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Women's language: Uncertainty or interpersonal sensitivity and emotionality?


Six differences in linguistic behavior in same-sex and mixed-sex problem-solving groups were explored. Small groups of all women, all men, and mixed sex were run and videotaped. Linguistic behavior was assessed through a content analysis of four syntactic categories: intensifiers, modal constructions, tag questions, and imperative constructions in question form. Support was found for the hypothesis of Key (1975) and Lakoff (1975) that women, as compared with men, use more linguistic categories that connote uncertainty. Support was also found for these authors' hypotheses that (1) women use more linguistic forms that connote uncertainty when men are present than when men are absent, and (2) men are more likely to interrupt women than women are likely to interrupt men. The results are discussed from the perspectives of women's role (supportive behavior and minority status) and women's culture (interpersonal sensitivity and emotionality).

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McMillan, J.R., Clifton, A.K., McGrath, D. et al. Women's language: Uncertainty or interpersonal sensitivity and emotionality?. Sex Roles 3, 545–559 (1977). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00287838

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  • Small Group
  • Social Psychology
  • Content Analysis
  • Minority Status
  • Supportive Behavior