April 13, 2004
Prof finds male conversation doesn’t match stereotype
talk” and stereotypes of slumber parties and ladies who lunch come to
mind. Are there similar images of “guy talk”?
Anthropology professor Cindi SturtzSreetharan wanted to find out if male friends talk among themselves in the manner people would expect them to. And she did so among an under-studied population: Japanese men.
The findings of her study of male friendship groups, which was published in the journal Language and Society, contradicts the image of men talking about “manly” topics. At least among Japanese males, feelings and emotions were as likely to come up as sports and current events.
“The stereotypes didn’t really apply. Overwhelmingly they talked differently than you might expect,” SturtzSreetharan says. “Men get personal. They discuss their feelings and their goals. In the literature that is relegated to the female domain. We overwhelmingly think of females as more polite and emotional.”
She also found that age was the biggest indicator of who used so-called masculine speech. “I found that, in general, young males 19 to 25 years old were the most likely to use the type of speech we’d call masculine,” she says.
Older men used the most stereotypical female language markers of all the groups. And the most neutral language was among middle-aged men.
SturtzSreetharan’s findings came from listening to hours of tape of groups of men – ranging in age from 19 to 67 – interacting in casual settings, such as over a meal or in a bar. Life-stage was found to be more powerful than age, sex or social class in predicting how a person might speak in a particular situation.
One of her theories is that in Japan it’s important to act like the rest of your age group. SturtzSreetharan also suspects it may be a natural part of the aging process.
“Young guys in some ways fulfill stereotypes,” SturtzSreetharan says. “There was a lot of talk about women and they were somewhat competitive.” The group was comprised of students who SturtzSreetharan suspects were taking advantage of their status as out of high school but not yet in the real world, which allows them to express themselves and play with words more than when they move on.
The most neutral speech was among the middle-aged men. The group was composed of men who work together as middle managers for a home improvement center, where they can’t be too masculine in their speech or too feminine. Their conversation style was the plainest by all males. “The way they talk at work becomes the norm,” she says.
The oldest males in the study were in their late 60s and used the most stereotypical female language markers of all the groups. They didn’t use stereotypical masculine markers at all. “One guess is because they’ve been through careers and now are grandparents,” SturtzSreetharan says. Politeness may grow from those roles. And, politeness is often combined with feminine language.
Whereas in the United States the majority of gender studies of language patterns are based on studies of women, it’s even more lopsided in Japan. SturtzSreetharan could find no evidence of research on speech among Japanese men.
And though she can’t make direct comparisons, she ventures a guess that there are similarities with her findings among Japanese men and male English-speakers. She hopes to expand her research to include conversations with females and family members.
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