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Gender, Speech Styles and the Assessment of Discussion

Chapter 4 - Data Analysis I: The Classroom Discussions

4.2.5 Group V

There are two girls in Group V, G9 and G10; the teacher is not present. The speaker graded by the S.E.B. is G10, who is assessed as Credit level, Grade 2. The topic of the discussion is "what qualities would you like in a good teacher?", and the pupils have been provided with a list of attributes which they have to rank in order of importance. Neither pupil is officially in the role of the chair, although G9 attempts to 'manage' the discussion more. Floor apportionment

Both speakers in this discussion take long turns, although G9's average turn is longer than G10's.

speakerno.of words% age of words spokenno. of turns% age of turns takenav. turn length
G9 367 62 13 54 28.25
G10 225 38 11 46 20.5

Total number of words: 592

Total number of turns: 24

Average number of words per turn: 24.6

Total length of discussion: 4minutes 39seconds

The average turn length for the whole discussion is 24.6 words, longer than the average turn length for any of the preceding discussions, in which speakers received lower grades. The floor is not shared equally between both participants: G9 speaks more than G10, taking two more turns in addition to taking longer turns. The floor normally switches from one girl to the other at the completion of each turn, although on two occasions (lines 20 and 52) G9 self-selects for a further turn after she has completed a turn and there has been a pause. G9 speaks marginally less than two thirds the number of words which G9 speaks.

Difference in quantity of speech is one of the linguistic features which suggest G9 is attempting to dominate the discussion. Back channel support

The relative proportion of back channel support items in the discussion is very low compared to the other discussions.


giver recipient no. of items giver recipient no. of items

G9 G10 3 G10 G9 4


G9 gives 3 items G10 gives 4 items

G9 receives 4 items G10 receives 3 items


Total number of back channel items in discussion: 7

Ratio of back channel items to number of words: 1:85

The degree to which the speakers provide each other with back channel support is relatively equal, but neither girl gives the other frequent back channel support. The discussion is non-co-operative in this respect. Questions and tag questions

In this discussion, only one question is asked, by G9 at lines 33-34.


33. G9: what about works hard to keep up to date in his or her


34. G9: subject


This is an unusually low occurrence of questions and tag questions compared to the other discussions in the sample. G9's question is the only instance of either speaker actively seeking the opinion of the other. G10 does not encourage G9 to take the floor by asking questions, or using tag questions. The discussion is non-co-operative in this respect also. Epistemic modality and hedging

Both speakers use hedges, although neither uses epistemic modal verb forms. The total number of hedges is similar for each girl: G9 uses 13 hedges compared to G10's 15 hedges. However, when the total amount of speech each girls produces is taken into account, G10 uses hedges proportionately more frequently than G9. Lines 48-51 below illustrate both speakers hedging:


48. G9: I mean it's good if somebody does that you know it's



49. G9: extra (.) it's good for them a.

G10: I know but (.) I mean this


50. G9:

G10: isn't really about a teacher's job is (.) it's what you


51. G9: = I suppose (.) so (2)

G10: would like in a good teacher =


G9's use of hedges also includes hedged agreement with G9 at line 51, a case where the hedge is not functioning co-operatively, but competitively, since it reduces the force of G9's agreement. In addition, G9 also makes four aggravated assertions, while G10 makes none:

1. G9: I think it's got to be

2. G9: that's what a teacher is for

5. G9: I think it's got to be number one

12. G9: that is what their job is

Overall, G9 is more competitive in the use of hedges, while G10 is more co-operative. Topic development

It is very much the case that within the confines of the task, the two girls develop their ideas independently. An instance of this occurs at lines 35-44; both speakers make identical separate and consecutive points about the importance of a teacher being able to keep order in the classroom:


35. G9: (3) it's either that or is able to maintain discipline and


36. G9: order (2) cos without that (.) if a teacher's really soft


37. G9: (.) you don't get anything done (1.5) unless he's got


38. G9: discipline and order (.) cos everybody just mucks about in


39. G9: their class and you never get anything done=

G10: =uhuh I think


40. G10: it'd be (1) erhm (1.5) to keep the (.) discipline and


41. G10: order and then to (.) keep up to date in his or her


42. G9: uhuh

G10: subject (.) because I mean if you don't keep discipline


43. G10: then nobody pays attention (.) just all messing around (.)


44. G9: (1.5) right

G10: it's a waste of time if you ask me


The two speakers keep their ideas quite distinct. Even when they agree on a quality they would like in a teacher, and agree on the same grounds, they make the point separately, as if they were contrasting points. Both girls do acknowledge the other's points here with explicit agreement, and G9 gives G10 back channel support. However, there is none of the joint turn construction which has appeared between girls in Groups I and IV.

The discussion is not co-operative in this respect, and both girls actively participate in maintaining the "separateness" of their contributions. Lexical repetition


There are instances of lexical repetition in the discussion, but the function does not appear to be co- operative. For example, at lines 8-10, G10 repeats G9's phrases "high standards" and "hard work" to dispute G9's giving them priority. G10 repeats "high standards" again at line 17, to dispute G9's assumption that high standards can be achieved if lessons are not interesting. The lexical continuity does show that G10 is listening closely to G9, so there is an element of formal co-operation in G10's behaviour, but her main purpose is to dispute the point, not seek common ground. Interruptions and overlap

There is one case of interruption in the discussion, and one of overlap. The overlap occurs at line 52 when both speakers simultaneously self-select after a pause of two seconds following G9's turn. After 1.5 seconds of unclear overlapping speech, G10 stops talking and G9 carries on. Normally, however, there is a small pause between speakers taking the floor (eg. at lines 11, 19, 20, 23). This gives the discussion a degree of formality, and allows the boundaries between speaker turns to be very distinct. The pauses, rather than latching, between turns and the single instance of overlap, are properties of a non-co-operative, rather than a co-operative discussion.

The interruption occurs at line 49, when G10 interrupts G9. G10 mitigates her interruption with the phrase "I know", which reduces the extent of the explicit disagreement. This is a case of G10 using a competitive feature, but mitigating it with a co-operative feature:


48. G9: I mean it's good if somebody does that you know it's


49. G9: extra (.) it's good for them a.

G10: I know but (.) I mean this


50. G10: isn't really about what a teacher's job is (.) it's what you


51. G9: =I suppose (.) so

G10: would like in a good teacher=


Thus both speakers are generally non-co-operative in their use of overlap, while G10 does make one point by using a competitive feature. Simultaneous speech

There were no instances of simultaneous speech in this discussion; again, this is a non-co-operative aspect of the discussion. Summary of Group V discussion

This is a predominantly non-co-operative discussion between two girls. Both girls take longer turns on average than pupils in previously analysed discussions. Neither girl gives the other frequent back channel support. There is only one instance of a question being used, by G9, to invite a response from G10. G9 makes unhedged assertions, and both girls maintain the separateness of their arguments and do not construct turns jointly. Neither interruption nor overlap occurs more than once. There is no simultaneous speech. In all these respects the discussion is non-co-operative. Other aspects of the discussion are competitive. G9 talks more than G10, and disagrees with her without mitigation twice. Both speakers use lexical repetition competitively, to draw attention to points of dissent. On the other hand, both speakers hedge to a degree, a co-operative feature, although they do not use epistemic modal verb forms. G10 hedges more than G9.

From this analysis, it emerges that both speakers use a variety of forms in the discussion. G9, as the speaker who talks more, and makes unmitigated propositions, sets up a non-co-operative and competitive discussion environment. G10 handles this by also using non-co-operative features, with one competitive interruption, and more co-operative hedging than G9 uses. G9's preference in this context is non-co- operative talk and competitive talk, therefore, and G10 responds by using mainly non- co-operative talk which allows her to maintain status in the discussion.