workers use
and the way they structure it in the interest of portraying the image of the perfect woman. This
preliminary investigation supplied Hall with the necessary information to narrow her study and
formulate her data collection methodology.
One of Halls first methodological choices was to narrow the study down to call centers in the San
Francisco Bay area. Her first step was to inform the San Francisco Information Hotline about her
research and subsequently ask for support in finding participants for her study, i.e. workers of hotlines
that would be willing to conduct an interview. Her eventual participant populations consisted of 9 call-
doers (the people who actually speak to the clients and fulfill the fantasies), 2 managers, and 1 female
co-owner of one of the oldest companies of this sort in the US. Moreover, of these 12 participants, 10
were female and 12 male. These participants all worked for male-owned companies which advertize for
the homosexual male market as well the heterosexual market. Moreover, according to Hall, the age,
race, sex and sexual orientations of these workers were roughly equivalent to the female owned
hotlines in San Francisco.
With this information collected, Hall was able to conduct the interviews, on which her generalizations
were then based in her discussion. She started each interview by explaining that she was writing an
article about the sex-hotline industry from the viewpoint of the workers, but she did not disclose the
fact that she was specifically interested in language. In the interviews, Hall asked workers about their
opinions on sex-hotlines as well as their reason for working there. As most of the participants worked
there for economic purposes, Hall points out that their income is highly dependent on the language that
they use and their ability to manipulate it in order to fulfill the callers sexual fantasy. By subsequently
asking interviewees how they are able to come across as a young southern woman, or an African-
American etc. and how workers keep callers interested, Hall obtained information about how workers
adjust their lexical choices (e.g. by using color terms such as peach and apricot), open conversations
and make supportive comments among other things.
As is evident from the above discussion, Halls study used some preliminary research, such as the pre-
recorded message, but the bulk of her discussion is based on the interviews she conducted with the
workers of sex hotlines in San Francisco. We now turn to a study which used very different methodology
and data collection.
While Halls study investigated the way workers of sex hotlines consciously adjust their language to
perform a gender, sexual, age or race identity that does not match their own for reasons of others
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sexual fulfillment, as well as employment purposes, Cameron investigated the way that the language
used by straight males university students can be linked to their subconscious performance of sex and
Camerons study was also based on qualitative data analysis whereby she analyzed a conversation
among a group of men. While Hall used a short transcription in her preliminary work, one of the main
tools that Cameron used to collect this data was conversation analysis (CA), a method of studying the
sequential structure and coherence of conversations (Crystal, 2008). Moreover, while Hall went out
into the field to collect her data, Camerons data already existed and thus her research is based on the
further analysis of data that had already been analyzed in a different light.
A student of Camerons had recorded a conversation between him and some other male university
students while they were watching a sports game on television. As with any CA study, a number of
elements external to the actual conversation, such as the time and date, the context in which the
conversation took place (in this case male students watching sports) etc. were further noted down.
Camerons student originally analyzed the conversation in terms of the features that can be attributed
to stereotypical male-speech. Although many of his observations were accurate, they were not
complete, as Cameron saw that the conversation also had some features of womens speech, such as
the fact that the main topic of the conversation was gossip (a topic often stereotypically linked to
womens speech). Hence, in terms of data collection, Camerons research was not too taxing. While Hall
had to gather her data through interviews, Cameron relied on data that had already been recorded and
transcribed to work with.
Using the transcription of the conversation, Cameron went into a deeper discourse analysis that allowed
her to see the features of the language which the participants used to reinforce their gender and
sexuality. For example, Cameron noticed that in trying to reinforce their status as straight males, they
spent much of the conversation speaking about another male that was not present in the conversation.
They commented on the clothes and behavior of the male in question and identified him as gay based
on those two things. As mentioned above, this sort of gossiping is often ascribed to women. Additionally
through CA Cameron was able to make observations such as the fact that the conversation was
quantitatively dominated by 2 of the 4 men partaking in the conversation and examine the way the
speakers cooperated and competed for conversational turns.
While both the above studies used transcription as an important part of their analysis, the two studies
did so using very different means. Hall used the transcription of a prerecorded message as a preliminary
investigation to her study. Additionally, she used transcriptions of interviews that she herself conducted
with the hotline workers. While Halls transcriptions were a product of convenience, as it is much easier
to analyze a written text, than use audio, which needs to be paused and rewound every so often,
Camerons transcription of spoken dialogue was the basis of her study. Cameron used conversation
analysis to analyze the gendered speech that a group of male student subconsciously employ, while Hall
used opinions and anecdotes of hotline workers in order to discover how they consciously adjust their
language in order to portray an identity that is not theirs.
It is clear from the two aforementioned examples, that both studies were based on empirical data that
had been analyzed. When reading Lakoffs paper today, with hindsight, it is clear that she did in fact lack
evidence she needed to make such claims. In both the work of Hall and of Cameron, one can see that
they are making claims about language and language use based data that they have analyzed, although
the two used rather different means collecting that data. Camerons can be said to be the closest to
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reality in terms of the fact that it was recorded by a male student in an informal setting with a group of
friends and thus is likely to have little conditioning by the researchers themselves. Hall on the other
hand interviews her participants. Although she did not disclose her actual interest, this was an artificial
setting for her participants and may have in some way conditioned her results. However, as Halls study
was less concerned with observing the language used in context and more concerned with the
participants conscious use of language, this was probably a more suitable method of data collection for
her study. Both these studies display legitimate methods of collecting data, as well as the fact that a
study is highly dependent on an appropriate methodology. While it is likely that for Hall to obtain
transcript and recording data for her study and analyze the actual telephone conversations that take
place between employees and clients would have been impossible to obtain, interviews in Camerons
case would have made the data too artificial for her purposes.

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Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2006). Gender, Sexuality and Language. In K. Brown, Encyclopedia of language &
linguistics (pp. 756-758). Amsterdam: Elsevier Ltd.
Cameron, D. (1997). Performing gender identity: young men's talk and the construction of heterosexual
masculinity. In S. Johnson, & U. Hanna, Language and Masculinity (pp. 47-64). Oxford: Blackwell.
Crystal, D. (2008). A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Eckert, P., & McConnell-Ginet, S. (2003). Language and gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hall, K. (1995). Lip Service on the Fantasy Lines. In K. Hall, & M. Bucholtz, Gender articulated: language
and the socially constructed self (pp. 183-216). New York: Routledge.
Lakoff, R. (1973). Language and women's place. Language in Society 2(1) , 45-80.