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Gender, Speech Styles and the Assessment of Discussion

Chapter 4 - Data Analysis I: The Classroom Discussions

4.2.4 Group IV

Group IV consists of four girls, G5, G6, G7, and G8. No teacher is present. The speaker graded by the S.E.B. was G5, who was assessed as General Level, Grade 3. The group has read Act I of Twelfth Night, and is discussing possible directions the plot might take. Each speaker has a list of five hypothetical endings to the play, lettered 'a' to 'e', which the group is trying to arrange in order of probability. The group is, at least to an extent, hierarchically structured. G5 is the most dominant speaker, and G6 acts as her closest ally. G7 appears to be lower down in the hierarchy, and G8 is on the fringes of the group. G5, G6 and G7 use co-operative features towards each other on the whole, despite the hierarchical organisation of the group. G8, however, uses competitive forms, and her contributions to the discussion are mostly disruptive. Floor apportionment

There is very little difference between the number and length of turns taken by G5 and G6. G7, however, takes less than half as many turns as G5 and G6, and her turns are only half the length of theirs, on average. G8 speaks least.

speakerno.of words% age of words spokenno. of turns% age of turns takenav. turn length
G5 457 38.4 35 34.6 13.0
G6 484 40.6 34 33.6 14.2
G7 201 16.9 27 26.7 7.4
G8 27 4 5 4.9 9.6

Total number of words: 1,190

Total number of turns: 101

Average number of words per turn: 12

Total length of discussion: 5minutes 47seconds

From these results, it is clear that interaction is predominantly between G5 and G6, with G7 contributing significantly less, and G8 very little. It was in fact often difficult to distinguish G5 and G6's turns, since they frequently constructed joint turns. G7 contributed less to this joint turn building. G8's position in the group is interesting, since it is difficult to discern whether the other speakers are deliberately excluding her, or whether she has chosen not to participate. Her second comment (l.35-37) appears to be a deliberate challenge to the other speakers, which they ignore. Back channel support

There is a relatively low occurrence of back channel support, one reason for which appears to be that the function of back channel support is served by other linguistic forms in this discussion. There is a high instance of joint turn construction between speakers G5 and G6, and between G6 and G7, which seems to an extent to replace back channel support.

Giver recipient no.of items Giver recipient no. of items

G5 G6 7 G6 G5 3

G7 3 G7 0

G8 0 G8 0

G5 gives 10 items G6 gives 3 items

G5 receives 6 items G6 receives 8 items


Giver recipient no.of items Giver recipient no. of items

G7 G5 3 G8 G5 0

G6 1 G6 0

G8 0 G7 0

G7 gives 4 items G8 gives 0 items

G7 receives 3 items G8 receives 0 items


Total number of back channel items in discussion: 17

Ratio of back channel items to number of words: 1:69

The pattern observed in Groups I and II, of the most dominant speaker receiving the greatest number of back channel support items but giving the fewest, does not hold for this discussion. G5, who in other respects appears the most dominant speaker, gives the greatest number of back channel items. G6, on the other hand, receives most and gives fewest items of back channel support, although in other respects she appears to be subordinate to G5.

G8 gives no back channel support; neither does she receive any support for her utterances. Nothing is done by the other speakers to incorporate G8 into the discussion. Questions and tag questions

The way the members of this group ask questions and give answers is an aspect of the discussion which suggests that there is a hierarchical relationship between G5 and G6. G6 asks questions most frequently, G5 answers questions most frequently. G6's questions are requests for information, and G5's answers provide information. Such a clear distribution of request for and provision of information is typical of asymmetrical relationships, suggesting that the structure of the group is not one of equality, but one of hierarchy. G6 takes up the role of 'foil' to G5, asking questions which G5 then answers. Jenkins and Cheshire (1990) found girls typically taking the role here taken by G6, and feeding questions to the boys for them to answer, as G6 does here to G5. Instances of G6 asking for information which G5 provides occur at lines 2-3, and lines 84-87.


2. G6: but Viola is the one that's dressed up as a


3. G5: =uhuh as a boy

G6: servant?=


84. G6: if the Duke falls in love with Viola (.) how can


85. G5: (.) ah but it's sep.

G6: Olivia fall in love with the Duke


86. G5: it's separate stories (.) it's not (.) it doesn't go in


87. G5: that order

G6: oh right


The hierarchical structure of the group is also indicated by the distribution of tag questions. G5 is the speaker who most uses tag questions, despite asking no "full" questions. G5's tag questions appear to be to check her listeners follow her arguments, rather than asking for support, since she does not appear to be in any doubt about the views she expresses. She uses one formal tag question (lines 93-94) and the informal tag 'right' six times:


15. G5: Viola


16. G5: does like (.) Olivia right but she's not in love with


17. G5: her but she likes her (.) right and a. as a friend she

G6: yeah as a friend


G6 does not always take a subordinate position in the discussion. She does, for example, join in with G5 to give an answer at line 7, and between lines 30-68, answers at length a question which she herself has posed. However, overall in this discussion, G6 appears to take a subordinate position to G5 in her use of questions, and G5 takes a position of authority in her use of tag questions, and non-use of "full" questions. Epistemic modality and hedging

This aspect of the discussion also suggests that there is a hierarchical relationship between G5, G6, and G7. G6 uses more than half of all the hedges and markers of epistemic modality which appear in this discussion, 26 forms out of a total for the whole discussion of 47 forms, more than twice as many as G5, who only uses 9 forms. Although G6 uses also nearly three times as many epistemic modal forms and hedges in an absolute sense as G7, who uses 12 epistemic modal forms and hedges, G7 uses the greatest number of these forms in proportion to how much she speaks. The distribution of these features also suggests the three girls are in a hierarchial structure with G5 at its head, mitigating her utterances least, followed by G6 and by G7, who mitigates her utterances most. G5 often does not mark her proposals with epistemic modality even when it would not be unusual to do so, as in the following examples:

26-7 G5: then she'll either go into mourning for / seven years

28. G5: she'll never manage to stick it out

In another instance, G6 joins in with G5 to develop an idea, but while G5 has been using "can", which has no epistemic modal function, G6 uses "could", which does:


60. G5: then she can just say well she can't be because I'm a


61. G5: woman (I mean) (.) the Duke loves (.) Viola now

G6: yeah Olivia could say (.) the king the


62. G6: king the Duke could get jealous


G5 is the speaker to whom the other three group members defer; possibly the certainty with which she expresses herself is connected to their deference, either as a cause or a result.

G8 uses no hedges or epistemic modals at all, but makes unmitigated statements. The one cited below appears intended to shock the other group members; ie, she is challenging the group in the form and the content of her contribution:


35. G8: if the Duke falls in love with


36. G8: Viola (.) right (.) and somebody hears about it (.)


37. G8: they're going to think he's queer


With regard to the forms of modality and hedging, modality is not often marked in the verb, but more frequently with the use of "I think" or "I don't think". Two thirds of the hedges and epistemic modal forms used in the entire discussion are "I think" or "I don't think" (30 out of 47). This is quite a limited selection of forms, but it does give speakers an additional degree of flexibility as to where the modality marker is placed; the modality is almost separate from the proposal in the following instance:


21. G6: Olivia won't marry Saint


22. G6: Andrew s.s. sir Andrew (i) I don't think so


Another interesting marker of modality in this discussion is G6's use of "say that" and "just say that" to introduce a hypothetical situation:


38. G6: well just say that (1)


39. G6: ehmm (1) say that (1) eh Viola (.) Viola tells Olivia that


40. G6: she is a woman rightoh (.) and Olivia tells the Duke (.)


Having marked her turn initially with "say that", G6 uses no further markers of epistemic modality.

The use of epistemic modality and hedging in this discussion appears to relate to the position of the speaker within the group. The degree to which G5, G6 and G7 use these forms increases the lower their relative position in the group's hierarchy is. G8, on the other hand, who uses no epistemic modals or hedging forms, appears to reject the activity of group discussion, and places herself outside the group. The group's behaviour is not uniformly co-operative or competitive in this respect. G6 and G7 are more co- operative, while G8 and G5 are non-co-operative. Topic development

There are many aspects of topic development in this discussion which are co-operative. There is only one abrupt topic shift, and on the other two occasions when the topic changes, it is only after explicit consensus has been reached by all participating speakers. There is also a relatively high frequency of joint turn construction between some of the group members. An aspect of this may be that no pupil has been given the role of chair, and so the responsibility for the discussion is officially shared by all group members. Although G5 takes a more authoritative role, and G8 speaks very little, the distribution of responsibility is nevertheless more equally divided than in groups where one pupil has been made responsible for the progress of the discussion by the classroom teacher. An example of topic shift where all four group members explicitly reach consensus before G7 introduces a shift of topic at lines 26-29:


26. G5: then she'll either (XXXX) go into mourning for

G7: I don't think she will


27. G5: seven years=

G6: =neither do I because it's far too l. long=

G7: =so


28. G5: =I know=

G6: =oh no way=

G7: what was the (XXXX) =so

G8: she'll never manage to stick it out=


29. G5: =ehm a=

G6: (.) I would (.) I think

G7: what one's first= =a (.) aye


Joint turn construction also takes place frequently between G5 and G6, as at lines 63- 69, for example:


63. G5: uhuh instead of him=

G6: love with (.) Viola now =yeah (.) and he could


64. G6: pu. put her out of her job (.) you know (.) take her job


65. G5: so she just (XXXX)

G6: and then she could tell him that she's a woman (.) you know


66. G5:

G6: with her short hair (.) and he could (.) she could say


67. G6: that she only went to work there because noone would


68. G5: =and she heard that the Duke was

G6: employ her as a woman= and


69. G5: nice= uhuh

G6: =and sh. sh she loved him or something like that


Joint turn construction also takes place between G6 and G7, for example at lines 30- 33:


30. G6: =how's the Duke going


31. G6: to find out Viola's a woman though=

G7: =because she doesn't want


32. G7: anyone to find out and then (.) if anyone's going to (.)


33. G7: if the Duke finds out then everyone'll find out=


Despite this apparent co-operativeness, joint turn construction does not occur between G5 and G7, nor between G8 and any other group member except in the example of lines 26-29 given above. G8 attempts to make a sudden shift of topic at lines 69-71:


69. G6: =and sh. sh she loved him or something like that=

G8: =why


70. G8: not start listing down from what's going to be most


71. G8: unlikely


G5, G6, and G7 use joint topic construction to an extent, although selectively. G8 does not use this feature co-operatively. Lexical repetition

There are instances in the discussion where a great deal of co-operative lexical continuity occurs between the turns of G5, G6, and G7. Lines 4-6 are one example of this; G5 repeats G7 word for word:


4. G7: I think she's going to leave I think


5. G5: =she'll just leave=

G7: just leave= =she'll just leave with


6. G7: her brother


In a further illustration, G5 accepts and repeats G6's elaboration of the point G5 has made, which was that Viola is not in love with Olivia, when G6 adds 'as a friend':


16. G5: she's not in love with


17. G5: her but she likes her (.) right and a. as a friend she

G6: yeah as a friend


G5, G6, and G7 act co-operatively towards each other in this respect; G8 on the other hand does not repeat the others, or have her lexis repeated. The use of this feature by the group differs from epistemic modality and hedging, topic development, questions and tag questions, in that there does not appear to be a hierarchical distinction between G5, G6, and G7's use of the features, although G8 is still excluded from the co-operative behaviour of the other three, and behaves non-co-operatively towards them. Interruption and overlap

The discussion is distinctive amongst the other five discussions assessed by the S.E.B. for the quantity of overlapping speech it contains. The overlaps seem overwhelmingly to function co-operatively, although by a formal definition some overlaps are interruptions. However, G5, G6, and G7 all appear to produce overlaps and interruptions to the same extent, and to be equally on the receiving end of both, which suggests that interruptions are not linked to an hierarchical group structure in the cases of these three pupils' interactions with each other. G8, on the other hand, twice does interrupt the others when she speaks, and does not participate in the co-operative overlapping speech.

On many occasions, speakers overlap by only one word, and there are also longer, or repeated instances of overlapping speech. One extended instance of overlapping speech occurs between lines 2-6 amongst G5, G6, and G7:


2. G5: to just go up and say I'm sorry but I'm a woman

G6: but Viola is the one that's dressed up as a


3. G5: =uhuh as a boy she's not going to just go up and

G6: servant=


4. G5: say I'm sorry but I'm a woman

G6: and and but she knows (.) but she

G7: I think she's going to leave I think she'll


5. G5: =she'll just leave=

G6: knows she's female so she won't she won't exactly (.)

G7: just leave= =she'll just leave with her


6. G5: =no

G6: fall for her will she=

G7: brother =but does she know she's female


The speakers are here involved in complex relationships of turns and responses. All three overlap each other at line 4, but from the responses they make to each other, it appears that everyone is listened to, and that noone feels their turn has been disregarded, or that they have been deprived of the floor.

The first instance in the discussion where one speaker takes the floor from another, who clearly had not completed what she wanted to say, occurs at lines 27-29:


27. G7: =so


28. G5: =I know=

G6: =oh no way=

G7: what was the (XXXX) =so

G8: she'll never manage to stick it out=


29. G5: =ehm a

G7: what one's first=


G8 interrupts G7 before G7 has completed her turn, and the end of G7's turn is lost. G5 and G6 respond to G8's utterance, rather than G7's, apparently giving their tacit consent to G8's interruption of G7. This is a further example of G8's distinctive competitive behaviour in the group. G5, G6, and G7 act co-operatively with respect to overlapping speech, while G8 is competitive. This is a case, however, where the relationships between participants prior to the discussion seem to be influencing the interaction. Simultaneous speech

There is only one example of simultaneous speech in the discussion, which occurs between the two speakers most co-operative towards one another, G5 and G6:


82. G5: =a (.) Olivia finally falls for the Duke

G6: falls for the Duke


The single occurrence of this feature supports other indications that G5 and G6 are the speakers who are most co-operative towards each other in the discussion. Summary of Group IV discussion

The girls in Group IV exploit both co-operative and competitive forms, to produce / reveal simultaneously both hierarchical ranking within the group, and solidarity among three of the four group members.

Co-operative features occur between G5 and G6, such as lexical repetition and overlapping talk. G7 speaks less than G5 and G6, but also participates in co- operative, overlapping talk and lexical repetition. Joint turns are frequently constructed between G7 and G6, and between G6 and G5. There are occasions where three of the four girls participate in overlapping talk, and one in which all four girls participate in joint topic development. G5, G6, and G7 all give back channel support, and G6 and G7 regularly hedge their propositions.

There are other indications, however, that there is a hierarchy in the group. G5 and G6 speak the most, G7 speaks far less, and G8 speaks rarely. G5 uses far fewer epistemic modal forms and hedges proportionately than G6 and G7, while G8 uses none. G5 and G7 do not construct any joint turns with each other; G8 constructs joint turns with no one. Lexical repetition occurs between G5, G6 and G7, but not between these three and G8. While the other three speakers appear to overlap each other co- operatively, and to interrupt each other to similar extents while treating these interruptions as overlaps rather than competitive strategies, G8 makes two interruptions, which disrupt the course of the discussion.

Features of all three styles are exploited by group members, therefore. G5's behaviour includes co- operative behaviour towards G6, and non-co-operative behaviour towards G7 and G8. The co-operative features which are used co-exist with a hierarchy which has G5 at the top, G7 at the bottom, and G8 on the margins.

G5's profile is co-operative in the use of back channel support, lexical repetition, simultaneous speech, and joint turn construction with G6, and G7, though to a lesser degree with G7. She is non-co- operative in her use of hedging and questions, and competitive in her behaviour towards G8, who is largely ignored.