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Ross Bradley

Language Theory 7312

Language Theory Paper
Dr. Michael Kleine
Politeness, Gender, and Text messages: Analyzing text messages on differences in
gender politeness
Gender like language is an everyday part of our lives. We see it, we feel it, we
interact using it everyday. Gender helps us identify ourselves and other individuals in
society and make sense of the world around us. But, gender is often criticized because
it has created gender roles in society and has exasperated segregation within society
because of gender. Gender has also caused men and women to act and interact
differently. Conventionally, it is believed and has been somewhat proven that men and
women converse differently than one another. Face, which is a sociological concept,
helps explain how individuals maintain their image or face in a social setting similar to
how gender functions in society. Politeness theory, which is based on face, explains
how individuals maintain or recover their image or face when it is threatened by other
individuals in a social setting. Applying both gender theory and politeness theory there
should be some differences in the way the genders respond to face threatening actions.
Analyzing text messages by using gender and politeness theory has shown that the
genders converse differently than one another.

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Gender Roles and Gender Binary

Gender binary can trace itself back to gender roles. A common misconception is
gender and sex are the same thing. They are not. Gender Spectrum, an organization
that writes on and advocates gender sensitivity for children and teenagers, states
gender is not inherently nor solely connected to ones anatomy (Understanding
Gender). Sex is a biological term and the characteristics that make an individual male,
female, or neither were created and upheld by scientific principles. Gender is a social
term and whether you are a man, woman, or something else is defined by the society in
which the individual lives in. Gender is extremely complex and varies widely, while sex
does not. Ruth Wienclaw in Gender Differences: Biology and Culture states:
Sex is biological in nature and determines one's biological destiny, such
as the ability to bear or sire children. Gender, on the other hand, helps
define one's role within society. Gender or the psychological, social,
cultural, and behavioral characteristics associated with being female or
male is a learned characteristic based on one's gender identity and
learned gender role. Gender can be thought of as a society's interpretation
of the cultural meaning of one's sex. In fact, the perspective of "doing
gender" posits that gender is a construct that is interpreted by members of
a society through the ongoing social interactions that individuals have with
each other. (Weinclaw)
Gender is upheld and maintained by the society in which the individual lives and society
dictates how individuals should act according to their gender.

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Amy Blackstone defines gender or gender roles as different expectations that

individuals, groups, and societies have of individuals based on their sex and based on
each societys values and beliefs about gender (Blackstone 335). The misconception
and misuse of gender and sex as synonymous probably comes from the fact that
gender is based on sex. As Blackstone stated, gender comes from the expectations of
society. Every society has different conceptions of what makes a man or woman and
how a man should act versus a woman. Gender is not only fluid based on the particular
society but also the time in which this society is in. Society is always changing and
subsequently gender is changing with it. American society expects men to act differently
now than it did in the 1850s. Genderization ultimately leads to gender roles.
Gender roles or the role certain genders should fill within society is based around
the misconception society has of gender and sex. Western societies view gender as a
binary concept with two roles: male or female. These roles are both founded around sex
not gender. When a child is born in Western society, physical anatomy or sex,
determines the gender role a child must carry on with them the rest of their lives. The
gender label affects every aspect of an individual's life from what clothes they wear to
what kind of career they should have (Understanding Gender).
Gender roles are not necessarily bad, though. Gender does play a psychological
role and helps individuals understand other individuals around them. Nathaiel Givens in
What are Gender Roles good for? makes an interesting point when he states, when it
comes to human inventions, this intuition is sound, but gender roles were not invented.
Like language and markets, they belong to a class of social mechanisms that predate

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history (Givens). Social mechanisms, like language, enable individuals to interact with
other individuals in a social level. Gender also seems to fill this role to some extent, but
there are many arguments explaining what role gender exactly plays within society.
These range from the law of comparative advantage, which is a an economic principle
that states it is always best for two parties to specialize and trade, to families and how
gender helps keep families institutionalized within society (Givens).
Gender roles seem to have some function within society, but they have caused
damage. It is apparent, within American society, gender roles have caused problems
with pay inequality in the workplace, discrimination and isolation based on individuals
who do not fit into the Western binary gender system, and many other issues. Gender,
like most things, is not harmful within certain bounds but when it exceeds these bounds
it can be damaging. Gender roles have also not kept up with a changing society.
One particular place where gender roles are shown very well is in the workplace.
Ruth Weinclaw states, Traditionally, Western society typically assigned men the role of
breadwinner and head of the family while women were assigned the role of homemaker
and mother (Weinclaw). This excluded women from the workplace and when they were
allowed in the workplace they were, as Weinclaw notes, placed in support roles:
secretaries, sales clerks, and other jobs (Weinclaw). This work assignment based on
gender was very common 60 years ago. But, things have changed a lot and it has
become more and more common to see women in high leadership roles that were
typically reserved for men. Have women reached workplace equality with men. No, but

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things are definitely different than they were. One thing that has remained the same is
the way men and women are supposed to act.
Gender and conversations
Gender roles not only define the macro aspects of our life like what careers we
choose, but also the micro aspects of our lives like the way we interact with other
individuals. Amy Blackstone states, Traditionally, many Western societies have
believed that women are more nurturing than, on the other hand, are
presumed by traditional views to be leaders (Blackstone 337). One particular aspect
that is conventionally believed in and has been proven is that women are more
emotionally expressive than men. Emotional expressivity can mean many different
things but it typically means women are thought of as better at engaging and facilitating
conversations related to the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others. Men are often
thought of as better at conversing on more concrete and factual topics.
These observations about differences in the way the genders converse is related
to the different historical positions genders were assigned roles in society. As noted
before, gender roles change throughout time. Men were often placed in leadership roles
while women were secluded to support roles. This undoubtedly had an affect on the
way men and women converse. An historical study of college students by Stuart M.
Stoke and Elmer D. West in the early 20th century showed that men tend to converse
more about physical things and topic like sports while women converse more about
personalities, cultural topics, and social conventions (Stoke and West 126). The
authors cite and build their study around Henry Moore who studied gender differences

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in conversation topics. Moore found in men to men conversations 48% of the

conversations focused on money and business while in women to women conversations
only 3% focused on money and business, in men to men conversations 14% of the
conversations focused on amusement while in women to women conversations 4% of
the conversations focused on amusement, in men to men conversations 13% of the
conversation focused on persons of the same sex while in women to women
conversations 16% of the conversation focused on persons of the same sex, in men to
men conversations 2% of the conversations focused on clothes, buildings, interior
decoration while in women to women conversations 23% of the conversations focused
on clothes, buildings, interior decoration, and in men to men conversations 8% of
conversations focused on persons of the opposite sex while in women to women
conversations 44% of the conversations focused on persons of the opposite sex (120).
Granted, this study was published in 1931 and the way the men and women act and
converse has probably changed. Comparing a more recent study to this older one
should show or not show any differences in gender and conversation topic because of
An exploratory study by Jack Levin and Arnold Arluke of Northeastern University
examined college students and the differences in gossip among the genders. They
found that 71% of womens conversations were spent on gossiping while 64% of mens
conversations were spent on gossiping (Levin and Arluke 283). The study by Stoke and
West also examined gossip and the differences in the early 20th century among men
and women. They specifically studied and compared fraternity members, sorority

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members, and women living in dormitories and found that when the topic focused on
gossip women in both categories outranked men (Stoke and West 122).Specifically,
men proportionally ranked at 2.3, sorority members ranked at a 4.0, and women living in
a dormitory at a 4.9 (122). This particular comparison shows that women still gossip
more than men despite society changing throughout time. Another study also shows
gender roles have not completly changed from the early 20th century.
Katherine Bischoping of the University of Michigan recreated Henry Moores
original study in a research methods course in 1990 on the University of Michigan
campus. She found that there were still differences between the genders but they had
narrowed more since Moores original study. Her data shows in mens conversations
43.2% of the conversation topics focused on work and money while in womens
conversation 37.5% of the conversation focused on work and money, in mens
conversations 39.2% of conversation topics focused on leisure and activity while in
womens conversations 25.8% of conversation topics focused on leisure and activity, in
mens conversations 9.6% of conversation topic focused on persons of the same sex
while in womens conversation 8.6% of womens conversation topics focused on
persons of the same sex, in mens conversations 1.6 of conversation topics focused on
appearance while in womens conversations 3.9% of conversation topics focused on
appearance, and in mens conversations 6.4% of conversation topics focused on
persons of the opposite sex while in womens conversations 24.2% of conversation
topics focused on persons of the opposite sex (Bischoping 5). On top of these different
conversation topic, men and women should engage in conversation differently.

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Politeness Theory and Gender

Politeness theory is a theory developed by Penelope Brown and Stephen C.
Levinson and is based on Erving Goffmans theory on face work. Face, is the public
self-image that every member wants to claim for himself, consisting of two related
aspects (Jaworski and Coupland 311). Negative face is the basic claim to territories,
personal preserves, rights to non-distraction - i.e., to freedom of action and freedom
from imposition (311). Positive face is the positive consistent self-image or
personality (crucially including the desire that this self-image be appreciated and
approved of) claimed by interactants (311). The other aspect or assumption Brown
and Levinson make is, certain rational capacities, in particular consistent modes of
reasoning from ends to the means that will achieve those ends (311). Face has to do
with the way we interact with others and the way we want to be perceived by other
individuals. Throughout our interactions with other individuals, we will encounter face
threatening actions or FTAs, which are actions by other individuals which are contrary to
the face the speaker wants have and maintain within a social setting (313). FTAs are
unavoidable and the interesting thing is how individuals handle FTAs or save face.
Saving face or face work refers to actions used by individuals to make their
behavior or face appear consistent with the image the individual wants to present. There
are multiple methods individuals can save face. The first method is bald-on record. This
method is mostly used when the speaker has a close relationship with the audience.
This strategy does not attempt to minimize the threat to the hearers face and this
strategy will often shock or embarrass the person being addressed. These also tend to

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be very direct and imperative when looking at a transcript of a conversation (Jaworski

and Coupland 316).
The next method is positive politeness. This method is used to minimize the
threat to the hearers positive face. This method tends to be used when the speaker
knows their audience well and is often used by the speaker to make the hearer feel
good about his or her self. In transcripts of conversations, positive politeness often uses
hedging to avoid conflict, offers promises, avoids disagreements, jokes, and the
speaker usually asks about the hearers well being (Jaworski and Coupland 317).
The next method is negative politeness. This method is aligned to the hearers
negative face and the speaker will primarily avoid imposition of the hearer. In this
method, the speaker knows they will be imposing on the listener and their is more
potential for embarrassment and awkwardness than in bald on record strategies. In
situations where negative politeness methods are used, the speaker and their audience
are not very intimate or the situation calls for them not to be very close. Transcripts of
conversations of negative politeness often have apologies, plural pronouns, pessimism,
hedging and or questions, and overall indirectness. Favors are a good example of
negative politeness. The last method is off record, in which the speaker removes
themselves from the conversation in order to not seem like they are imposing on the
hearer. The speaker is extremely indirect when using this method.
According to gender theory, men and women converse differently especially
when it comes to the topics they choose to discuss. One would expect, men and women
to also perform facework differently based on the effects of gender.

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Examining Text messages using politeness and gender theory

For my research, I examined text messages between myself and other
individuals to see if men and women conversed differently in a digital format than in
physical conversation. Research shows that men and women converse about different
topics based on gender. I also wanted to look and see if men and women use different
saving face methods.
The first group of text messages I examined were a shared thread between two
men and two women. I selected an entire week of messages and analyzed it for several
things including saving face methods. The first thing I looked for was turns taken in the
conversation by gender. Looking at this particular thread, women took more turns than
men by a large margin. One male only took 8 turns and the other male three turns. One
woman took 19 turns while the other women took 15 turns. This isnt conclusive so I
examined a few more shared text message threads between men and women. The next
thread included two women and one man. I pulled an entire weeks text messages and
examined them for turns taken. In this thread, one woman had 12 turns and the other
woman had 21 turns. The man had 29 turns. This thread shows that the man had taken
more turns than the other two women. I examined a third shared text message thread
between two women and one man to see what this one showed as far as turns taken.
These text messages were collected over one week. One woman took 27 turns and the
other woman 44 turns. The man took 45 turns. This thread of text messages shows that
the man took more turns than the women in the thread. This analysis shows there isnt

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any conclusive data on whether or not women or men take more turns in text messages
and more research will need to be done.
The next thing I did was analyze different sets of text messages for different
saving face strategies based on gender. The first set of messages I analyzed were
between men and men only. I noticed some interesting things. One thing I noticed was
the conversations seemed to be centered around a topic and not the individuals in the
conversations. For example, there may have been a few instances of questions like
how are you?, but when these were used they were just opening dialogue for
discussion about a topic. I also didnt really see any FTAs since the conversations were
so focused on the topic. There were a few instances that were characteristics of
negative politeness, such as asking for favors. This would make sense because the
conversations were focused on topics and usually needing or wanting something from
the other individual.
Example 1
Text message thread between two men over a few weeks.
Male 1: man I think the causal argument is really good! Are you in the wc
tomorrow evening?
Male 2: Yep yep
Male 1: hey man! Are you in the wc this afternoon?
Male 2: Yep
Male 1: great! Can you please help me with my rogerian argument later?
Male 2: Sure can

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Male 1: hey man. Do you have time to answer some questions about my portfolio
tomorrow afternoon?
Male 2: Yep Ill be in the wc till 6
Male 1: pefect! Thx a lot!
Male 2: No biggie
This conversation thread occurred over a few weeks. In this particular thread,
there are no conversation starters and there are no questions about the other individual.
The conversation is completely focused on a topic. There is some interesting hedging
going on in the conversation, which is related to negative politeness. In the first
message from Male 1, he compliments the other persons work with him on a previous
assignment and then asks for help with a new assignment. Later in the thread, Male 2
thanks the Male 1 for help that hasnt occurred yet without knowing how well the work
will be. Male 1 obviously wants Male 2 to feel appreciated, so they will continue helping
Male 1 but doesnt directly say it. Male 2 is extremely direct and is completely focused
on the topic and not the other individual. All of hisresponses, are answers without any
additional information.
Example 2
Text message thread between two men over a few weeks.
Male 1: What kind of wine does ___ like?
Male 2: Favorite is cabernet sauvignon. She also like red wine. She hates pinot
noir. She likes merlots and chardonnay.
Male 1: Kk tanks

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Male 1: How goes the Saturday?

Male 2: If I have flowers delivered to your office, could you take them to the
writing center for ___
Male 1: Yep Ill warn my office ___
Male 2: Whats the full address?
Male 1: ___
Male 2: Delivery before noon?
Male 2: Never mind. Not doing it.
Male 1: Oh?
Male 2: Yeah. Gonna go to sephora with her on Saturday.
Male 1: Kk
This conversation also occurred over a few weeks. Again, this conversation like
the previous one is extremely topic focused. There is one instance of Male 2 asking
about Male 1, and it is completely ignored by Male 1. This conversation is extremely
direct. There is only one real instance of a favor and that is when Male 2 asks Male 1
about delivering flowers. Its not indirect and is somewhat hedged by using an if
statement instead of a more direct question. This could be considered negative
politeness but this was not an instance of face threatening actions.
The next and last set of text messages I analyzed were between a man and
woman. In these text messages, there was a lot more about asking about the other
individual and they were less topic driven than the conversations between men.
Because of this, the conversations were much more intimate and included jokes. There

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were instances in these conversations that included characteristics of positive

politeness and bald-on record strategies. But, like the male to male conversations there
werent any real FTAs occurring.
Example 3
Text message thread between a man and woman over a week
Female: I played intramural softball today. It was so fun.
Male: Did you win?
Female: No lol
Male: No one remembers losers unless they were maimed during the process of
Female: No its a fun, like drink while you play thing
Female: What are you doing??
Male: Looking up at my second job what are you doing
Female: When are you done?
Female: Looking up. Lol. What does that mean
Male: 8 locking up sorry my old ass phone
Female: Dinner??
Male: Sure where are you want me to meet you?
Female: Where is your second job nowadays?
Male: UALR second job I can leave early like right now if you would like
Female: Crap I do have to go get my script before nine in Sherwood.
Male: Oh

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Female: You wanna come my way and we can eat the Mexican place we we to
last time??
Female: Or you want me to go get script and then come your way? You pick
Male: Sure I can pick you up if you would like
Female: Ok come get me
Male: And then go get scrip and din din
Female: Yep
Male: You got any heart burn medicine
Female: Yeah, Ill bring
One major difference between the male and female conversation as opposed to
the male to male, is there is lot more attention on the individuals and their well being or
what they have been doing. There was little or none of this in the male to male
conversations. Also, there was joking. Joking is a characteristic of positive politeness
strategy and bald-on record strategies. This conversation was also much more intimate
than the male to male conversations. The conversation also has instances of one
individual asking the other individual for something or to do something, but there is open
compromise between the individuals. This did not occur in the male to male
Example 4
Text message thread between a man and woman over a week
Female: Want anything from Starbucks?
Male: Real Starbucks or fake Starbucks

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Female: Real
Male: I want a cold tea dont care what kind as long as its sweet and a small
Female: Well look on the website and tell me which one
Male: Iced passion tango tea this is way to complicated thats why I hate
Female: Lol Im sure its a hate love relationship
Male: Get me a tall too I dont need that much
Female: Kk got it
Male: What are you getting?
Female: Java chip frap. Its motivation to finish ___
Male: ___
Female: You should feels accomplished period! Btw the girl I helped is back in
here so we shall see how __ helps her and your tea is in the fridge
Male: __ had a come to Jesus meeting with her so hopefully she listened did you
see if those speakers were still in the room?
Female: Whats the code again?
Male: __
Female: I dont see the speakers
Male: I put them back
Female: So why did you have me go back to the room?
Male: I forgot I put them up its the final week of classes

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Female: Sorry about being bitchy yesterday practically all day..I think the stress
of this week and next week is getting to me.
Male: Were you more bitchy than usual?
Female: I feel like I was
Male: I thought it was at a normal level keep up though we have to deal with
idiots today
Female: Will do dont worry, Im so hoping they fail as bad as that sounds
This conversation was also much more intimate than the male to male
conversations. There was a lot more joking between the two individuals, which is a
characteristic of positive politeness strategies and bald-on record strategies. Like the
previous example there are instances of individuals asking other individuals to do
something, but there is compromise unlike the male to male conversations.
Genders should converse differently in text messages based on gender and
politeness theory. Overall, there were not a lot or if any FTAs in the text message
conversations I analyzed. This could be for several reasons, such as text messages
allow individuals to think about what they say more before writing the message unlike
face to face conversations. It could also be because the text messages I analyzed didnt
have enough individuals in the conversations to warrant FTAs. Regardless, I did find
several things to do more research on. Men and women seem to take equal turns in text
message conversations according to the research I did. There will need to be more
research and analysis on text message conversations before anything is conclusive. I

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also need to do more research on the ratio of men to women in text message
conversations and see if that has an affect on the number of turns taken or not. Using
gender and politeness theory, I found that men are much more topic based when
conversing with one another unlike when they are talking to women. I also found that
men lean more toward negative politeness when talking to one another while when they
talk to women they use characteristics of positive politeness and bald-on record
strategies. I will also need to do more research on this part to before anything
conclusive is found.

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Work Cited
Bischoping, Katherine. "Gender Differences In Conversation Topics, 1922-1990." Sex
Roles 28.(1993): 1-18. Education Source. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
Blackstone, Amy M. "Gender Roles and Society." Sociology School Faculty Scholarship
(2003): 334-38. DigitalCommons@UMaine. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Givens, Nathaniel. "What Are Gender Roles Good For?" Times Seasons. Cornucopia,
Levin, Jack, and Arnold Arluke. "An Exploratory Analysis Of Sex Differences In Gossip."
Sex Roles 12.3/4 (1985): 281-286. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
Jaworski, Adam, and Nikolas Coupland. The Discourse Reader. Second ed. London:
Routledge, 2014. Print.
Stoke, Stuart M., and Elmer D. West. "Sex Differences In Conversational Interests."
Journal Of Social Psychology 2.1 (1931): 120-126. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web.
26 Apr. 2016.
"Understanding Gender." Gender Spectrum. Gender Spectrum, n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
Wienclaw, Ruth A. "Gender Differences: Biology And Culture." Research Starters:
Sociology (Online Edition) (2015): Research Starters. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.10 Feb.
2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.