He said, She said – “CUT THE LVAD WIRE”

Analysis of Interruptions by Male and Female Surgical Residents in Grey’s Anatomy

Alyssa Chin

On November 14, 2019, Alex Karev surprises Grey’s Anatomy fans with his last appearance after 14 years on the show! Karev was an exceptional surgical resident along with his star peer and friend, Meredith Grey. This blog explores and analyzes the linguistic nature of interpretations made by these two surgical residents, which include features like differences in gender, power, reputation, etc. It specifically focuses on whether the interpretations were carried out based on the dominance model, where males naturally dominate over their counterparts, or on a power dynamic, where professional and/or social standing matters.

My hypothesis is Karev will interrupt primarily on the basis of his gender, while Grey will carry out interruptions on the basis of her professional status. Through analyzing conversations in an episode, it appears the male surgical resident interrupts primarily based on his professional status, therefore reinforcing the professional hierarchy in place at the hospital. The female surgical resident however interrupts when she had an advantage so her professional reputation would not be compromised.

Continue to read the following blog to learn more about how our findings can shed some light on how this impacts social interactions!

Introduction and Background

According to Parsons (1964), male and female have often been viewed as two clearly defined and opposite identities and their separate roles maintain a sense of balance in society. This belief leads to the dominance model which states that the differences observed in women and men’s speech are established because of male’s natural dominance over women. As a result the dominance model persists to keep women subordinate to men (Penelope, 1990).

To learn more about the dominance model as well as Robin Lakoff’s Women language theory, check out this YouTube Video

Interruptions is the focus of this blog analysis because this linguistic feature can reveal a lot about where the speaker is coming from in terms of his social behaviors and norms that he is influenced by. Interruptions often serve as a way to take over from the initial speaker’s point by asserting the interrupter’s own statements. For the purposes of this research, interruptions were defined as a statement, comment, or recommendation made by subject two during subject one’s statement, comment, or recommendation to undermine subject one’s thoughts and/or take the floor from subject one.

It is a common belief that men carry out interruptions more than women and women get interrupted more than men; however, previous studies have shown interruptions between men and women may be more related to a power dynamic rather than gender. For instance an article by James and Clarke (1993) state that there were not any significant genders patterns during interpretations.

Interruptions can also be a result of a power dynamic or hierarchy that is set in place. It is less of a social deviance for one who possesses a superior standing due to position determined by society, finances, education, seniority, and/or profession to carry out more interruptions. Lastly interruptions may be the result of a combination of those two or other factors.

Check out this app that counts how many times men interrupt women

This blog specifically analyzed these linguistic features in the popular American medical drama television series, Grey’s Anatomy, which started in 2005 and is still airing today! The series focuses on the journey of surgical interns into surgical residents at Seattle Grace Hospital in Seattle, Washington. The two characters analyzed were Alex Karev and Meredith Grey. The purpose of this study was to observe whether scripted media showed the dominance model, a power dynamic, or a combination of both or other factors by specifically analyzing the interruptions made by surgical residents of different genders.

Through analyzing conversations in one Grey’s Anatomy episode, the results showed that the male surgical resident interrupted primarily because of his professional status, which he closely identified with. He only interrupted his subordinates but never his superiors or bosses, which reinforces the hospital’s professional hierarchy. The female surgical resident on the other hand mainly interrupted her superiors but only when she had an advantage over her recipient. This was to preserve her professional standing and her socially perceived character.


The methods for this study involved a conversation-analytic (CA) approach, which is a fancy term for analyzing conversations. This blog analyzed conversations between superiors/subordinates and the two focused characters to describe how the interruptions occur. I transcribed the excerpt of conversations that involve interruptions by Karev and Grey in an episode from season four.

Season four narrates the daily lives and struggles of the main characters as they embark on their journey as first year residents. As residents they now are responsible for teaching their own interns, but also have to report to their superiors who include the attending, fellows, and chief of surgery. I analyzed the context in which the interruptions took place (i.e. in surgery, in the ICU, outside the hospital, etc) and with whom (i.e. their subordinates, superiors, or colleagues). I also focused on the means in which the interruptions were carried out such as with the uses of pauses, increase in volume, politeness, etc.

Check out Chase Wesley Raymond’s article about gender and sexuality in “Family Guy” using conversation analysis.  

Results and Discussion

The first example is from season four episode five of Grey’s Anatomy which narrates the characters first day as new residents. The following transcript is a conversation between first year resident Meredith Grey and her neurosurgeon attending boyfriend, and therefore her superior, Derek Shepherd.

Figure 1: This episode follows the new resident’s day as they juggle mentoring their new interns along with advocating for surgeries and recent personal tragedies during Halloween. Grey faces a dilemma of deciding what to do with her mother’s ashes, who recently died from Alzheimer’s, which she brought to carry around in the hospital. This conversation takes place in the hallways of the hospital where Grey collides with Shepherd and drops the ashes on the floor.

The first interruption by Grey took place in line five and it is accompanied by an emphasis on the word “that.” The emphasis on “that” along with her rapid speech in line three displays her attempt to share her thoughts and justify her behavior of carrying her mother’s ashes, which Shepherd perceives as abnormal, as conveyed through the lengthening of his word in line four.

Her need to justify this action can be explained by how women define their status. According to Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (2013), men justify and define their status based on their accomplishments, possessions, or institutional position while women justify and define theirs on the basis of their overall character. Grey may perceive the action of carrying her mother’s ashes around as a threat to her character which could affect how the people around her view her. As a result this could negatively affect a potential advancement in her career professionally and/or socially. Therefore in an effort to preserve not only her professional image but also her personal character, she quickly interrupts her superior before he could make any comments that may negatively impact her reputation.

This conclusion is further supported when Grey interrupts a second time as seen in line nine. Shepherd was about to share his thoughts on Grey’s behavior in line eight when she interrupted in line nine by saying that her behavior is highlighting her efforts to evolve, most likely in her character. This comment is significant because it shows her pursuit to evolve as a person and therefore improve her image which validates the odd behavior of carrying around her mother’s ashes in the hospital. In other words, Grey interrupts as a mean to save face and to be perceived highly in the workplace even if the person she is interrupting is her boss.

The following example is another instance of an interruption; however it displays a conversation between first year resident Alex Karev and his intern Norman Shale whom Karev is responsible for teaching and getting acquainted to the work flow of the hospital.

Figure 2: In this episode Shale has been complaining about not feeling well as they walk around the emergency room. However Karev has been dismissing all his complaints. Karev interrupts Shale’s explanation when he sees a familiar patient.

The increased volume when stating the number of hours in surgery and emphasis on key words, both seen in line one, highlights Karev’s assertiveness and power over his intern as he lectures him. After a short pause, Shale tries to clarify his symptoms. However Karev pays no attention to his statement when he gets distracted by another patient and interrupts him in line three by further directing his intern to do something else.

The display of power as seen in the raised voice and the short lecture from Karev to Shale places Karev as professionally dominant over Shale. The professionally hierarchy is already established by the culture and protocol of hospitals, however Karev uses that structure as a means to interrupt and disregard Shale’s comment even though Karev’s responsibility is towards caring for Shale and his education.

In addition, the lecture in line one shows how proudly Karev identifies with his profession as a surgeon, which further exemplifies Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (2013) argument that a man finds is personal worth mainly in goods, status, and power in the marketplace. Using increased volume and emphasizing key words, he states the amount of hours a surgeon stands in surgery without food or breaks as defining characteristics and strengths of a surgeon and therefore deserves awe and respect. From this example Karev carries out interruptions with his subordinates as a result of his pride in his profession along with his power from his professional status. This is significant because it reflects where men may extract their credibility to exert their dominance through interruptions.

A final example from season four episode five is a conversation between Grey and the general chief of surgery, Richard Webber, where Grey asks for approval for a pro bono surgery for a young boy without the external structure of an ear in his office.

Figure 3: Grey is asking the chief of surgery, Richard Webber, permission to have a pro-bono surgery in his office. She uses her mother as an emotional leverage over Webber because he had a professional as well as a personal connection with her.

The norm of society concerning interruptions is that superiors have an acceptable right to interrupt their subordinates. However the excerpt shows Grey interrupting the chief of surgery who is her superior, therefore deeming this example as a deviant, or out of the ordinary, case. She carries this out in linguistic manners by pausing before key words that may evoke an emotional response from Webber, as seen in line one where there is a pause before “earless boy.” She also brings into the conversation and emphasizes other superior figures, Sloan an attending plastic surgeon in line three, with a pause. The introduction of another superior and male figure into the conversation who also agrees with Grey’s course of action gives her request more credibility.

However her first attempt fails when Webber, in line four, interrupts Grey to logically explain why the pro bono surgery cannot take place. Grey counters with her own interruption as she mentions her mother followed by a pause in line eight, since Webber had a professional and romantic relationship with her mother. Since the first strategy of appealing to Webber’s emotions and referencing other male superiors was not a success, Grey approaches the situation differently by resorting to introducing her mother into the conversation.

This approach showcases that Grey will interrupt her superiors when she has an personal advantage over her recipient and their emotions rather than an advantage based on merit or her professional status as a surgeon. These interruptions by Grey are significant because it shows how female may need to resort to other methods of appeal rather than solely relaying on their own merits and authority for a successful appeal.  


These transcriptions show that the context in which a male surgical resident and a female surgical resident interrupt their subordinate and superiors differ in the show Grey’s Anatomy and are not just limited to the dominance or power model.

In the episode analyzed, Karev only interrupted his subordinate, such as his intern, but did not carry out interruptions with his superiors. The justification for his interruptions involved asserting his dominance and power through the predetermined professional hierarchy of the hospital. This was also further strengthened by his personal self worth and identity in his profession. Grey primarily interrupted her superiors, but only when she had an emotional advantage over her recipient to preserve and highlight positive aspects of her reputation.

Although there is not enough information to conclude that female surgical residents on the show are more concerned with saving face and the males are not or males closely identify with their dominant profession and females do not, the analysis does show that interruptions involve a variety of factors.

Despite the limitation that script media has on the extent to which the conclusions drawn from this show can be applied to real-life interactions, these conclusions are still significant because it reveals how the show producers and writers perceive the operations that take place in a hospital and how language highlights gender differences in the profession. It also displays what they define as social and behavioral norms in a medical setting and how that affects patient care and workplace relationships. This affects the viewers by playing a role in how they define and accept the social and behavioral norms they see on television and by possibly distorting their expectations what they to expect in a real-life hospital setting.



an ABC Studios production; Shondaland; created by Shonda Rhimes. (2013). Grey’s anatomy. Season four episode five. Burbank, Calif. :Distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Eckert, P., McConnell-Ginet, S. 2013. Language and Gender. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

James, Deborah and Clarke, Sandra. 1993. Women, men and interruptions: a critical review. In   Tannen 1993, 231–280.

Parsons, Talcott. 1964. The Social System. New York: Free Press.

Penelope, Julia. 1990. Speaking Freely: Unlearning the Lies of the Fathers’ Tongues. New York: Pergamon Press.

Tannen, Deborah. 1994. The relativity of linguistic strategies: rethinking power and solidarity in gender and dominance. In Gender and Discourse, ed. by Deborah Tannen, 19–52. Oxford University Press.

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Will You Accept this Interruption? Analysis of Successful Interruptions and Gender in the Bachelor Franchise

Fengting Liang

Many sociolinguists argue that gender asymmetry exists, and that language both reflects and perpetuates this inequality. One such area of linguistics that showcases this inequality is interruptions. Intrusive interruptions have been correlated with dominance and power, and many can agree that males are usually more dominant and interruptive.

The Bachelor franchise, which includes multiple reality dating television shows, creates a unique environment for the study of language and gender. Given the competitive nature of the shows, there are often instances of conflict and high-stress discussions. Eleven mixed-sex conversations which were typically about intimate relationships and feelings, as well as eleven same-sex conversations which were typically more combative, were chosen from these shows and analyzed for successful interruptions to expose a gender-related language asymmetry.

The results of this study showed that: (1) females interrupted males more than males interrupted females in mixed sex conversations; (2) males interrupted other males more than they would females; (3) females interrupted other females just as much as they would males. This discrepancy with what is normally expected may be explained by the difference in the content of mixed-sex versus same-sex conversations. These findings may provide insight into what contexts and power dynamics that show producers believe are best for entertainment.

Introduction and Background

Intrusive interruptions have been associated with dominance, suggesting that in conversation, the participant who makes more interruptions would be more dominant. One study found that in pairs of mixed-sex conversation participants, the individual that identified themselves as the more “dominant” personality showed a higher frequency of interruptions, regardless of their gender (Kollock, Blumstein, & Schwartz, 1985). Another study found that parents were more likely to interrupt their children than vice versa (West & Zimmerman, 1977). These results support the notion that interruptions are related to dominance, but not implicitly tied to gender.

However, if one gender has an overall tendency to be more dominant, one would observe more interruptions in the more dominant gender. Robin Lakoff’s proposed dominance model of communication maintains that men are dominant and women are subordinate, and that this asymmetry is reflected and maintained by language (Eckert & McConnel-Ginet, 2013, p. 39), which suggests that we would observe a higher frequency of interruptions from males than from females in mixed-sex conversation, and no such inequality between participants in same-sex conversation. There are many situations that have found this to be the case, like in public university conversations (Zimmerman & West, 1975), or in supreme court arguments (Feldman & Gill, 2019).

There are also conversation contexts in which other power dynamics overshadow Lakoff’s proposed gender power dynamic, like the parent-child example (West & Zimmerman, 1977), or in the Bachelor franchise. This is explained by Judith Butler’s performativity model, which maintains that gender is “performed,” meaning people make individual choices on how to act in certain contexts to best maintain and perpetuate their gender identity (Eckert & McConnel-Ginet, 2013). This phenomenon was exemplified in this study once the contexts of the conversations analyzed from the Bachelor franchise were explored.


Twenty-two confrontational or high stress conversations that revolved around a romantic relationship were chosen and transcribed from video clips in various episodes of shows from the Bachelor franchise. These conversations, which each had only two participants, were categorized into same-sex (male-male or female-female) and mixed-sex. The number of conversation “turns” and successful intrusive interruptions were tallied for each participant. Frequency of interruptions was calculated by dividing the number of successful interruptions by the number of total turns.


The three main findings of this study were that (1) females interrupted males more than males interrupted females in mixed sex conversations; (2) males interrupted other males more than they would females; and (3) females interrupted other females just as much as they would males.

Across all twenty-two conversations, males and females made successful interruptions at the same frequency (Table 1a and Figure 1a). This suggested that any inequality observed was not in total volume of interruptions, but in how each gender distributed their interruptions across genders. In fact, females interrupted other females at the same frequency that they would interrupt males. However, males interrupted other males much more than they would interrupt females (Table 1b-c and Figure 1b-c), showing that the asymmetry seen was because men acted differently in mixed-sex versus same-sex conversations. This resulted in the observation that females were more “dominant” in the mixed-sex conversations than the males were (Figure 2).

Figure 1a-c: Fragment-Based Interruption Analysis
Table 1a-c: Fragment-Based Interruption Analysis


Table 2 and Figure 2: Mixed-Sex Conversations Where Females Interrupted More vs Cases Where Males Interrupted More

An alternate way to interpret the data is provided in Tables and Figures 3 and 4. Females interrupted each gender at the same frequency while males interrupted males more than they interrupted females. This was consistent both when the frequencies were obtained by counting total interruptions across one gender (fragment) and when the frequencies were obtained by counting interruptions of an individual and finding the average across one gender (individual).

Figure 3 and Table 3: Who Interrupts Who? (Fragment0Based). Re-imagining of Figures 1b-c.
Figure 4 and Table 4: Who Interrupts Who? (Individual-Based)



Earlier, we showed that the asymmetry observed was due to males acting differently in different conversational contexts (since females showed no difference between mixed versus same-sex conversations). So, why did males interrupt each other more than they interrupted females?

This question can be answered by examining the content of mixed-sex and same-sex conversations. Unintentionally, all mixed-sex conversations analyzed were about intimate feelings and all same-sex conversations were explosive arguments. This makes sense, considering these are competitive shows that highlight heterosexual relationships.

Figure 5: Example of an aggressive male-male conversation
Figure 6: Transcript of an aggressive female-female conversation

Prior research has shown that men show resistance to communicating intimate feelings (Jansz, 2000), and express anger more than women do (Brody & Hall, 2008). Women have also been shown to be more emotionally expressive about their feelings than men (Kring & Gordon, 1998). This offers an explanation as to why males interrupted more successfully in same-sex conversations, which in this study were usually aggressive, than they did in mixed-sex conversation, which in this study were usually about intimate feelings. Males were less inclined to participate in conversations involving intimate feelings, so women dominated more simply because men dominated less. However, males were more expressive in anger-driven conversations than women were, so they showed an increased amount of interruption in same-sex conversation, which was not observed in female same-sex interruption. Males’ ability to switch from being more dominant in certain contexts and less dominant in other contexts, with both actions upholding the male identity, supports Judith Butler’s idea that gender is performed.


The findings of this study provide an example of Judith Butler’s performativity model by showing that males can modify their behavior in different contexts to maintain their masculinity. Being more dominant in conversations involving anger is associated with the male identity, but being less dominant in conversations involving emotions and feelings is also associated with the male identity. However, just because males can be less dominant in certain situations does not mean that Robin Lakoff’s dominance model of communication has been disproved, because in general there are likely more contexts in which females are subjugated and males are dominant.

Lastly, the observations made in this study reveal a lot about the types of conversation that television show producers expect to be most entertaining. The abundance of aggressive arguments in same-sex conversations shows that these may be the types of dynamics that are received well by reality television fans. They also aired a lot of feelings-based mixed-sex conversations, increasing the “dramatic-ness” of the show. Ultimately, the Bachelor franchise producers successfully created a very entertaining platform for the study of unique gender-dynamics.



Brody, L. R. & Hall, J. A. (2008). “Gender and emotion in context”. Handbook of Emotions, 3, 395–408.

Eckert, P., & McConnell-Ginet, S. (2013). Language and Gender (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Feldman, A., & Gill, R. D. (2019). Power Dynamics in Supreme Court Oral Arguments: The Relationship between Gender and Justice-to-Justice Interruptions. Justice System Journal, 40(3), 173-195.

Fleiss, M., Hilton, M., Woods, N.,Gale, E. & Warner, T. (Producers). (2014-2019). Bachelor in Paradise [Television series]. Mexico: Warner Bros. Television.

Fleiss, M. (Producer). (2002-2020). The Bachelor [Television series]. Warner Bros. Television.

Gale, E. (Producer). (2003-2019). The Bachelorette [Television series]. Warner Bros. Television.

Jansz, J (2000). Masculine identity and restrictive emotionality. Gender and Emotion: Social Psychological Perspectives. pp. 166–186.

Kollock, Peter, Philip Blumstein & Pepper Schwartz (1985). Sex and power in interaction: Conversational privileges and duties. American sociological review, 50, 34-46.

Kring, A. M.; Gordon, A. H. (1998). Sex differences in emotion: expression, experience, and physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 74 (3): 686–703.

West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1977). Women’s place in everyday talk: Reflections on parent-child interaction. Social Problems, 24(5), 521–529.

Zimmerman, D. and West, C. (1975). Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversation. In B. Thorne & N. Henley (Eds.), Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance, pp. 105-129. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

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Teachers’ Pets: Do Undergraduate Instructors Treat Female and Male Students Differently?

Catherine Le

The impact that teachers have is invaluable due to their power to shape futures and develop minds, and the Undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs) at UCLA are no different. They undergo extensive training to teach their peers alongside graduate student TAs, and with so much weight on their shoulders, they must be well-equipped to treat all students equitably, right?

After analyzing video footage from LA/student interactions in lower-division STEM courses, educational strategies utilized by instructors like wait time, interruptions, and praise were evaluated to recognize the presence and magnitude of a gender and power asymmetry in classrooms. The study revealed that there is a significant difference between how the genders interact, and the discovery of these results show that instructors possess the ability to not only expose their students to, but unfortunately also normalize the social realities of gendered behavior. Therefore, recognizing the existence of a gender gap and unequal power dynamic between instructor and student could help future educators make the program and its goals to encourage interest and retention in STEM more achievable.


The Learning Assistant Program at UCLA was established as part of an initiative to facilitate active and collaborative learning in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering,  Mathematics) courses by teaching undergraduates how to instruct future cohorts of various lower-division courses. The program significantly and positively impacted students: on exam questions requiring higher-order cognitive skills, students with LA exposure performed significantly higher than students without LAs in their classrooms, and students of minority groups especially benefited from LA support (Sellami et al., 2017). While the program is comprehensive in many aspects and does a great job of helping student pass on the gift of teaching and education onto their peers, the topic of educational gender bias has been neglected. Therefore, gendered linguistic choices may reveal if the academic playing field is truly level.

Research has indicated that male and female teachers teach differently, so this study explored specifically how both genders exercise wait time, interruptions, and praise differently with their male and female students (Lacey et al., 1998). Wait times (the time between asking a question and speaking again), connect to West and Zimmerman’s claims about silences and interruptions. According to them, men utilize interruptions to dominate women in conversation and limit silences in an effort to gain conversational power; my study expands specifically on how males in classrooms exert dominance over females, especially male instructors (1983). Also, teachers’ interruptions and shorter wait-times are associated with obstruction of student participation and overall learning effectiveness (Yataganbaba & Yildirim, 2016). Yet another vital tool employed by teachers to motivate students that is influenced by gender is praise, with Wilkinson and Marrett finding that female educators are more complimentary (1985, p.122). Equally important is how this praise is earned; praise based on effort (process praise) motivates students more effectively than praise based on accuracy (person phrase) (Corpus & Lepper, 2007). The majority of this research was performed in primary school classrooms, but my research extends this literature to college students. By exploring these aspects as utilized by undergraduate instructors, we may be able to reveal underlying issues and biases in the educational system, which would require immediate attention and rectification.


As a part of the program, LAs record footage of them interacting with students during class to track their own progress. Nine LAs volunteered 67 minutes of male LA-led interactions and 71 minutes of female LA-led conversations, and these conversations were categorized as follows: Male LA-Male Student (M/M), Male LA-Female Student (M/F), Female LA-Male Student (F/M), and Female LA-Female Student (F/F). Three aspects were then recorded and analyzed in this study─ (1) Wait times, (2) Interruptions, and (3) Praise.

First, wait times were defined as silences exceeding three seconds between an LA asking a question and either the student answering it or the LA following up. Next, interruptions were outlined as instances where the original speaker was disrupted by another individual; they were classified as successful if the interrupter then took a turn in the conversation to finish their thought, or as unsuccessful if the interrupted subsequently regained control of the conversation. Lastly, praise was characterized as any verbal encouragement from the LA to the student. Person praise referred to comments that complimented the student’s abilities or the accuracy of their answers (e.g., “You got the right answer!”) and process praise emphasized the student’s efforts (e.g., “I liked your logic.”) All data was recorded and analyzed by computing averages (for wait time) and tallies of instances (for interruptions and praise).

Results and Analysis

The results of the study suggest evidence of a gender bias perpetuated by Learning Assistants across all three different aspects I examined. The magnitude of difference between genders did vary, but most of the hypotheses discussed were confirmed to some degree.

1. Wait Time

Generally, male LAs used wait time much less than female LAs and for shorter periods; the lowest wait time averages and instances were observed out of four M/M Student interactions. However, the highest average wait time was found with F/M interactions. A strikingly large difference between LAs was found in F/F conversations, with a total of 13 instances of wait time versus 3 occurrences in M/M interactions. Table 1 summarizes the length and number of wait time incidences in the four different categories previously mentioned.

In most conversations, male students filled silences with filler words and phrases like “Well…” and “Hmm” while female students would wait until they had formulated a cohesive reply. Males’ tendency to reply quickly is consistent with demonstrating that they have mastered the knowledge required to answer the question as an effort to preserve positive face. Brown and Levinson defined the concept as a component of an individual’s public self-image that requires approval from others to establish self-esteem, and studentsIn most conversations, male students filled silences with filler words and phrases like “Well…” and “Hmm” while female students would wait until they had formulated a cohesive reply. Males’ tendency to reply quickly is consistent with demonstrating that they have mastered the knowledge required to answer the question as an effort to preserve positive face. Brown and Levinson defined the concept as a component of an individual’s public self-image that requires approval from others to establish self-esteem, and students’ positive faces become threatened if they fail to adequately impress the LA and their peers (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, p.122). On average, female LAs created more wait time than male LAs, but gave male students a significantly longer time to think than females. This discrepancy suggests male students do not need to save face with female instructors as much as with male LAs due to a gender asymmetry, or that female LAs boost males’ self-esteem by unconsciously subjugating themselves and allowing men to dominate through language usage. This suggests male students unconsciously allow themselves to take more time because their intelligence and self-confidence cannot be undermined by a female, even if she is in “power” due to her knowledge and status as an LA.

2. Interruptions

Men also interrupt more, with male LAs being the worst offenders at twice the rate of female LAs (Table 2). This can be attributed to the fact that male LAs are ultimately dominant through the combination of their gender and teaching role; their more frequent interruptions are a show of power and dominance in order to gain conversational control. Female LAs interrupt the least due to their hesitance to threaten their students’ positive faces, since interrupting can be seen as a challenge to the thoughts of the original speaker. Conversely, female students forgo politeness to assert that they are just as knowledgeable as their peers, and interrupt frequently to avoid being seen as less confident or competent if they lose control of the discussion.

Both genders are fairly equal in the success of interruptions (Table 3); this is most likely due to the fact that if the interrupted individual thinks the interjection is valid, they will let the interrupter finish their thought. In conclusion, male LAs use their power to dominate all students, but female students will combat that by fighting to control the discussion as well.

Table 2: Interruptions by Status & Gender      Table 3: Interruptions by Success & Gender

3. Praise 

When analyzing praise from LAs, evidence of a gender asymmetry was less significant. Males offered slightly less praise than females but complimented other males only 21% of the time (Table 4). In contrast, the highest amount of praise seen was in F/F interactions. The hesitance for male LAs to flatter other males is suggestive of traditional ideals of heterosexual masculinity; acting too complimentary to another male may be misinterpreted as non-professional or could be potentially humiliating. However, females are not subjected to the same risk of being perceived as homosexual, and in a society that frequently preaches for women to stop being “pit against” other women, the data suggests that women are doing exactly that.

Table 4: Praise by Gender & Category               Table 5: Praise by Gender & Status

Additionally, as seen in Table 5, both genders overwhelmingly focused on person praise, but women used person and process praise more evenly. This aligns with previous research that claimed that women are more complimentary, but the few occurrences of male LAs using process praise can originate from the fact that men use language more abstractly than women; men tend to speak about the “bigger picture” while women utilize specific language (Joshi et al., 2020). Prior research also found that power differences play a part as well, since an individual in a dominant role was more likely to speak abstractly. This suggests that power and gender are intimately connected in ways that cannot be distinctly separated with current research, but future studies should endeavor to delineate how exactly all these mechanisms intertwine.


This study found several indications that gender and power asymmetries exist in the academic field, specifically between teachers and students in STEM courses. Obviously, it would be difficult to believe that LAs intentionally set out to treat their students differently according to their gender, but the fact is that despite best intentions, the imbalance still exists. Unfortunately, research proves that these disparities may have long term effects on the success of students; through analyzing strategies such as wait time, interruptions and praise, male teachers assert power over students more overtly than female instructors. They allow students less time to think, interrupt more often, and praise less often and more vaguely. Still, they are judged to be just as effective as their female counterparts, despite identical performance, personality, and appearance (Mitchell & Martin, 2018). This points to a looming issue within the academic community: if these differences are not being recognized in the first place, how will their effects be addressed?

However, this study was limited: a small sample size of nine LAs was examined due to the voluntary aspect of data collection, and while the recordings were intended to be as representative as possible, some students or LAs may have acted differently in the moment. Future directions for research that could expand upon the current investigation could include: analyzing non-STEM courses to explore whether stereotypes of certain genders excelling in particular subjects may play a role; considering alternative characteristics such as sexual orientation, cultural background, or experience level as an LA to isolate the effects of gender; and exploring if the same trends exist with Graduate Teaching Assistants.

This paper is by no means a conclusive or exhaustive analysis, but it does provide enough evidence to suggest that the LA Program may benefit from expanding its curriculum to expose LAs to the potential of unconscious gender bias in order to ensure a more equitable academic experience for all. This recommendation is further substantiated by this TED Talk by Elizabeth Wolfson, founder of the first all-female school in Denver, discussing the implications of a gender-based education and how it can alter students’ futures. The STEM field is currently one of the largest and fastest-growing industries, but women still only make up 35.5% of the population earning bachelor’s degrees in STEM (Catalyst, 2019). However, while women are attempting to close the gender gap by increasing these numbers, will they ever succeed? Small changes can start in classrooms, and it is up to all of us to guarantee no one gets left behind.



Catalyst. (2019, June 14). Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): Quick Take. https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem/

Corpus, J. H., & Lepper, M. R. (2007). The effects of person versus performance praise on children’s motivation: Gender and age as moderating factors. Educational Psychology, 27(4), 487–508. doi: 10.1080/01443410601159852

Eckert, P., & McConnell-Ginet, S. (2013). Language and gender. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Joshi, P. D., Wakslak, C. J., Appel, G., & Huang, L. (2020). Gender differences in communicative abstraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 118(3), 417–435. doi: 10.1037/pspa0000177

Lacey, C. H., Saleh, A., & Gorman, R. (1998). Teaching nine to five: A study of the teaching styles of male and female professors.

Mitchell, K. M. W., & Martin, J. (2018). Gender Bias in Student Evaluations. PS: Political Science & Politics, 51(03), 648–652. doi: 10.1017/s104909651800001x

Sellami, N., Shaked, S., Laski, F. A., Eagan, K. M., & Sanders, E. R. (2017). Implementation of a learning assistant program improves student performance on higher-order assessments. CBE life sciences education, 16(4), ar62. doi:10.1187/cbe.16-12-0341

West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1983). Small insults: A study of interruptions in cross-sex conversations between unacquainted persons. In B. Thorne, C. Kramarae, & N. Henley (Eds.), Language, gender and society (pp. 102-117). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Wilkinson, L. C., & Marrett, C. B. (1985). Gender influences in classroom interaction. Orlando: Academic Press.

Yataganbaba, E., & Yildirim, R. (2016). Teacher interruptions and limited wait time in EFL young learner classrooms. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 232, 689–695. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.10.094

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Is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Guilty of Promoting Women’s Language?

Teresa D Dueñas Mayorga

Walt Disney movies are notorious for highlighting the differences between genders and promoting certain gender standards. Since these movies target children, they can have an impact on how children view themselves and others. This study will focus on investigating whether the classic Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, includes a culture of gender differences by using forms of so-called women’s language. To do so, mix-gender conversations from the movie will be analyzed on whether they contain polite forms, hedges, and interruptions, the rate in which these are used and the amount of time spent talking in a conversation by each gender will be compared. It was concluded that some aspects of women’s language are present in Beauty and the Beast which signify that gender differences are being promoted to children. This suggest that film makers should be more attentive on how gender if depicted to children as it can instate stereotypes on how women and men should communicate with each other.


Walt Disney movies play a crucial role in the lives of some children. They provide a source of entertainment while promoting life lessons. However, Disney movies are notorious for highlighting differences between genders and promoting certain gender standards. Although most recently, new Disney movies have tried to depart from upholding gender standards and differences, the classic Disney movies still uphold these differences and have an immense influence in our culture. It is important to analyze how gender is depicted in Disney movies as their targeted audience are children from the age of four to the age of twelve. During this age, children are developing gender comprehension and watching gendered movies can contribute to the establishment of gender differentiating attitudes and the stereotypes they develop. This study will focus on investigating whether the classic Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, includes a culture of gender differences by using forms of “women’s language”, the use of tag questions, avoidance of interruptions, use of hedges and use of super-polite forms (Lakoff, 1973).

I theorize that the mixed-gender conversations in this movie will show a higher ratio of deep interruptions, and talking time from male characters which results in a higher ratio of politeness, supportive interruptions, and hedges from female characters. In addition, the types of hedges, interruptions and polite forms used by a character are different which can create a culture where women are expected to talk a certain way.


This study focused on the mix-gender conversations between Belle and Gaston, and Belle and the Beast. The linguistic units that were analyzed revolved around what Lakoff (1973) considers “women’s language”. The main linguistic features of women’s language that were investigated are:

  • Hedges: a word/phrase used to lower the impact of a remark, avoid answering a question or making a direct statement.
  • Interruptions: an overlap in speech in which a person is disrupted before they have finished their line. There two different types of interruptions: supportive (back-channel), and deep (non-supportive) interruptions.
  • Polite forms: the use of words/phrases to demonstrate regards for others.

Throughout each conversation, the types of hedges, interruptions, and polite forms were analyzed based on the impact it had on the conversation. A count of the number of hedges used, the number of interruptions, the number of polite forms, and the number of seconds each character talked during the conversation was conducted.

Results and Discussion

Belle and Gaston

Belle and Gaston

One of the most interesting conversation between Belle and Gaston occurred when Gaston had planned a wedding with Belle. Gaston had gathered the town and states that everything is ready for the wedding, he just first needs to go ask Belle to marry him. He then goes to Belle’s house and begins to ask Belle to marry him:

In the lines before 17 and 18, Gaston is discussing the life he pictures with Belle which lead to her using hedges to avoid saying that she will not like that life.  Belle also uses politeness to avoid Gaston feeling abruptly rejected which helps prevent a conflict between them. In the first line, Belle uses the word pleasant to be polite even though she did not believe it was a good surprise for Gaston to be at her house. She then uses to polite phrases, line 20 and 21, to reject Gaston’s offer of marriage. The polite forms used impact the conversation as they further exchange between Belle and Gaston where she must explain the reason she is rejecting his offer.

In this conversation, Gaston interrupts Belle twice. The first interruption occurs in line 12 when Belle suggest something that is far from what he was trying to say in his previous remarks. This deep interruption helps create a perception in which Belle is seen as unintelligent as she needs to be corrected even before she finishes talking. The second interruption occurs in line 16 when Gaston abruptly mentions that Belle is the little wife he has been talking about. These interruptions had an impact of on the conversation as it suggests Gaston frustration with Belle because she is trying to avoid his references and ultimately his marriage proposal.

Belle and the Beast

The first conversation between Belle and the Beast occurred after Belle traded places with her father. In this scene, the beast is walking Belle to the room in the castle she will be living in:

This conversation contains two interruptions, line 3 and line 11. In both occasions, the Beast deeply interrupts Belle to avoid providing an explanation of his actions. In the first interruption, the Beast is avoids giving a reason to why he is moving her to another room, and in the second interruption, the Beast avoids describing the secret the lies in the castle’s west wing. This helps create a difference in power between the Beast and Belle. Through these interruptions, the Beast is able to take control of the conversation by preventing Belle from questioning his decisions and establishes her inferiority.

Towards the end of the conversation, there is a switch in politeness from the Beast. In line 12, he politely talks to Belle about how his servants will attend her if she needs anything. However, in the middle of line 13, he begins to demand Belle to join him for dinner. By not including polite forms, such as please, the Beast further demonstrates his power over Belle since he does not have to ask politely to get something he wants.

Quantitative Data

Amount of Time Spent Talking: From the five conversations quantitatively analyzed, on average the female character in the conversations spent 12.406 seconds talking while the male character spent 23.862 seconds talking. This significant difference demonstrates the male dominance. By the male character talking during most of the conversation, they take full control of the conversation and decide when the other person should start to talk.  

Figure 1

Number of Interruptions: From the five conversations analyzed, deep interruptions were present in conversation 2 and 3. There is a positive correlation between the number of interruptions and the number of seconds the male character talks. For example, the two conversations that show the highest difference are the ones that contain interruptions. This correlation demonstrates that male dominance in a conversation can be established with interruptions (Octigan & Niederman, 1979, p. 51). In all conversations, Belle does not interrupt. This can be related to Lakoff’s (1973) idea that women will avoid using interruptions.

Amount of Politeness: In most of the conversations analyzed, Belle uses more polite words than either Gaston or the Beast (see Figure 2). This can demonstrate women’s language as women are expected to be more polite in conversations than men. Conversation 3 is the only exception as the Beast is the one who uses politeness in the conversation. This could have been the case because it was the shortest conversation, Belle talked the least, and it had deep interruptions. These different aspects of the conversation could have prevented Belle from having time to use polite forms on communication.

Figure 2

Number of Hedges: Hedges were present in conversation 1,2, and 5, and were used by the female character. This can demonstrate a woman’s insecurity in the conversation. For example, a hedge is able to lessen the remark of a statement which can indicate that the person using this feature does not feel confident enough to engage in an argument.


Based on this study’s findings, it can be concluded that some aspects of women’s language is present in the mix-gender conversations in Beauty and the Beast. Throughout the film Belle’s rhetoric was submissive towards both Gaston and the Beast. She only spoke in a certain manner while being careful not to interrupt them or offend them in any way. Furthermore, the Beast and Gaston constantly interrupted Belle while she was speaking. This creates a visual picture of women being inferior to men. The findings suggest that movie creators should pay more attention on how they are presenting gender to children as it can install stereotypes on how women and men should communicate with each other. Beauty and the Beast is a movie that is viewed by all different ages; however, being an animated film is caters towards children. Children often learn and copy what they see, and this helps reinforce inequality between males and females. Rather than teaching children that men and women can act and speak in the same manner, it teaches them that there is a specific way women should speak, and that is acceptable for men to interrupt women.


Agarwal, Vivek & Dhanasekaran, Saranya. (2012). Harmful effects of media on children and adolescents. Journal of Indian Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. 8.        38-45.

Atkinson, J. M. & Heritage, J. (1984). Transcript notation. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action (pp. ix – xvi). Cambridge University Press.

Eckert, P., McConnell-Ginet, S. (2013). Language and Gender. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Janks, H. (1997). Critical discourse analysis as a research tool. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 18(3), 329–342.

Lakoff, R. (1973). Language and Woman’s Place. Language in Society, 2(1), 45-80. Retrieved February 25, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/4166707

Octigan, M., & Niederman, S. (1979). Male Dominance in Conversations. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 4(1), 50-54. doi:10.2307/3346669

Raymond, C. W. (2019). Category accounts: Identity and normativity in sequences of action. Language in Society, 48(4), 585–606.

Raymond, C. W. (2013). Gender and sexuality in animated television sitcom interaction. Discourse & Communication7(2), 199–220. doi:            10.1177/1750481312472971

Rubinstein, E. (1978). Television and the Young Viewer: The pervasive social influence of television on children is being increasingly documented, but has yet to be translated into a continuing and effective social policy. American Scientist, 66(6), 685-693. Retrieved February 25, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/27848957

Yokoyama, O. T. (1999). Gender linguistic analysis of Russian children’s literature. In M. H. Mills (ed.), Slavic Gender Linguistics, (pp. 57–84). Amsterdam/Philadelphia. John   Benjamins.

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I Hate to Interrupt, but… Examining Interruptions, Face-Threatening Acts, and Banter in Mixed-Sex Two-Person Conversational Style Sports Interviews

Korosh Bahrami

Previous research conducted on differences in interruption usage between men and women yielded inconclusive results, providing the impetus for this study. This present study seeks to explore gender differences in the usage of interruptions in mixed-sex two-person conversational style sports interviews. In addition, I am exploring whether the informal structure of a sports interview, involving frequent banter, back-and-forth exchanges, and playful talk alters the relationship between gender and interruption usage and/or leads to certain conversational phenomena. In order to do so, I am observing sports reporters engaging in turn-taking with athletes over the course of interviews that are posted on YouTube. The overall objective is to see whether or not there is a qualitatively significant difference in interruptions between men and women over the course of these interviews. In order to accomplish this, transcripts from these conversations will be analyzed using critical discourse qualitative analysis techniques. Continue reading to see what results the study was able to yield!


Overall, up to this point in time, the research on gender-based differences in use of interruptions has not been definitive. While Deborah James and Sandra Clarke (1993) found a non-significant effect of speaker gender on interruption rates, Zimmerman and West (1975) found evidence to the contrary, mainly that in mixed-sex conversations, men engage in dominant interactive styles, ultimately resulting in more male-initiated interruptions. What is even more unclear is whether such phenomena can be seen in the world of sports, a traditionally male-dominated field. As mentioned before, this study analyzed the usage of interruptions by both men and women in two-person conversational style sports interviews. A prevailing societal stereotype is that men tend to be interrupters of conversation so I put that to the test. After conducting analysis on the relevant interviews, it was found that interviewers, by poking fun and teasing, threatened the negative faces of the interviewees, prompting a response by the interviewee intended to lessen the blow of the teasing.  


Two YouTube videos (one being an interview of LeBron James by Rachel Nichols in May 2018 and one being an interview of Serena Williams by Andy Roddick in September 2013) were viewed. Transcripts were then created for relevant dialogue across the two videos and then analyzed using a critical discourse analysis (CDA) approach, primarily keying in on turn-taking moments. Standard transcript guidelines were followed.


In the following conversation, Rachel Nichols and LeBron James discuss LeBron’s 9th trip to the NBA Finals shortly after LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers won the Eastern Conference. The first interruption happens when Rachel pokes fun at LeBron’s teenage fashion choices:

LEB = LeBron James. RAC = Rachel Nichols
LeBron James sitting down to speak with Rachel Nichols in May 2018
Taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSyyd4CgIBY

Towards the end of her turn, Rachel playfully bringing up LeBron’s decision to wear a vest in lines 5-6, at which point LeBron begins speaking, leading to temporarily overlapping talk which ends when Rachel cedes talking while LeBron continues to do so. Because LeBron broke in at a point in the conversation that cannot possibly be taken as an appropriate place for a transition (Sacks et al., 1974) and he increases the amplitude of his voice as he breaks into the conversation, this would be considered an interruption. In lines 8-9, LeBron seemingly backs himself up on why he wore a vest, pointing to the fact that he was a different person then than he is now. By interrupting, LeBron does not allow for Rachel to tease him anymore and further threaten his negative face, which is defined as a person’s desire for independence and freedom from imposition (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2018). Lines 8-9 in effect serve to lessen the blow of Rachel’s face-threatening act. The next example illustrates a productive overlap:

In contrast to the previous example, Rachel does not completely cede talking when LeBron begins to talk. She jumps right back into the conversation after a 0.8 second break that can be seen in line 4. Line 3 is thus a productive overlap coming at the end of a turn construction unit (TCU). It is intended to move the conversation forward and signify LeBron’s agreement with Rachel’s statements made in lines 1-2.

Going into the interview, both Rachel and LeBron know that it will be televised and broadcast globally. Consequently, face-threatening acts become magnified. A face-threatening act initiated by Rachel in this case undermines LeBron’s stature and social image on a larger scale, causing him to butt in as a defense mechanism to protect himself and his social image.

In the next conversation, Serena Williams is interviewed by Andy Roddick. Their discussion revolves around the U.S. Open:

AND = Andy Roddick. SER = Serena Williams

In line 2, Serena interjects Roddick’s speech with a reassuring “Ya,” but Roddick then continues to talk, similar to the conversation documented in example 2. In line 4, Serena also interjects with a “Ya.” In both instances, as she speaks, Serena nods her head up and down and orients her body towards Roddick, illustrating the role that her body language plays in physically showing Roddick that she is comfortable in the conversation.

Serena Williams sitting down to speak with Andy Roddick in September 2013
Taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSyyd4CgIBY

In the next excerpt, Serena and Roddick discuss Serena’s match-day style:

AND = Andy Roddick. SER = Serena Williams

In line 2, after Roddick finishes talking, no one talks for 0.8 seconds, a momentary break in the conversation. Usually, gaps of around 200 ms are characteristic of the end of a turn and the beginning of a new one (Levinson & Torreira, 2015). As a result, Serena begins talking because Roddick seemingly ended his turn, eventually leading to overlapping talk. When Roddick says “unfortunate wardrobe choices” in line 2, jokingly making fun of Serena’s attire, Serena responds with a tilt of her head and opening of her mouth in surprise. Serena’s negative face is threatened. She then follows that by not backing down. Whereas LeBron went along with Rachel, Serena tries to give Roddick a chance to take back what he said by prompting him with a question in line 3. After she finishes talking in line 5, Serena tilts her head back to the right again, staring into space, a clear change in body language.


CDA was inconclusive in proving whether or not there is a gendered difference in interruption usage. Interestingly, however, the manner in which the interviewees responded to the face-threatening acts significantly differed. While LeBron was agreeable, Serena remained steadfast, not giving an inch.

Overall, this study sheds light on the concepts of face-threatening acts, negative face, and social image. A face-threatening act doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of clearly hostile, aggressive words. As seen in both of the videos, it can also take the form of banter. Individuals expect their own face needs to be met and are then in return expected to meet the face needs of others (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2018). When these needs are not met, problems arise, which can hurt personal relationships.

Social image is basically society’s beliefs, thoughts, and feelings about us. When it comes to well-known public figures in the world of sports who are constantly seen in the media, their social images take on a larger than life form. Everything they do is put under a microscope, subject to scrutiny and the world of public opinion. Obviously, an individual wants to be seen in the most favorable light and therefore he/she will act accordingly to ensure this. Being the subject of the interviews, LeBron and Serena understand that it is in their best interest to be mindful of what they say.


Eckert, P., & McConnell-Ginet, S. (2018). Language and gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

James, D., & Clarke, S. (1993). Women, men, and interruptions: A critical review. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Oxford studies in sociolinguistics. Gender and conversational interaction (pp. 231–280). Oxford University Press.

Levinson, S. C., & Torreira, F. (2015). Timing in turn-taking and its implications for processing models of language. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00731

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation. Language, 50(4), 696. doi: 10.2307/412243

Zimmerman, D. H., and West, C. (1975). Sex roles, interruptions and silences in conversation Language and sex: Difference and dominance (pp. 105 – 129. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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So like, why do they keep saying “um” so much?

Ellee Vikram

College is a time for learning, but learning what? Surely we can attest that only a select few of us really remember college calculus. College is really a place to learn who you are and why you are the way that you are. But what shapes this? Arguably, the language and linguistic styles that you use are quite indicative of the identity you associate with, which is altogether very fluid. This study focuses on the relationship between the gender and sexuality identities of college organization student leaders and their rates of use of like, uh or um when placed in a leading speaker or a replying speaker role during a board meeting. Specifically, I am looking at the differences in the ratios of like, uh or um to all other words spoken by directors of the club Asian Pacific Health Corps at UCLA when in different speaker roles who also have different gender and sexuality identities. The study found that women and bisexual men have a higher prevalence of like, uh or um than straight men, and that there is a higher prevalence of like, uh or um when the speaker is in the leading role rather than the replying role regardless of gender or sexuality. These findings suggest that filler words serve as methods of indicating speech roles while also contributing to gender and sexuality through their purpose in defining performative identities. So, in this way, college students are shaping their identities through the way they speak and how they utilize like, uh or um.

Introduction and Background

Have you ever counted the number of times your professor said “um” during a lecture? Has it ever bothered you, or do you feel that it is a sign of poor public speaking skills? If so, that’s totally okay. In some ways, filler words, which are the likes, uhs, and ums (2, 6, 7) that seem to slip through the cracks of speech, are indeed indicative of confidence level when speaking (12,14), but they can also mean so much more. In linguistics, filler words can serve as ways of holding the stage while speaking (5), as if to let the audience know that the speaker isn’t quite done yet. In applied linguistics, filler words can serve as markers for gendered language theories (14), which seek to explain the differences in male and female speech patterns and how it ties into gender dynamics.

This study is looking at the instances of filler words spoken by college student leaders of Asian Pacific Health Corps (APHC), a pre-health organization at UCLA led by ten directors who are Asian American college students majoring in the sciences. On this board, four identify as male and six identify as female. Two females and one male identify as bisexual while the others identify as straight. At board meetings, each director is in charge of a specific section of the club, so each director has a chance to be a leading speaker (who leads a discussion) while the others assume replying speaker roles (who simply provide feedback and follow the leading speaker’s topics).


An audio recording of an APHC board meeting was taken and transcribed (1) at various time points that best highlighted the usage of filler words or clearly indicated what position the speaker was in. The instances of filler word usage (like, uh, or um) for each example chosen for the study were counted and reported as a ratio of filler words to all other words spoken for ease of comparison. These transcriptions were analyzed for linguistic features using conversation analysis (8), and were then related to larger gendered language study theories and concepts.


From linguistic analysis of the transcriptions, it became evident that females and bisexual males shared a trend in filler word usage that was different from the straight male usage when in the leading speaker role, but when in the replying speaker role, all individuals use fewer filler words overall.

Figure 1 shows that the straight female and bisexual male in the leading speaker role have a higher ratio of filler words than the straight male in the leading speaker role, while the replying speaker role shows a lower ratio overall. The deviant case is a straight male in the leading speaker role; it is an outlier due to other circumstances surrounding the example, such as supplemental linguistic features and social pressures.

The horizontal axis indicates the individual observed, and the vertical axis is the ratio of filler words to all other words.

The example in Figure 2 highlights the single deviant case that was found in this study where a straight male showed filler word usage similar to females and bisexual males. This case is noteworthy because it gives some insight into factors that can affect speakers more strongly than gender or identity performance. Here the speaker is admitting to a fault and comes off as trying to be reserved about it, and the frequency of pauses that supplement filler word usage that push his performative identity to be less dominant and less confident, which is somewhat opposite of what is expected from a straight male in the leading speaker position.

M2 = Straight Male 2

After reading the transcription it becomes apparent that the male in this case is leading conversation but is admitting to a few faults. Admitting to faults is often tough, so a linguistic tactic is to use politeness by reducing authority and assertiveness, which is something that the filler words used in this example are doing, along with the various pauses present in the speech.

Overall, the results suggest that there is some underlying difference in filler word usage between genders and sexualities depending on the speaker role, but what importance does this hold?


In gendered sociolinguistics, the Difference Model is a theory postulated by Deborah Tannen that suggests that men and women have different cultures of speech entirely (think Spanish and Mandarin, for example) which ultimately explains why men’s speech will oftentimes dominate women’s speech (15). This then bleeds into the Performativity Model, as postulated by Judith Butler, which is applicable to the actual identity that each individual is perceived as by others (3). In the case of APHC, this study suggests that college organization student leaders indeed model differences in language according to gender and sexuality, and fit into both models in some ways. This study is a very suitable example of how men and women express themselves in different ways even when in the same environment under the same pressures (9), and how strongly sexual identity can play into the gendered “culture” that one aligns with (11, 13).

Beginning with the Difference model, the results suggest that straight males use fewer filler words than females and bisexual males in the examples studied from APHC. Filler words, as mentioned briefly before, can act as markers for lessening assertiveness when speaking, which is quite common for women as women’s speech will position them in the less assertive role simply because it is their “culture” to do so, according to the Difference model (9, 15). In Figures 3 and 4, examples of straight male speech and straight female speech in the leading speaker role from the APHC board meeting are compared, and it is evident that there are multiple linguistic features at play:

M2 = Straight Male 2

As seen in transcription in Figure 3, the usage of filler words is fewer and the assertiveness of getting the point across is more evident, as this individual simply jumps into saying what they need to say without too much hedging. The assertiveness is a common feature in male linguistic culture.

F2 = Straight Female 2

In example in Figure 4, filler word usage is higher than the previous example involving the straight male speaker. Filler words here are causing the speaker to be less assertive in getting her words across, and the pauses further push the speech to seem less dominating.

Most of the filler words used by the female in the example pictured in Figure 4 are like, which in this case serve as “approximative adverbs.” These words increase the flexibility of interpretation of the idea by not confining it to any solid concept (6, 13). This is different from the male speech example where he mostly cut straight to the point without approximations, which ultimately highlights the Difference model in play, showing that males and females have different speech methods, even when in the same role, that lead to males having a more dominant character (6, 9, 15).

Lastly, the Performative model comes into play when looking at the example with the bisexual male in the leading speaker role. The transcription is shown in Figure 5:

BM1 = Bisexual Male 1

The ratio of filler words to all other words is similar to the ratio seen in the straight female example (0.11), suggesting a close relationship between these two examples from an applied linguistic standpoint.

Again, this example shows filler words accompanied by numerous pauses. Looks familiar, yes? In this case, the individual’s performative identity is more similar to the female in that there is far less assertiveness in this segment of speech, which is actually expected from this individual as bisexual and gay males tend to have performative identities comparable to females (11, 13). In this case, the linguistic features support such an idea because the same patterns of filler words and pauses are seen, and they serve the same purpose in reducing the assertiveness of the individual speaking.


In conclusion, filler words are actually quite important despite being overlooked so often. Their usage alone often is not very definitive of any purpose, but when combined with other linguistic features and thought of from an applied sociolinguistic standpoint, they suddenly become appreciably important in describing gender and sexuality identities of individuals through language.



  1. Atkinson, J. M. & Heritage, J. (1984). Transcript notation. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action (pp. ix – xvi). CUP
  2. Bortfield, H. et al. (2001). Disfluency Rates in Conversation: Effects of Age, Relationship, Topic, Role, and Gender. Language and Speech, 434 (23), 123–147.
  3. Butler, J. P. (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. Routledge.
  4. Christodoulides, G. (2016). Effects of Cognitive Load on Speech Production and Perception. PhD Thesis, Université catholique de Louvain.
  5. Duvall, E. D., Robbins, A. S., Graham, T. R., & Divett, S. (2014). Exploring filler words and their impact. Schwa. Language & Linguistics, 11, 35-49.
  6. Eckert, Penelope, and Sally McConnell-Ginet. (2013). Language and Gender. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Fuller, J. M. (2003) The influence of speaker roles on discourse marker use. Journal of Pragmatics, 35, 23–45.
  8. Hoey, E. M. & Kendrick, K. H. (2017). Conversation Analysis. Research Methods in Psycholinguistics and the Neurobiology of Language, 152-189.
  9. Koike, D. A. (1986). Differences and Similarities in Mens and Womens Directives in Carioca Brazilian Portuguese. Hispania, 69(2), 387. doi: 10.2307/341699
  10. Lakoff, R. (1975) Language and Women’s Place. New York: Harper and Row.
  11. Pennington, S. (2009). Bisexuals “Doing Gender” in Romantic Relationships. Journal of Bisexuality, 9(1), 33–69. doi: 10.1080/15299710802660029
  12. Siegel, M. E. A. (2002). Like: The Discourse Particle and Semantics. Journal of Semantics, 19(1), 35–71. doi: 10.1093/jos/19.1.35
  13. Smyth, R., Jacobs, G., & Rogers, H. (2003). Male voices and perceived sexual orientation: An experimental and theoretical approach. Language in Society, 32(3), 329–350. doi: 10.1017/s0047404503323024
  14. Shriberg, E. (1996). Disfluencies In Switchboard. Proceedings of the International Conference on Spoken Language Processing.
  15. Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation (p. 42). New York: Morrow.

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Man Up! Women in American Sitcoms

Mariam Alghamdi

“Man up!”: A phrase that has come to mean “toughen up”. It is a phrase that we still hear, well into the twenty-first century; it is a phrase that even those who deem themselves feminists, myself included, let slip out of their tongues accidentally. The occasional use of such a phrase says a lot about the engraved stereotypical views of men as strong and women as vulnerable in our society. Even in the absence of such a phrase, sadly, such views find a way to shine through. This article studies the representation of women as vulnerable beings and as active participants of conversations, mainly by other male characters, in two American sitcoms from two different eras – Cheers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Cheers, which aired in the eighties, revolved around a group of people that frequent a bar. On the other hand, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is still airing, revolves around a police precinct in Brooklyn. In order to study such depiction of women, I will specifically be using conversational analysis with a focus on four language units: word choice, pauses, elongation, and emphasis. By investigating such representations of women, I am investigating if there is hope in a society that still uses the phrase “man up”; if the representation of women in American sitcoms has changed enough that young women can feel empowered through watching such shows.


The stereotype that women are vulnerable, incompetent individuals that need the guidance of a man in order to move through life has existed for centuries, which comes hand in hand with the dismissal of women’s opinions. This article investigates the representation of women as vulnerable, incompetent beings as well as their contribution to general discourse in two American sitcoms, Cheers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The difference in the eras these sitcoms were/are aired during is a key factor to this article since I am interested in the progress of such representation of women through time. As this article will show, Cheers perpetuates and reinforces the categorization of women as vulnerable, incompetent individuals and simultaneously dismisses their contributions to the discourse. On the other hand, Brooklyn Nine-Nine resists such categorization while validating the contributions of women.


In order to carry out this study, I looked into the first six seasons of Cheers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. To make the comparison between these sitcoms as fair as possible, I specifically picked situations that were parallel or semi-parallel in both sitcoms. I then analyzed these scenes using conversational analysis with a focus on word choice, pauses, elongation, and emphasis to better understand the role language plays in such representation of women.

Before diving into the findings of my investigation, I will briefly talk about each of the linguistic units I chose to investigate to prevent any confusion throughout the article. When looking at the choice of words, whether it is intentional or not does not matter in my investigation not only because one cannot deduce the intentions of the characters/writers – not to mention the function of intention in scripted data is complex – but also because regardless of intention, the choice of words reflect certain ideologies whether intentionally or not. On the other hand, pauses, can be used to amplify the importance of certain statements as Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet discuss in their book Language and Gender (Eckert & Sally McConnell-Ginet, 2013). Lastly, from Robert E. Pittenger and Henry Lee Smith Jr, elongation, which indicates elongating certain parts of a word, and emphasis can be used to magnify the importance of certain parts of the conversation since they capture the audience’s attention (Pittenger & Smith, 1957).

Results and Discussion

To arrive at effective conclusions, I am comparing Cheers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine by studying two parallel situations. I am also studying a fan favorite scene from Brooklyn Nine-Nine to understand its limitation in resisting the aforementioned representation of women.

The first situation is a discussion regarding a female character by male characters, which take place in the pilot episodes of both sitcoms. In the pilot episode of Cheers, Sumner and his fiancé, Diane are at the bar, where Sam serves them drinks. Sumner is going to leave Diane alone at the bar while running an errand. Sumner asks Sam, a total stranger, to look after his fiancé during that time, clearly indicating that in his absence, the guidance of another man is needed. Sumner emphasizes the words “alone” and “bar” as well as elongate the word bar when he discusses with Sam how stupid of an idea it is to leave Diane there. Sumner’s exact words are shown in Figure 1. This further indicates Diane’s need of a man’s guidance.

Figure 1 – Cheers S01E01: Sumner leaving Diane alone in a bar

On top of that, Sumner chooses imperative words such as “sit” and “chat”, when telling Diane what to do as he runs his errand. This indicates that he is not suggesting how Diane should spend her time, but rather giving her directions. This is further echoed by Sumner’s body language, which is shown in Figure 2, as Sumner guides Diane to the chair by holding her shoulders and directing/moving her towards the chair.   

Figure 2 – Cheers S01E01: Sumner guiding Diane to sit

Please note that Diane’s annoyed face at the first image in Figure 2 is not a reaction to Sumner’s words but a reaction to a snarky comment Sam made.

In the parallel scene in the pilot of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Sergeant Terry tells the new precinct’s captain about his detective squad. In his introduction, he uses word choice, emphasis, and elongation to portray one of the female detectives, Rosa, as a strong character. Terry uses words such as “tough”, “smart”, and “scary”, which portrays Rosa as anything but incompetent and vulnerable. Terry also adds the word “really” before scary elongating and emphasizing it, which indicates that Rosa is not only scary but terrifying. 

Figure 3 – Brooklyn Nine-Nine S01E01: Terry describing Rosa

The second parallel situation is the discussion of the sexual harassment of a female character. In Cheers season 2 episode 3, Diane is upset about constantly being harassed by potential employers and complains about it. Even though Sam tries to be helpful, his choice of words is poor and reflects a lack of understanding regarding the severity of the situation. He uses phrases like “lighten up” and even cracks a joke while trying to be supportive as he says, “Sometimes I’m just ashamed to be a guy, but if I made the switch now I’d have to buy a whole new wardrobe.” He even laughs amusingly at his joke.

Figure 4 – Cheers S02E03: Sam cracking a joke while Diane is upset

Sam’s lack of understanding and disregard to Diane’s feeling is further amplified by his sexual treatment of Diane. At a point in the conversation, Sam expressed some anger regarding Diane’s situation, but his use of emphasis illustrates that his anger is misdirected. His angry moment is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5 – Cheers S02E03: Sam upset

Sam emphasizes the words “those”, “my”, and “sex object”. This emphasis indicates that he is angry that other men dare treat his women in a sexual way. His use of emphasis implies an anger relating to his ego and his sense of ownership over Diane rather than Diane’s mistreatment. Not to mention his use of the word “squeeze” when describing Diane sexualizes and objectifies her. In this way, Diane’s contributions, her complaints about her sexual harassment, is not being validated by Sam.

In Brooklyn Nine-Nine in season 6 episode 8, when Amy, a female detective, discusses her sexual harassment experience with her husband Jake, another detective, the response is quite different. The contrast is not only shown through the fact that no jokes whatsoever take place during this scene, unlike in Cheers, but it is also shown through the use of pauses and through Jake’s replies. Amy’s retelling of her experience was filled with long pauses, ones that exceeded one second. These pauses indicate two things. First, they elevate the importance of Amy’s statement. They allowed for the severity of the situation to sink in; for Amy’s thoughts to stay a little on the floor for the audience to subconsciously or consciously dissect them. Second, they highlight Jake’s support as he did not try to talk during these pauses even when he had more than enough time to talk. Not to mention, Jake only spoke two times during Amy’s retelling which is shown in Figure 6 and Figure 7.

Figure 6 – Brooklyn Nine-Nine S06E08: Jake first time speaking
Figure 7 – Brooklyn Nine-Nine S06E08: Jake second time speaking

His words themselves show extreme support as he treats Amy as a fellow human – unlike how Sam objectifies Diane in Cheers – even if he does not completely understand her suffering, but his support is shown in different ways as well. Jake even spoke in a low volume in both times, suggesting either an attempt to sound gentle at the news of such pain, uncertainty in what to say, or both. He even spoke quickly the second time which could suggest his frustration at the situation his wife has been through even if he doesn’t relate as well as his desire to not take too much time away from his wife. Jake’s support is emphasized by his facial expressions throughout the times he spoke – in Figure 6 and Figure 7 – as well as throughout the times Amy was speaking, which is shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8 – Brooklyn Nine-Nine S06E08: Jake’s expression

Jake’s support through his silence and facial expressions and such reflects that while he may not understand what Amy is going through, he supports her and validates her contribution.

Last but not least, I will study a scene well loved by many fans of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which takes place in season 5 episode 4. Before Jake proposes to Amy, he leaves her father a voicemail. This scene is shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9 – Brooklyn Nine-Nine S05E04: Jake calls Amy’s dad (Angus, 2017)

This scene is well loved by many fans because it refutes the categorization of women as vulnerable, incompetent and in need of a man’s guidance. This is clear through Jake’s choice of words as he describes Amy as “strong” and “independent”. He even explicitly says that “she don’t need no man”. However, an important thing to note that lovers of this scene tend to forget is that Jake still felt the need to call Amy’s father. It was not in a way to inform the family either, because if it was he would not have highlighted the fact that he was not asking for permission. Not to mention, he would have called her mother as well, and there was no indication at all that he ever did. So, while this scene does in fact refutes the categorization of women as in need of a man’s guidance, it also reflects the fact that such categorization is not completely wiped out. In a way, this scene perpetuates such stereotypes as it highlights that even though Jake does not ask for permission, the idea still floats in his mind and he still is expected to inform Amy’s father. This ties back to Raymond’s idea that the representation of categories in scripted shows can in fact perpetuate stereotypes even when it tries to combat them (Raymond, 2013).  

In order to reach a conclusion confidently, I analyzed one other parallel situation, which was a marriage proposal in both sitcoms. To grasp the comparison between the two sitcoms in more depth and for more details, see the FULL PAPER which includes transcript and linguistic analysis of the interactions discussed in this article as well as the additional parallel situation.


While analyzing scripted data using conversational analysis, in this case Cheers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, does not help us better understand human beings, Chase Raymond argues that applying conversational analysis on scripted data is fruitful since it helps us understand society’s interpretations and indexation of certain categories (Raymond, 2013). My findings in this article indicates that society’s view and interpretation of women has in fact changed from the eighties to today, at least in those two sitcoms. From the analysis of the two parallel situations above, we can see that language aids in the depiction of women as vulnerable, incompetent being that need a man in the older sitcom Cheers. Language is also used to dismiss the contributions of women in Cheers as analyzed above. This representation of women reflects a similar societal view of them as vulnerable, incompetent individuals whose contributions are not taken seriously. On the other hand, language helps women contribute to the general discourse in the more modern sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine as well as aids in refuting the stereotypes of women as vulnerable beings. Once again, this representation of women reflects a similar societal view of them as strong, competent individuals whose contributions are not only taken seriously but supported as well. It is important to note that while the representation of women has progressed, the progress is not as simple, as linear as saying that the more modern sitcoms tend to be resist all stereotypes and validate all women’s contribution. As analyzed in the fan-loved example, some attempts at resisting certain stereotypes comes hand in hand with perpetuating said stereotypes.

Lastly, while this article does not aim to make any statements regarding the effect of such representation on society, almost everyone in today’s society agrees that representation matters. The way someone’s categories are represented in the media including sitcoms affects their self-esteem as I know from experience and as I am sadly sure many others do as well. Hence, even though more studies are needed to make a firm conclusion, it is fair to assume that the representation of women could help encourage or discourage young women, and fortunately it seems like the representation of women in American sitcoms is moving in the right track even if it comes with limitations.



Angus, Kat. (2017, November 3). 21 Times Jake and Amy’s Love On “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” Made Us Melt. Buzzfeed. https://www.buzzfeed.com/katangus/peralta-and-santiago-4eva

Eckert, P., & McConnel–Ginet, S. (2013). Language and gender (2nd edition). Cambridge University Press.

Raymond, C. W. (2013). Gender and Sexuality in animated sitcom interaction.    Discourse & Communication, 7(2), 199–220.

Robert, P.E.  & Smith Jr, H.L. (1957). A Basis for Some Contributions of Linguistics to Psychiatry. Psychiatry, 20(1), 61-78.

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Using Language to Examine Power and Gender Gradients Between YouTube’s Influencers

Helen Ng

With YouTubers, or influencers, rapidly pervading the younger generation’s social media spaces, the following article takes a stab at uncovering the linguistic patterns of successful interruptions and rising intonations at the end of declarative statements in YouTubers’ language. This observational study’s sample consists of beauty and comedy influencers, the types of YouTubers who tend to produce some of the most popular types of videos. This study examined five-minute segments of videos between influencers conversing while completing an activity. These conversation segments were transcribed and the functions and how often the above linguistic features occur were used to determine whether these language patterns expand on, diminish, or add new insight to previous literature regarding power imbalances and gender displays. Does YouTuber “lingo” provide directions as to what the younger generation may ultimately embed into their own speech? Will we become the next James Charles?


The microcosm of YouTube is a popularly visited platform but is a relatively unexplored field in research. Information regarding YouTubers’ speech is primarily centered around voice, such as in this article from The Atlantic. Influencers are YouTubers with a large following on YouTube and belong to a community, such as beauty, comedy, etc. and often film collaboration videos together, in which they complete an activity together while conversing in front of a camera.

Accordingly, this study examined influencers’ uses of successful interruptions and uptalk. Successful interruptions display the interrupter’s dominance, while uptalk, a rising intonation at the end of declarations, invites addressees to add input to maintain conversation (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013). Successful interruptions were defined as i) the interrupter interjecting while the speaker talks, regardless of the latter’s intonation trajectory, and ii) the interrupter taking over before the speaker ceases talking. This definition was motivated by the notion that taking turns is expected while speaking; interruptions violate this politeness norm and contribute to displays of gender identity and power characteristics.                       

Excerpts from conversations were analyzed in relation to previous studies’ findings. Lynn Smith-Lovin and Charles Brody’s work on social status in groups suggests that successful interruptions are attributed to men’s indexing of power and masculinity (1989). As well, in Roger and Schumacher’s 1983 study, and Roger and Nesshoever’s 1987 study, they found positive relationships between successful interruptions and dominance traits (Tannen, 1999). In addition, uptalk has been associated with women’s language (Gorman, 1993). From Penelope Brown’s 1980 study on politeness in villagers in Tenejapa, Mexico, she found that females tended to put more effort in enacting positive politeness than and toward men, which she and Stephen Levinson described as conveying unity (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013).

Altogether, this study’s motivation was to identify whether choices behind successful interruptions and uptalk were common in the speech of YouTube influencers, and reflected observable gender identity performances and power asymmetry expressions. Even though these linguistic practices’ links to gender and power, there exists little research in the context of YouTube. Hence, this study demonstrated that despite the presence of a camera, gender and power hierarchies in influencers’ conversations resembled those in non-YouTuber interactions, and that successful interruptions and uptalk normalize social imbalances between genders on the platform.


Five-minute YouTube video segments of dyadic, single and mixed-gender interactions between influencers within and across the beauty and comedy domains were transcribed and analyzed. Conversation and discourse analyses were performed on dyadic interactions between male and female American, native English-speaking influencers. The following pairings’ conversations were analyzed: Jeffree Star and Tati Westbrook, Jeffree Star and James Charles, Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson, James Charles and Liza Koshy, James Charles and Jenna Marbles, Bethany Mota and Kian Lawley, and Jaclyn Hill and Kim Kardashian. In transcriptions, successful interruptions were indicated by a red square bracket with no corresponding right square bracket in the person being interrupted’s line of speech, while uptalk was marked with a blue question mark and the associated declarative statement in blue.


The five-minute video segments produced consistent, significant results in successful interruption and uptalk frequencies, summarized in Tables 1-4 (see Appendix A). In the transcribed conversations, female influencers were interrupted more frequently by male influencers and used uptalk at a similar or greater frequency than males.

In male-male interactions, each successfully interrupted the other with the same frequency, but their uptalk frequencies were imbalanced.

In the female-female interaction, successful interruption and uptalk frequencies were imbalanced, in that the female who successfully interrupted more often did not use uptalk more, which deviated from the pattern in mixed-gender data.


Previous research points to successful interruptions being associated with males to establish dominance (Smith-Lovin & Brody, 1989). This power move is depicted in the transcribed conversation between beauty influencers Jeffree Star (coded JEF) and Tati Westbrook (coded TAT), in which they talk about Jeffree’s choice of shaving his eyebrows:

Tati provides a supportive backchannel in line 235 (timestamp 8:41), in which she is successfully interrupted by Jeffree so he can continue his story for several lines of speech. He did not cede the floor when Tati unsuccessfully interrupted him while he was speaking on a topic in which he has more knowledge than Tati in line 239 (timestamp 8:50), maintaining the power gap between them.

It is also worth exploring how males react when females exercise this power move instead. One example is in a conversation between beauty influencer James Charles (coded JAM) who successfully interrupts Liza Koshy (coded LIZ), a comedy influencer, while she is speaking about YouTube’s shift:

Liza reciprocated James’ successful interruption in line 47 (timestamp 15:45). In turn, James agrees with Liza in line 48, then successfully interrupts her in line 51 (timestamp 15:50) to take the floor again within five seconds. Furthermore, James’ expression changed at 15:45 from nonchalant to holding his tongue, when Liza successfully took the floor from him, designating her interruption as unnatural; subsequently, James presided over both the female and the conversation again. This case perpetuates the notion that male influencers are allowed to interject to establish dominance, whereas this would be inappropriate for female influencers.

James’ Expression Before and When Liza Successfully Interrupts Him

With regard to uptalk, female influencers tended to use this female-associated linguistic feature (Gorman, 1993) to maintain conversation by inviting addresses to add input, which was depicted in Liza and James’ conversation. In the following excerpt, Liza discusses how her outfit had been criticized:

Liza relied on pauses and slight intonation rises before using uptalk at the end of her statements, culminating in the addressee contributing. After Liza’s pause in line 184, she injected uptalk in lines 187 and 188, when explaining how criticism affected her. James interrupts after Liza’s uptalk in line 188 (timestamp 19:16), taking the floor to express prior knowledge in handling a similar situation. Liza’s uptalk signaled that entry points for interjections were available. Thus, Liza deferred speaker authority to James, allowing him to spearhead the conversation, thus highlighting unequal linguistic expectations bestowed upon each gender.

Whereas male influencers added uptalk at the end of their declarations to appear funny, female influencers were tasked with facilitating the conversation, such as in the conversation between Kian Lawley (coded KIA), a comedy YouTuber, and Bethany Mota (coded BET), a beauty YouTuber, Kian describes the foundation he will be applying:

In lines 24-26, Kian held the foundation against his hand in conjunction with his rising intonation to elicit laughter. He did not mean to engage Bethany in conversation, since she did not chime in after his use of uptalk in lines 24 (timestamp 0:54) and 28 (timestamp 0:55), but stifled a laugh, indicating his actions as comical. Kian used uptalk again in line 28 (timestamp 0:55) to emphasize his lack of knowledge about the product – with Bethany still containing her laughter – then continues talking. Thus, the male influencer was unwilling to yield the speaker position after implementing uptalk, showing that he was not obligated to maintain conversation flow.

Bethany Holding in Laughter and Laughing After Kian’s Use of Uptalk


Overall, these linguistic features positioned female influencers to consolidate their gender identity by being polite through being successfully interrupted more often by males and of using uptalk to facilitate conversations. On the whole, the YouTubers studied have millions of subscribers and cater toward younger female audiences, which poses multiple problems. These include: the normalization of females being interrupted by males, establishing a power gradient, and of females taking on the role of facilitating conversations, organizing a gender asymmetry on YouTube. Ultimately, as YouTube rises in popularity, influencers’ speech may permeate non-YouTubers’ conversations, shaping the evolution of gender and language performances on a larger scale.



Eckert, P. & McConnell-Ginet, S. (2013). Language and Gender (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Gorman, J. (1993, August 15). ON LANGUAGE; Like, Uptalk? The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1993/08/15/magazine/on-language-like-uptalk.html

Griffiths, S. (2013, December 6). American men have started to talk like WOMEN: Californian  study finds that males are rising in pitch at the end of sentences. Daily Mail. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2519363/Men-started-talk-like-WOMEN-Study-finds-males-rising-pitch-end-sentences.html

Rosenberg, E. (2018). How Youtube Ad Revenue Works. Retrieved January 31, 2020, from Investopedia Web site: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/person-finance/032615/how-youtube-ad-revenue-works.asp

Smith-Lovin, L., & Brody, C. (1989). Interruptions in Group Discussions: The Effects of Gender  and Group Composition. American Sociological Review, 54(3), 424-435. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/2095614

Tannen, D. (Ed.). (1993). Gender and Conversational Interaction. New York, NY: Oxford  University Press.

YouTube videos

Charles, J. [James Charles]. (2019, February 26). Doing Jenna Marbles’ Makeup [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhfGLn2wu9k

Charles, J. [James Charles]. (2018, December 7). Doing Liza Koshy’s Makeup [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvQj2VVd5s8

Charles, J. [James Charles]. (2018, December 4). Palette Swap ft. Jeffree Star [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rfs-4DPlm7I

Hill, J. [Jaclyn Hill]. (2017, July 11). Get Ready With Me & Kim Kardashian | Jaclyn Hill [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEhOZooB3bw

Mota, B. [Bethany Mota]. (2017, May 28). KIAN LAWLEY DOES MY MAKEUP | Bethany Mota [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EP6FiH8vBMo

Star, J. [jeffreestar]. (2019, June 2). Kylie Skin Review with Shane Dawson [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnhub9-KLsE

Star, J. [jeffreestar]. (2017, June 17). GET READY IN MY PRIVATE JET feat. Tati Westbrook [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0KXRM5GuMY

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Is Tennis Truly a Gender Neutral Sport? How Grand Slams and Gender Stereotypes Affect the Language of Tennis Stars

Alyssa Ishimoto

Tennis is considered gender-neutral. In fact, if asked to name famous tennis players, most people would recall athletes of both genders, such as Roger Federer or Serena Williams. However, it is doubtful whether tennis is truly a “gender-neutral” sport that is immune to pervasive gender stereotypes and whether tennis athletes, in particular, succumb to these gender patterns.

The way people speak may reflect what they perceive their social status in a specific situation to be (Segalowitz, 2001). Entitlements to act certain ways based on perceived status are called affordances. If people perceive themselves as having a higher social status and higher knowledge, then they may express self-confidence without explicitly boasting about their own talents. In the context of tennis, gender stereotypes and the amount of career experience may affect athletes’ perceived affordances to speak confidently. To determine this, we will analyze linguistic features in the tennis interviews of major athletes after their first grand slam and after multiple grand slams. Keep on reading to find out if tennis is truly a gender-neutral sport, or if males use more confident language than females do, like the gender stereotypes would presume.

Introduction and Background

Sports are integral to many societies. They provide a chance for individuals of different backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities to come together and demonstrate their talent, passion, and national pride. However, despite the promotion of diversity, the sport’s culture has implicitly incorporated gender stereotypes. These stereotypes are reflected in the athletes’ behaviors, the media’s representation of the sport, and society’s view of the sport. Gender studies are important to help understand how athletes in different sports, even ones considered gender-neutral, are influenced by these gender stereotypes.

The concept of affordances has been a widely researched area in linguistics, psychology, and sociology. Norman (1999) argued that perceived affordances are the behaviors that people believe they can do based on society’s beliefs, which encourage some behaviors and discourage others. The way we speak also reflects our perceived affordances because we feel entitled to speak a certain way depending on our social status, expertise, and goals in the interaction (Segalowitz, 2001). However, those that choose to speak in a manner that is not acceptable for their status will face negative consequences (Aronin, 2014).

A previous study looked at how the media, which is influenced by gender stereotypes, frames women’s sports as inferior to men’s sports in basketball and tennis tournaments by framing women’s accomplishments as insignificant (Messner et al., 1993). Our study expands because we focus on how the athletes’ language, not the media, demonstrates gender stereotypes in tennis.

Our study compared the interviews of tennis stars after winning their first grand slam to their interviews after winning multiple grand slams. We found that male athletes displayed confident language in both interviews, while female athletes displayed confidence after winning multiple grand slams. The linguistic features that represented confidence displays were the assertiveness in players’ accounts of success and the frequency and purpose of hedges, which are short phrases or words that convey uncertainty. The gender differences in the tennis players’ displays of confidence portray that men may perceive themselves to have greater affordances to speak with confidence, due to gender stereotypes. These gender stereotypes suggest that men should act assertively and women should act modestly (Prentice & Carranza, 2002). Overall, our study may reflect the broader societal pattern of gender differences in affordances, due to professional expertise, social standing, and gender stereotypes.


This study looked at gender differences in linguistic features that reflected confidence in the interviews of tennis players after they won their first grand slam and after they won three or more grand slams. A player gets a grand slam title when they win one of the major tournaments, which are Wimbledon, the French Open, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open. The following table shows information about the players we studied (Table 1). All interviews were found on YouTube.

This table shows the names of the players we studied, the country they represent, the year of their first grand slam interview, and the year of their multiple grand slam interview.

The first linguistic feature studied was the assertiveness in the accounts of success. We looked at the athletes’ use of direct language when describing how they won the grand slam or progressed in their career. Phrases that conveyed uncertainty and doubt were “I think” or “I was trying to.” Phrases, such as “I knew” or direct statements, conveyed confidence (Johnson & Maratsos, 1977).

 The second linguistic feature studied was the frequency and function of hedges. Robin Lakoff defined hedges as utterances that indicate uncertainty and are oftentimes used in women’s language (Lakoff, 1973). Common hedges in the interviews were:

I don’t know – little bit – kind of – I guess – maybe – probably

The frequency was the number of hedges per second of response time and was measured for each player.

The functions of hedges were also noted for each player. There were three functions:

Self-softening hedges were used by athletes when they shared opinions about themselves. They were to protect against the possible criticism towards the athlete’s self (Salager-Meyer, 1994). Other-softening hedges were used by athletes when they shared opinions about another player. They were to protect the other player from possible criticism (Myers, 1989). Low knowledge hedges were used by athletes when they did not have enough knowledge about a subject (Wang, 2016). Only the self-softening hedges lowered the display of confidence because they portrayed uncertainty in oneself.

Results and Analysis

The Accounts of Success after First Grand Slam

The tennis players differed in their assertive language in the accounts of success after their first grand slam. Two out of the three males used assertive language, including definitive statements. An example is found in Roger Federer’s 2004 interview. The interviewer asked Federer if he had ever expected his game to be where it is at currently. Federer’s response is:

Federer contrasts his younger self with his older self in his response. In lines 14-15, Federer uses the phrase “never thought” to clarify that his younger self displayed the lack of confidence in his tennis ability. On the other hand, in lines 15-16, Federer emphasizes that his current self-projects confidence in his tennis talent. The phrase “I always knew” indicates that Federer is very certain that he has talent.

On the other hand, the three female tennis players used nonassertive language in their accounts of success after their first grand slam. An example is found in Angelique Kerber’s 2016 interview. The interviewer asked Kerber what made her think, in the months leading up to the Australian Open, that she would win. Kerber’s response is:

In line 11, Kerber uses the phrase “I was trying…to,” which conveys that she was not certain about her statement regarding her optimism about winning major tournaments. This uncertain language displays a lack of confidence and shifts personal responsibility for the statement away from her to protect her from possible criticism.

The Accounts of Success after Multiple Grand Slams

After achieving three or more grand slams, both female tennis players and male tennis players used confident language in their accounts of success, although female players still used nonassertive language.

Frequency and Function of Hedges after First Grand Slam

This study also looked at the frequency and function of hedges in the interviews after the tennis players’ first grand slam. Both genders only used self-softening hedges, which decrease the confidence display. However, female tennis players used more hedges than male players did (Table 2).

Females used more hedges than males in the first grand slam interviews. There was a decrease in the use of self-softening hedges and an increase in the use of different types of hedges in the later interviews for both genders, compared to the earlier interviews.
KER = Angelique Kerber, SHA = Maria Sharapova, WIL = Serena Williams, DJO = Novak Djokovic, FED = Roger Federer, NAD = Rafael Nadal. Selfsoft = self-softening hedge, othersoft = other player softening hedge, low = low knowledge hedge

An example of the self-softening hedge is found in William’s 2002 interview. The interviewer asked Williams how she elevated her game in the last year. Williams responded:

In line 13, Williams uses the hedge little bit to lessen the possible backlash to her opinion that she should have been ranked better than nine or ten. The use of self-softening hedges displays unconfident language because the athlete is protecting himself or herself from possible criticism.

Frequency and Function of Hedges after Multiple Grand Slams

In the interviews after multiple grand slams, males and females used more types of hedges. As seen in Table 2, both genders used self-softening and other-softening hedges and only male players used low-knowledge hedges in their later career interviews. Although the total frequency of all hedges increased for male tennis players after multiple grand slams, they used low knowledge hedges and other-softening hedges, which do not affect confidence displays.

However, both genders used fewer self-softening hedges compared to their earlier interviews, as shown in Figure 1. Self-softening hedges lower the display of confidence so both genders displayed more confidence in their later career interviews.

The frequency of self-softening hedges decreased in the later interviews compared to the earlier career interviews for both genders. This type of hedge decreases an athlete’s confidence display.



In the first grand slam interviews, males used more confident language in accounts of success and fewer self-softening hedges when compared to female players. On the other hand, females used nonassertive language in accounts of success and more self-softening hedges. The pattern of males using confident language and females using nonassertive language after their first grand slam may portray that females perceive themselves to have less capability to speak with confident language due to gender stereotypes. These stereotypes pressure women to act indecisively so female players may use nonassertive language to conform to the gender norms (Eagly & Mladinic, 1994). On the other hand, male players may speak confidently to conform to the gender stereotypes that men should act assertively.

One deviation from the common pattern that male professionals use confident language in their first grand slam interview was Rafael Nadal. Nadal displayed nonassertive language in his accounts of success and used more self-softening hedges than two of the female players in his 2006 interview. Although he broke the gender stereotype that men should act confidently, he did not face backlash. The media viewed Nadal’s language after his first grand slam as being gentleman-like and polite. This one case may represent the broader pattern that society comments upon those who do not conform to societal norms.

In the multiple grand slam interviews, all three males used confident language in accounts of success and used fewer self-softening hedges compared to their earlier career interviews. All three females used both confident and nonassertive language in accounts of success and used fewer self-softening hedges compared to their earlier career interview. Both genders’ use of confident language in accounts of success and their lower frequency of self-softening hedges in their later interviews may be due to their perceptions that the winning of multiple grand slams gives them more entitlement to speak confidently. The higher expertise in their profession gives both genders more affordances to act confidently (Sarsons & Xu, 2015). However, females still spoke with nonassertive language in their accounts of success in their later career interviews because of the gender stereotypes that maintain that women should act modestly.

Nadal was, again, the deviation case, because he used more self-softening hedges than two of the female tennis players in the multiple grand slams interviews. It is uncommon for male players to use a high amount of self-softening hedges so the media notices Nadal’s uncertain language. However, the media views the unconfident language as a display of humility.


Overall, our results show that both gender stereotypes and professional expertise may affect a tennis player’s perceived affordances to speak confidently. Both genders see themselves as being able to speak assertively once they have achieved a higher status, through the winning of multiple grand slams. However, the female players still speak indirectly and unassertively in some scenarios because they conform to the gender stereotypes which state they should act modestly. These patterns reflect the broader gender differences in perceived abilities to behave in certain ways based on career accomplishments, social status, and societal stereotypes. We show that gender stereotypes can be widespread and reflected in the language. Even the sports that seem gender-neutral, such as tennis, are not safe from these gender patterns.

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“Yeah” “Mhmm” “Right”: A gendered study on supportive overlap among a group of UCLA friends

Yasmine Choroomi

Have you ever heard people use words like “yeah”, “mhmm”, or “right” while you’re speaking to them in a conversation? This method of cooperative communication is called supportive overlap in linguistics and can be presented undetected in mundane conversations. Although such an interaction can take place in less than a second of conversation and is sometimes overlooked, it can be used to compare interactions between groups of people. I transcribed conversations between a group of friends at UCLA that consisted of two men and two women to see if we could find a gendered difference in their use of supportive overlap, or if this difference was due to another factor like relationships. I was curious as to whether differences in participants’ gender, or another factor such as their relationship to each other or even the type of conversation they are engaging in, affects their use of supportive overlap in a conversation.

Introduction: What are we studying?

Methods of cooperative communication are present in daily conversations and can be utilized to discuss linguistic differences in groups of people. It includes interjections such as “yeah”, “uh-huh”, and “okay” during a conversation not for the user to take over the conversation, but rather to show support (Tannen 1995). This concept is different from the traditional interruption, which requires the interrupter to talk over a speaker with the intention of terminating their turn speaking (Tannen 1994). The use of supportive overlap has cultural variations as well, as its use was detected more on the island of Antigua than a larger country like England (Tannen 1995). This device was also examined among a group of coworkers at lunch, and White 2003 noted that it was a common linguistic device used in enthusiastic conversation. One of the only studies that examined this supportive overlap in a gendered context is Coates (2003), who looked at the use of overlap among a group of women to determine it’s highly utilized in conversations between women. While previous literature looks at the presence of overlap in a variety of contexts, there remains a content gap regarding its appearance among a group of friends consisting of both genders. The following study serves to examine the relationship between supportive overlap and gender while simultaneously accounting for alternative factors such as conversation type and relationship. Supportive overlap is used primarily among women among a group of friends in order to show support during vulnerable parts of conversations while simultaneously portraying them as a supportive person.

Methods: How to Count the Uncountable

To probe the topic of gendered supportive overlap I audio recorded a group of friends with the same major at UCLA discussing three topics. The group is composed of two men and two women to observe if the difference is overlap is due to gender. I accounted for other variables that could explain the data outside gender, so the group consists of a couple as well.

Figure 1: Participants involved (and labeled below)

I wanted to see if the familiarity within the group rather than gender accounts for this linguistic difference in speech. The group thus consists of a group of friends: Javier (male), Geoffrey (male), Tara (female), and Lilia (female). Javier and Lilia are a couple, while the rest of the group are all friends with each other.

Figure 2: UCLA’s campus where study was held

I created three situations for the group to discuss: a neutral case, a case more commonly discussed among men, and one among women. The neutral or control topic is one they are all comfortable with: physiology. The following conversation involves controversy in the makeup world, which tends to be a female dominated industry. The final conversation involves controversy among weightlifters, which tends to be a male-dominated discussion and more prevalent among their daily conversations than women. The CDC notes that only 20% of American college woman meet the strength training recommendations while 37% of college men do (CDC). The three questions were constructed as follows: 1. What is the hardest physiology class you have taken?, 2. You are weightlifting at the gym and see someone with incorrect form: what do you do?, 3. Do you think makeup is necessary in the workplace to appear presentable and why?

I collected both qualitative and quantitative data regarding supportive overlap from 6 minutes of each conversation. I counted the number of supportive overlaps based on Tannen’s definition used by each individual in terms of both their gender and relationships and transcribed the data.

Qualitative Analysis: Who Said What

The first case involves opinions on the hardest physiology class at UCLA. Prior to this interaction, Tara had already elicited that she believed the hardest physiology class at UCLA was Physiological Sciences 111A, while Lilia selected a different class entirely.

This case differs from the rest because it shows two women overlapping the speaker. Geoffrey shows a face-threatening act in lines 3 and 4 by explaining a class traditionally found difficult was easier for him, which can appear as bragging. We see his discomfort with the use of uptalk and elongation of the word “better”. Both Tara and Lilia overlap him with positive words to reassure him and show that his social standing is not in question.

The next case examines a conversation about makeup. This conversation arose when they reached a disagreement about the necessity of makeup in the workplace. The following interaction shows Tara’s explanation as to when she chooses to wear makeup.

Tara’s anecdote was used to illustrate her experiences, which are not ones shared by Javier. She expresses vulnerability and thus a face-threatening act by discussing why she wears makeup. In lines 3 and 5, she explains how some wear makeup to “cover up parts” or when “[she] feel[s] insecure”. As a result, Javier says “right” in both lines 4 and 6 immediately following Tara’s displays of vulnerability to illustrate his support for his friend. Tara never previously showed hesitation in her speech, so the use of overlap shows attentiveness and encouragement. Additionally, the use of “right” rather than “sure” and “yeah” carries stronger weight and allows Javier to help alleviate the vulnerability displayed.

Quantitative Analysis: Tallying Up the Overlaps

Table 1: Overlap analyzed by gender: Table illustrates the numerical amount of overlap initiated in each conversation compared to who they were overlapping (the receiver) by gender.

In the first two conversations, women appeared to initiate more overlap and especially toward men (Table 1). In the third conversation, this trend seems to somewhat dampen. A possible explanation could be explained by the men’s lack of topic familiarity and desire to show support for their female friends. It can also be explained because by the end of the study, Lilia was less talkative due to pulling an all-nighter the evening before.

Table 2: Overlap analyzed by relationship: Table illustrates the numerical amount of overlap in each conversation within a couple versus between friends.

When analyzing the data in the context of a relationship, I found little to no overlap within a couple. One possible is the unnecessary need for the couple to use linguistic devices like overlap to show their support and attentiveness toward each other.

 Discussion: So what does this all mean?

Conversational analysis among UCLA friends offers evidence of some gendered and relationship difference in the use of supportive overlap during three controversial conversations. Upon further analysis of their conversations, supportive overlap is used to not only show support in a conversation but also to provide assurance during a vulnerable conversation or face-threatening act. Quantitative analysis of the data shows that in 2/3 conversations, women utilized supportive overlap far more than their male counterparts. When rearranging the data based on individuals’ relationship to each other, there is significantly more overlap between friends rather than the couple. While no previous data on such interactions occur, I believe further research on this topic could prove worthwhile.

So what can this all mean? In Ochs & Taylor (1995), we see that the stereotype that women are the more supportive gender was perpetuated by the use of introductions by mothers in dinnertime conversation. Although this study does not look at the use of introduction, this stereotype of women being the more supportive gender is also illustrated in the context of this group of friends in a similar manner, but through the use of cooperative overlap.

I propose more extensive future study to probe the gendered use of supportive overlap in the context of multiple variables.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/earlyrelease201212_07.pdf

Coates, J. (2003). Women Talk: Conversations Between Women Friends, London, Blackwell Publishers, 1996, 324 p. Clio, (11). doi: 10.4000/clio.228

Ochs, E & Taylor, C. (1995). The “Father Knows Best” Dynamic in Dinnertime Narrative.

Tannen, Deborah (1994). The relativity of linguistic strategies: rethinking power and solidarity in gender and dominance. In Gender and Discourse, ed. by Deborah Tannen, 19-52. Oxford University.

Tannen, D. (1995). Conversational style: analyzing talk among friends. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

White, A. (2003). Women’s usage of specific linguistic functions in the context of casual conversation: analysis and discussion. University of Birminghan.



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