Women in Politics: Confident not Coy

Ahmed Elauri

I have a dream (…) that one day (….) my children (…) will grow up to read Cat in the Hat.  Now that probably sounded a lot more dramatic than it actually was. People, especially American politicians, love to take pauses while speaking. Martin Luther King Jr. did it, Barrack Obama did it, Nancy Pelosi does it. Pauses are often used because their versatile roles, especially in politics. Pauses can be used to provide emphasis, invoke emotion, or just to catch someone’s breath. Due to the flexibility of pauses, this research investigated how men and women within politics use silence within their speech differently. While women were expected to take more pauses to sound less aggressive and to prevent standing out, the data suggests men may take more pauses during their speech.  This research compared the speech of Vice President Kamala Harris and former Vice President Mike Pence to see who spoke more fluidly during the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate. Harris used fewer pauses, indicating women in politics may be more confident and fluid speakers than their male counterparts.

Linguistic Restraint in Politics and Gender

Introduction & Background

Politics is centered around public perception of individuals, making each political figure highly subject to scrutiny (Shabrina, 2016). Specifically, the speech of Kamala Harris, and Mike Pence were analyzed. Vice President Harris hails from California, where she had experience as a U.S. Senator, and as District Attorney. Former Vice President Pence comes from Indiana, where he had been Governor. Both individuals have had bright political careers, although they do have differences. Vice President Harris is a female of color from California, whilst former Vice President Pence is a white male from the Midwest. This study focused comparisons based on differences in gender.

This research was performed to answer the following research questions. How does gender affect usage of pauses and silences within speech in a political environment? More specifically, how often are pauses used, what functions do they primarily serve, and how effective are they at completing their function

Males and females were expected to respond differently due to the Difference Theory because politicians do not want to sound strange. Therefore, they likely would conform to social norms and act within specific gendered behaviors. 

Females were expected to use pauses more often than men, possibly to invoke an emotional response from the audience or to prevent appearing aggressive and overbearing. Conversely, men were expected to use fewer pauses. They may include pauses to add emphasis or to change flow of speech to keep the audience engaged. Men were expected to speak more smoothly, likely due to the male dominance in politics and having more comfort in the spotlight. The Difference Theory argues that men and women have separate genders, and thereby learn to socialize separately (Tannen, 1991). The difference in socialization leads to each gender performing different practices. For men, this means they primarily communicate to convey information(Tannen, 1991). For women, this means they have a rapport speaking style, where they speak to build relationships (Tannen, 1991). Similarly, the concept of perceived affordances, or what people feel they are socially permitted to do, also factors into how men and women will use pauses (Norman, 1999). The way we speak is a reflection of our entitlement within society (Segalowitz, 2001). As men and women have different roles within society, their entitlement based on affordances will alter when they use pauses, and the pauses’ associated function.

Previous studies have shown that power imbalances can lead to differences in the linguistic features that are used (Kollock, 1985). It has been speculated that these linguistic differences are linked to gender, more information on gendered power in politics can be found here.

During the Senate confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, the use of silence was very deliberate by Senators and by Judge Thomas. In said case, the pause time allotted between answers given and the following question being asked, for Judge Thomas was adequate enough for him to be able to respond with a calm tone and with sound answers. Conversely, Dr. Hill was given substantially less pause time, causing her discomfort and stress in attempt discredit her (Mendoza-Denton, 2001).

Much of the past research is decades old, and focused on different specific sociolinguistic factors. The age of past research and the absence of research on pauses within a political speaker’s message leave a knowledge gap that is filled by this work.


This study specifically examined conversations and dialogue between Vice President Kamala Harris, and former Vice President Mike Pence. The conversations that were analyzed were from the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate. Considerations of this text include the female moderator, Susan Page, who was facilitating the debate. Conversations were randomly selected, transcribed, then analyzed.

Both parties were afforded equal speaking time and opportunities to speak at the debate, having strong previous political careers and being in contention for the same position. Transcriptions were recorded and made for each example and can be deciphered using the key found in the Appendix of this blog.


Figure 1. Summary of the research study findings, particularly the average values of pauses throughout the examined conversations.

Two examples will be briefly shown in Figures 2 and 3.







The first example titled ‘Prayers and Concern’ (Figure 2) came from Pence (video link here). As shown in lines 2-5, there is a high number of pauses, within his four lines of speech. Furthermore, he exhibited two glottal stops. The significance here is in the density of his pauses, which have a high frequency within a short section of speech, and have long individual lengths.

Figure 2. An excerpt from a conversation between Mike Pence and Susan Page.

Pence performs eight long mid-speech pauses within his answer, and about two per each line of text. Pence has two glottal stops in speech, both during line 2. The line 2 glottal stop seems relevant to the long pauses in lines 2,3, and 4 which are discussed below. The early stops indicate they are not meant to disturb flow, or provide emphasis on any points made, as there are no points made yet. This is different from the next transcript.

Example 2 titled ‘Confidence’ (Figure 3) is a transcript that follows Harris’ response to the same question (video link here). Immediately you can see the contrast between Harris’ response and Pence’s response in Example 1. The significance in this example is from the lack of pauses and the confidence in her answer.

Figure 3. An excerpt from a conversation between Kamala Harris and Susan Page.

Harris has three lines of text here, fewer than Pence’s response of four lines, but nonetheless, her answer is much different. Whilst Pence has two pauses per line, for a total of eight pauses; when answering the same question, Harris had only two long pauses, both of which were significantly shorter than the mid-speech pauses exhibited by Pence.

Discussion & Conclusion

Harris’ speech faired as more fluid than Pence’s speech, including fewer glottal stops, fewer pauses, and shorter pauses. Many of Harris’ pauses were directly following bold claims or negative statements towards her opponent. This directly contrasts with the hypothesis which predicted women in politics to be timid. Furthermore, Pence’s pauses were often used at times when he seemed flustered, or as though he was struggling with choosing words to say.

While these results are limited, as they focused on a singular event and two specific politicians, this research indicates that times are changing. Further research including analyzing more individuals in different situations must be done to support the results found here. Nonetheless, the findings within this study indicate women have strong voices within American politics, and are willing to aggress head-to-head with their male counterparts.


References and other used sources

C-Span. (2020) Vice Presidential Debate, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_G0ia3JOVs

Mendoza-Denton, N. (2001). Pregnant pauses. Teaching Modern Foreign Languages: A Handbook for Teachers, 50.


Holiday, N. (2020). Kamala Harris and the Prosody of Parody.https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=49201&fbclid=IwAR1JIOXRML8cIeeKnHIkKo4KY1o_gHrH8DK5urOB_Y4utetBEPYskijLOQE

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

Kollock, Peter, Philip Blumstein & Pepper Schwartz. (1985). Sex and power in interaction: Conversational privileges and duties. American sociological review, 50.34-46.

Rickford, J. R., Duncan, G. J., Gennetian, L. A., Gou, R. Y., Greene, R., Katz, L. F., … & Ludwig, J. (2015). Neighborhood effects on use of African American vernacular english. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(38), 11817-11822.

Shabrina, I. (2016). Persuasive strategies used in Hillary Clinton’s political campaign speech (Doctoral dissertation, Universitas Islam Negeri Maulana Malik Ibrahim).

Tannen, D. (1991). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation (1. ed). Ballantine Books.

Norman, D. (1999). Affordance, conventions, and design. Interactions, 6, 38–42. https://doi.org/10.1145/301153.301168

Segalowitz, N., Cohen, P., Chan, A., & Prieur, T. (2001). Musical Recall Memory: Contributions of Elaboration and Depth of Processing. Psychology of Music, 29(2), 139–148. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735601292004

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Love at First Site? The Impact of Medium and Sex on Flirting Behavior

Christian Bury, Maddy, Valerie Beketava, Marissa Schulner, Luming Zhou

Smiling at the cute cashier, batting your eyes at your work-crush, or even strutting up to greet an attractive stranger at the bar, whether Dr. Love himself, or merely an average joe looking to land a date, we’re all aware of the tried-and-true signs of flirting. It’s with this familiarity in mind, that the recent emergence of social media and popular dating apps have revolutionized these age-old flirting techniques, reimagining themselves in the form of risqué DM’s and overly animated texts featuring the all too infamous winky face emoji. Biological sex has long stood as the primary element of influence within flirting behavior, but with the prevalence of today’s digital technology, the actual medium of such communication has been introduced as yet another important factor regarding one’s approach to flirting. Despite this being the case, a few features of flirting remain ubiquitous across both face-to-face and virtual mediums regardless of biological sex: the use of compliments and exaggerated reactions. With this in mind, the following article lays-out and reflects on the aforementioned features of flirting, shedding light on how differences among sex and medium impact flirting behavior, perception, and tendencies.


Before diving into all the nitty-gritty details of these recent observations, it is important that we introduce the background of such research, and more specifically, the features of flirting we will be paying special attention to. With longstanding studies on flirting and communication, it doesn’t take an astrophysicist to know that flirting relies heavily on non-verbal signals and exaggerated reactions such as laughing, smiling, looking someone in the eye for a significant period, and winking (Eckert & McConnell, 2003). For this exact reason, more contemporary research has concluded that without the traditional non-verbal signals of face-to-face communication, virtual flirting tends to rely on emojis, capitalization, and punctuation, as substitutes for conveying exaggerated excitement (Whitty, 2004). Our study of “exaggerated reactions” refers to the act of responding over-enthusiastically while flirting, usually laughing, smiling, or speaking louder and faster to signal interest and excitement. More specifically, this feature may take form in face-to-face contexts by giggling at an attractive person’s joke as if it’s way funnier than it actually is, or appear in a virtual sense, with the excessive use of emojis, punctuation, and capitalization, while texting “HAHAHA…waaaaiitt, I LOOOOVE that!!!!” Likewise, in regard to modern analysis surrounding the use of compliments between men and women, it’s been widely observed that women are more likely to both give out and accept compliments, while men are more likely to deflect and misread compliments when flirting (Tannen, 1990). From this standpoint, we’ve chosen to further examine such behavior, particularly researching what we’ve classified as “direct and risque compliments.” This feature refers to the act of essentially cutting straight to the point and making a flirtatious or sexually suggestive compliment while flirting. Most notably, such behavior may be observed within the likes of face-to-face flirting by telling someone “you’re gorgeous,” or appear in a virtual context while sliding into someone’s DM’s to say “you’re super hot, can I get your snap?” Now at this point, you may be thinking so what’s the big deal? Well, by taking these features into account, we’ve developed exciting new insight on the medium and types of compliments preferred by men and women, in addition to which medium is perceived to involve more exaggerated reactions, as well as direct and risqué compliments. We predict that flirting face-to-face is the preferred medium of both men and women, being perceived as more sincere, and therefore, more effective. Moreover, we also expect to find that flirting virtually tends to involve more direct and risqué compliments, as well as exaggerated reactions.


With regards to the methodology of such research, we decided to approach this study with three separate phases and means of collecting data. First and foremost, we developed a multiple choice google survey, gathering responses from 27 male and 27 female UCLA students. In particular, this survey gauged the tendencies and perceptions, as well as the use of compliments and exaggerated responses by men and women when flirting face-to-face and/or virtually. Next, we cross compared our survey results with 14 anonymously submitted screenshots of flirting over Tinder, Instagram DM’s, and Text messages, effectively countering the potential survey bias of our data by presenting more “real-world” flirting behavior in practice. Lastly, we gathered and analyzed an assortment of media clips containing flirting scenes from various movies and shows, once again cross referencing such examples with our survey data and screenshots of virtual flirting to develop more comprehensive results. 

Results and Analysis

Moving on to the results and analysis of this three-phase approach to data collection, we see that our survey results indicate that men and women are strikingly similar when it comes to their perception and use of really any notable feature and medium of flirting. In this case, our survey data shows that the only notable disparity between sex appears over which medium is more likely to contain exaggerated reactions, with men saying that virtual flirting contains more exaggerated reactions, while women reported the contrary, highlighting the exaggerated reactions of face-to-face flirting instead (as seen in Graph #5). Beyond this minor disagreement, both men and women said that face-to-face was their preferred flirting medium (Graph #1), agreeing that it’s more sincere (Graph #2), and therefore, more effective (Graph #3), while also perceiving that virtual flirting tends to involve far more direct and risqué compliments (Graph #4).












Taking this into account, our analysis of the virtual flirting screenshots showed that in many cases people will say things online that they may not say in person (Screenshot #1 and #2). This observation carries over similarly to an apparently high volume of exaggerated messages and responses (Screenshot #2 and #3). As noted earlier, this behavior likely stands as a means of compensating for the lack of traditional nonverbal flirting signals missing from virtual mediums. Lastly, our examination of media clips focused mainly on scenes from the films “Back to the Future”, “Crazy, Stupid, Love”, and “The Departed” (see links below).

“Back to the Future” Flirting Scene

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” Flirting Scene

“The Departed” Flirting Scene

In each case, all three clips displayed an exchange of compliments, usually coming from the man initially, as well as indications of exaggerated reactions, usually occurring in the form of giddy laughter, smiling, and louder, faster speech.

Discussion and Conclusions

Relying on surveys, research, and media analysis we draw several conclusions regarding flirting behaviors among young adults. By analyzing our survey results we can conclude that flirting face-to-face is the preferred medium of both men and women. This came as no surprise to us but was very interesting to analyze the many possible reasons and explanations that resulted in this conclusion. One reason for this result is that both genders indicated that they found flirting in person to be perceived as more sincere, effective, and the most time effective method of getting to know a person they are attracted to. Virtual flirting was shown to be more prone to direct and risqué communication that can often be misinterpreted whereas in-person can be seen to show much more clear and precise expression of intentions. The more playful and sincere compliments observed through in-person flirting is preferred for both men and women over the more scandalous and risqué ones prevalent among virtual flirting. As we previously assumed, virtual flirting prompts much more exaggerated and animated reactions than in-person. We assume that this exaggerated behavior is used as an attempt to combat the non-verbal cues we get when flirting in person. These non-verbal cues include smiling, touching, laughing, as well as other micro-expressions we observe when you are attracted to another person. Those who are more introverted and less confrontational may prefer online flirting as their preferred medium as there is much less physical embarrassment when a flirting tactic fails to elicit the desired response. For an online flirting medium such as Tinder, where you most likely have not met the person, you are talking to and, the person may believe they have to come off strong to provoke a response and make an impression among a much larger pool of potential partners. While our survey did compare results among both men and women, our analysis found that the medium, rather than sex, has a much larger impact on the use and perception of compliments and exaggerated response when flirting. Overall, most of our research data and analysis confirmed our hypothesis that young adults prefer face-to-face over online flirting, leaving the door open for further insight that could promote future research on this topic.




Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation. New York, NY: Morrow.

Eckert, P., & McConnell-Ginet, S. (2003). Language and gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Holmes, J. (1988). Paying compliments: A sex-preferential politeness strategy. Journal of Pragmatics, 12(4), 445–465. https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(88)90005-7

Smith, J. (2014). The Perceived Impact of Online Versus Offline Flirting on Romantic Relationships . (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter and Thomas R. Wagner.Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.Apr 2018.229-233.http://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2017.0608

Whitty, M.T. (2004). Cyber-flirting: An examination of men’s and women’s flirting behaviour  both offline and on the Internet. Behaviour Change, 21(2), 115-126

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“Do You Even Lift, Bruh… or Sis?” 💪: A Look into the Online Gendered Communication of Fitness Influencers on YouTube”

Hyung Joon (Joe) Kim, Jenny Elliott, Madeleine Song, Sophia King, Alison Tcheguini

With the rise of social media influencers, online public figures have become more attentive to how they communicate with their followers. In our research study, we assess the features of online gendered communication in comparison to the in-person gendered communication theories.

To do this, we chose YouTube fitness influencers as our main scope of study because “fitness” is a relatively gender-neutral category. By analyzing the influencers’ online comments, we discovered notable differences between male and female influencers’ responses to their fans. We found that women use certain linguistic features more frequently and that they used them in greater varieties. We believed this to be an indication of an emotional and expressive way of communicating. On the other hand, men generally used these linguistic tools less frequently and in less variety.

Overall, both males and females used supportive and rapport language. This is indicative of the fact that both seek to establish solidarity with their respective fan base. However, we found that men and women use these linguistic features to different extents, and differing the types of linguistic tools they use. In this regard, we observed a dichotomy of “calm vs emotional” which is a modern adaptation of the well-established “report vs rapport” model.


Regardless of their content, social media influencers aim to grow and maintain an audience to ensure their platforms are marketable and profitable. We found there are several linguistic techniques these influencers adopt to build connections with their fans. In particular, they replied to their followers’ comments under their videos to facilitate connection with their audience, and, when doing so, utilized rapport-building linguistic features.

In general, men and women have been understood to communicate differently in the process of forming connections. We wanted to further investigate differences across genders in connection-building communication in the context of online social platforms.

These concepts guided our research, as we examine the linguistic differences of male and female influencers in their written responses to followers’ comments online. 


Due to our scope of interest in influencers’ platform maintenance, we examined existing literature on gendered and computer-mediated communication.

The dominance model suggests that female language use reflects male dominance in society (Lakoff, 1975), whereas the difference model proposes that differences in language between men and women reflect different cultures of conversation (Tannen, 1990). Despite both styles serving the same communicative function, women use rapport-oriented conversation, which is more emotional, while men use report-talk, reporting fact-based information and competing for hierarchy in conversation (Tannen, 1990). Further work has been done on gendered communication differences to see what linguistic features can be attributed to men: in homosocial contexts, men use expressions like “dude” or “bro,” as their way of performing male expectations, indexing their heterosexuality to promote heterosexuality as their preferred orientation. (Van Herk, 2018, p.109).

Since we are looking at social media influencers, we also looked at computer-mediated communication (CMC) studies to see how these patterns reflect in a modern online context. The content of CMC messages by females is more expressive than males, reflecting a female’s social role of being emotionally expressive and collaborative, as mentioned in the Tannen’s model (Fox et. al., 2007, p. 395). Regarding CMC-specific linguistic features like emoticons, studies suggest that females use emoticons as a means of expressing solidarity, support, positive feelings, and gratitude––reinforcing the existing stereotype that females are more emotional than males (Wolf, 200, p. 827). Literature on text-based punctuation in online messages suggests that digital cues, such as excessive punctuation and capitalization, increased the bonding of female friendships (Sherman et. al., 2013). These cues were made frequently by young women to convey emotion in their text-based conversations.

Our main research question is the following: “To what extent does the gender identity of YouTube fitness influencers affect the digital linguistic expressions they use to establish solidarity with their followers?”

In our research, we observed that females used more frequent expressions than males across four different features we examined; however, by narrowing down on more specific sub-categories under the features, we found that even though males and females used different linguistic expressions, both male and female fitness influencers were using different tools to pursue the same purpose of establishing solidarity with their fans.


We conducted our study by analyzing the computer-mediated communication used by ten female and ten male YouTubers. We narrowed our sample choice by selecting YouTubers who belong to the fitness industry, create fitness content for YouTube, and speak English. Our sample was categorized into two sections: influencers with less than one million subscribers (Table 1) and influencers with over one million subscribers (Table 2). To avoid bias, data were collected from each influencer by randomly selecting ten interaction-based comments from two randomly selected workout videos.

We categorized our data into four linguistic features based on the most salient differences we observed among the comments of male and female fitness influencers. Our data was analyzed based on the frequency of emojis, exclamation points, capitalization, and pet names. In terms of emojis, we looked at the types of emojis that were being used differently by males and females. The specific emojis were grouped into three distinct categories: facial expressions, gestures, and non-human symbols (fire, stars, sweat, etc).

Table 1. Fitness influencers with less than 1M Followers

Results and Analysis

First, we looked at the use of emojis in YouTube comments from female and male influencers. Symbol and facial expression emojis were popular for women, using a variety of faces such as 🤪 and hearts 💖.

Figure 1: Emoji Usage: Make vs Female Influencers

Men also used emojis frequently but the specific emojis they used differed from what females used––males instead opted for symbols like 🔥 or 💦. 

Overall, women used more expressive facial emojis along with many gesture emojis (Figure 1). In general, women used facial expression, symbol and gesture emojis more frequently than men.

Second, we analyzed punctuation by examining the use of exclamation points in influencers’ responses to comments. Women tended to use exclamation points in most of their replies, often using several exclamation points in a row. In contrast, males did not use exclamation points as frequently, and when they did, they only used 1-2 per comment.

Figure 2: Exclamation Usage: Male vs Female Influencers

While men did use exclamation points, they did not use them to the same extent as women. Women used exclamation points more frequently, totaling over 100 times throughout comments compared to just over 25 by men (Figure 2). The number of comments in which these features appeared was identical for male and female. Females typically used digital cues including excessive punctuation to better convey emotion online.

Next, we considered influencers’ usage of capitalized words within sentences. We found that female influencers were more inclined to capitalize individual words or phrases when replying to comments. Women often capitalized words of encouragement like “good job” yay” or “yesss”. Conversely, men rarely utilized the capitalization of words.

Figure 3: Capital Letter Usage: Male vs Female Influencers

The capitalization of words (particularly for emphasis) was used by females at a higher rate than their male counterparts. Whereas women did this over 100 times throughout our data, men did not even reach a count of 5 (Figure 3).

Finally, we looked at the pet names influencers used when responding to comments. Female fitness influencers often used words such as “girl,” “queen,” and “babe” to address their followers, whereas males used terms like “man,” “buddy,” and “mate” to address their followers in a similar supportive fashion. Figures 5 and 6 display the overall comparisons of the four linguistic features’ rate of appearance in 10 comments written by the male and female social influencers.

Figure 5: Usage of Linguistic Features of Solidarity: Male vs Female Influencers
Figure 6: Usage of Linguistic Features of Solidarity by Percentage: Male vs Female Influencers

We observed that females used pet names more frequently than males, but the difference was not as large (Figure 7). 

Figure 7: Pet Name Usage: Male vs Female Influencers


Discussion and Conclusions

There are four key insights that summarize our research results.

First, by taking a closer observation at the types of emojis male influencers used, we found that males usually used bicep emojis whereas females did not use them at all. Females generally used more emojis across all emoji categories. However, by narrowing down to a more specific sub-parameter within symbolic emojis, we observed that males were in fact using a different tool to strengthen their relationship with their predominantly male fans. 

This insight suggests that in CMC, both males and females likely strive to establish solidarity with their fans but through different linguistic tools. On social media platforms, influencers of all genders are driven by financial motivations to attract viewers by crafting themselves as more responsive and supportive than their competitors.

Second, the nature of the male influencers’ comments was more action-oriented than that of female influencers’ comments. For example, males often posted comments such as “Keep going” and “Well done!”, whereas females often posted gratitude-expressing, emotional comments such as, “Thank you!!!” and “ILY MY QUEEEEN”.

This second point illuminates that most of these interactions took place between same-sex followers and influencers. This phenomenon could be attributed to the fact that the fitness objectives of the videos were inherently geared to target the followers of the same sex as the influencers. For example, we noticed that the majority of the videos created by female fitness stars tend to have titles such as, “Intense Glute Workout”, but males posted videos with titles like “Build a Bigger Chest”. These fitness videos align the body areas that respective genders tend to visually prioritize when developing their body muscles. In general, females are more self-conscious of their leg and glute areas whereas males typically focus on building the size of their upper body.

Third, we observed a dichotomy of ‘emotional vs calm’ which is a digital adaptation of the ‘report vs rapport” model. In particular, male influencers’ average length of comments is significantly less than female influencers’ average length of comments. The male influencers’ responses were calmer than those female influencers. We think this ‘emotional vs calm’ dichotomy is a formal theorization of what computer-mediated gender communication can look like in the context of our digital influencer study. Our research also invites further studies by future socio-linguistic scholars interested in the intersection between gendered communication and online social media platforms.

Lastly, with male influencers specifically, we observed that those with a smaller following responded more frequently to comments than those with a larger following. Once reaching a certain level of popularity (over 1 million), males responded less frequently. We theorize this is because males use more feedback only before their platform grows to a certain level of popularity. Given that our study only examines 20 social influencers on YouTube, we’d like to invite future researchers to conduct more studies in these areas.

In short, our research study shows that females are predominantly more expressive than males across all 4 linguistic categories, but males have more frequently used bicep emojis in particular. In addition, even though females’ responses were visibly more expressive in terms of the frequency and variety of emoji usage, both males and females were pursuing the same purpose of establishing solidarity with their fans, by using different tools.

We argue that the Tannen model is being applied differently in the context of computer-mediated communication and the nature of social media, as social influencers, whether male or female – are in positions to appeal to their general audience. We also propose the “emotional vs calm” dichotomy observed from gendered communication in online platforms and invite further research to be done in this area.

Among several, one limitation of our research is that we did not incorporate the nature of the followers’ comments that the influencers responded to. In general, we observed that most viewers’ comments were positive, grateful, and supportive. This research invites future studies to undertake how the responses would look different towards comments that are hateful or negative. In addition, more studies on how non-famous males and females differ in their digital communication on social online platforms are needed.



Bamman, D., Eisenstein, J. and Schnoebelen, T. (2014), Gender identity and lexical variation in social media. J Sociolinguistics, 18: 135-160. https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12080

Fox, A. B., Bukatko, D., Hallahan, M., & Crawford, M. (2007). The Medium Makes a Difference: Gender Similarities and Differences in Instant Messaging. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 26(4), 389–397. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X07306982

Herk, G. V. (2018). Gender. In What Is Sociolinguistics? (pp. 96-116). Wiley Blackwell.

Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and woman’s place. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Sherman, L. E., Michikyan, M., & Greenfield, P. M. (2013). The effects of text, audio, video, and in-person communication on bonding between friends. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(2), Article 3. https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2013-2-3

Tannen, D. (1990). “Put Down That Paper and Talk to Me!”: Rapport-talk and Report-talk. In You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (pp. 74-95). HarperCollins.

Wolf, A. (2000). Emotional Expression Online: Gender Differences in Emoticon Use. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 3(5), 827–833. https://doi.org/10.1089/10949310050191809

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“Of course, right” and “I was just asking to ask”: Women’s Relationship With Cooperative Language and Their Perception

Zoe Curran, Emmeline Hutchinson, Rylee Mangan, Kamiron Werking-Volk

Why do we like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde? Why do we dislike Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada? Of course, part of it is because that is who the movie tells us to like and dislike, but is another aspect of that how they use language?

Based on existing knowledge that men and women use communication differently, taking divergent paths to accomplish tasks, we sought to determine how these variations distinctly affect men and women. We focused specifically on the effects on women and how their language use changes their perception. Are they the heroine or the villain? Are they the sweetheart or the b*tch? Our study examined the representation of women in the media and explored the implications of cooperative conversational styles on a woman’s perceived image.

We predicted that the way women in movies use language to facilitate, or inhibit, conversation contributes to their perception in aspects that do not affect men. Based on scenic analysis and tracking of key features, we found a correlation between the characters’ use of cooperative linguistic features and their representation in the film that may be integrated into everyday life.

Introduction and Background

Did you know that women are 33% more likely to be interrupted when speaking with men? And that men speak almost twice as often as women in formal conversation? As an all-female research group, we wanted to explore why we were being cut off in some conversations and completely ignored in others (read more about this topic here). Previous findings state that females utilize conversational styles that foster connection and community, while males utilize styles that attempt to strengthen their independence and dominance over the discussion’s topics (Ersoy, 2008). We do understand that men and women converse differently, but why did it seem like our communicative style was inferior when it is an attempt to be more engaging?

An explanation to this unbalanced communication might be women’s more active use of minimal encouragers, nonverbal gestures, and agreements that are intended to facilitate conversation but as we experienced, can yield opposite results. We geared our research towards understanding the implications of what we have termed Cooperative Conversation Linguistic Features (henceforth, CCLFs). CCLFs are a collection of words, phrases, and nonverbal gestures that promote a cooperative speaking style to encourage a conversational partner. These features help balance the conversation by allowing the speaker to continue talking. However, a woman’s increased use of these features can render them as a less-dominant speaker who might be inferred as subordinate and less powerful. To determine if there is a relationship between CCLFs and the speaker’s perceived identity we studied how women and their control, or lack of, the conversation affects their image and in an essence their likeability.

We studied samples of both same-sex and cross-sex conversation groups in popular media. Although movies are not perfect depictions of real life, stereotypes are often constructed from visible patterns of behavior and actions of real people (Kubrak, 2020). Media characters exaggerate the usage and effect of these linguistic features in a manner that can be studied effectively. We hypothesized that female characters’ increased usage of CCLFs will be associated with perceptions of decreased power, confidence and intelligence. We believed it would also be associated with increased likability in the eyes of the audience and/or their conversational counterparts.


High-stakes conversations between female and male counterparts in contemporary films where there was either a negotiation, conflict or high-profile discussion were analyzed. Our chosen films included The Devil Wears Prada, The Proposal, Erin Brockovich, Fargo, Legally Blonde, and The Social Network. Eight female characters from a total of six films were examined and individually identified as cooperative or uncooperative roles. These characters included iconic figures such as Elle Woods, the protagonist in Legally Blonde, who was coded as highly cooperative, versus Miranda Priestly, the antagonist in The Devil Wears Prada, coded as highly uncooperative.

We counted the number of CCLFs and uncooperative actions (henceforth, UAs) displayed by female characters. CCLFs included minimal encouragers and cooperative overlap, which we defined as words or phrases that serve to promote intimacy, support the conversational partner and indicate encouragement. Another CCLF of interest was cooperative nonverbal cues like making consistent eye contact, nodding, leaning in and making supportive hand gestures. Our last CCLF was facilitating questions, which we defined as any question that served to stimulate conversation, support the conversational topic or encourage the conversational partner. In order to have a full picture of how cooperative vs noncooperative characters are constructed in film, we also documented the number of UAs. These were defined as verbal and nonverbal communication that was disruptive or uncooperative in nature, such as changing the conversational topic, not responding, disruptive interruptions, lack of eye contact, walking away, or arguing with the counterpart’s motives or ideas. We adopted many of these features from Selma Ersoy’s work on collaborative versus competitive communication styles (2008) and added other components we felt assisted or inhibited conversation from our own experiences and the experiences of peers.

Read more about the difference between cooperative overlap and interrupting here!

Quantitative methods were used to calculate the frequency of CCLFs and UAs for each character. Qualitative methods were used to evaluate any unique features of the specific conversational styles of the characters and to make note of how the character of interest was perceived by other characters in the scene.

Results and Analysis

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we noticed a dramatic disparity between the ‘cooperative’ and ‘uncooperative’ groups. Across the board, the women in the cooperative group used the CCLFs at a greater rate. These women also used the uncooperative actions at a substantially lower rate than the uncooperative group: the cooperative group only using them three times in all of their scenes. Much differently, the women in the uncooperative group frequently used the UAs at a total of 17 times. Additionally, the women in the uncooperative group rarely used CCLFs to foster cooperative conversation. Only one uncooperative character used these features at all, for a total of three uses.

Since we were watching movie scenes of various lengths to collect data, we found it important to ensure that the scene length was not skewing our information. To avoid this misrepresentation, we converted the number of features used to the rate the characters used them. This information was calculated as the specific feature usage per minute. We found that Erica Albright and Marge Gunderson were standouts in their high rate of CCLF use at approximately 8 and 7 per minute respectively. Simply put, Erica would use a CCLF every seven and a half seconds in a conversation, and Marge every eight and a half seconds (find our example scene with Erica here). The women in the uncooperative group had a much lower use of CCLF’s per minute, with all but one character using 0 per minute.

Figure 1: Characters’ CCLF Use Per Minute. The x-axis includes the women involved in the study separated by an empty column “—”. The separation indicates the distinct groupings of these women in the cooperative (left) and uncooperative (right) groups. The y-axis measures the CCLFs used per minute by the women. The women in the cooperative group overall used CCLFs at a higher rate per minute.

We also converted the uncooperative actions to a use per minute rating and found that characters such as Vivian and Erin (uncooperative group members) had the highest rates of use at approximately three and two per minute respectively.

Figure 2: The Characters’ Rates of Uncooperative Action Usage per Minute. The x-axis includes the women involved in the study separated by an empty column “—”. The separation indicates the distinct groupings of these women in the cooperative (left) and uncooperative (right) groups. The y-axis measures the UAs used per minute. The women in the cooperative group used UAs much less frequently than the women in the uncooperative group.

Overall, our data showed that the cooperative group had a higher rate of CCLF use than the uncooperative group, comparing an average of 4.5 features per minute to 0.175 features per minute.

Figure 3: The Average Use of CCLFs and Uncooperative Actions (UA) by the Cooperative and Uncooperative Groups. The x-axis shows the two categories of women in our study: cooperative and uncooperative, and the y-axis indicates the number of features used per minute by the groups. The units of measurement are the number of features used per minute. The cooperative group used a dramatically higher frequency of CCLF features than the uncooperative (4.5 per minute vs 0.175 per minute). Also, the cooperative group had a lower rate of Uncooperative Action use compared to the uncooperative group (0.38 per minute vs 1.82 per minute).

The opposite was found with the uncooperative actions, with the cooperative group using them much less frequently at an average rate of 0.38 per minute, compared to the uncooperative at 1.82 per minute. These stark differences can be more clearly described as the cooperative group using CCLFs at a rate 26 times that of the uncooperative group, and using UAs at a rate about 5 times less than the uncooperative group.

Discussion and Conclusions

As for how the use of CCLFs and UAs relates to perception of the character we noticed a common connection between the use of CCLFs among characters that the audience is supposed to like, the people we are supposed to root for, as well as a connection between the characters who used more UAs and their positions as villains in the narrative.

To paint a clearer picture let’s look at the movie Legally Blonde. Elle, a character from our cooperative group is the hero of the movie, while Vivian from the uncooperative group is one of the main antagonists. We as an audience are not supposed to side with Vivian until she changes her ways and becomes friends with Elle. (See our example scenes with Elle and Vivian). This is not a motif isolated to Legally Blonde since the same can be seen in The Proposal. Sandra Bullocks’ character Margaret Tate is called a “witch” and a “monster” by her peers, sending a clear signal to audiences on what to think of her character. It is not until her character’s journey to her relationship with the male lead, Andrew Paxton, and her becoming somewhat nicer that she gets praise and a happy ending.

In our sample these same motifs simply did not exist for men. A prime example of this being Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, a character that practices disruptive communication. He is offstandish and objectively unkind in the opening scene and throughout the movie, adopting many of the UAs we identified, but at the end of the movie he is still praised. The audience sympathizes with Mark and despite his flaws he is not given a redemption arc in his movie, he is simply allowed to exist. The male characters we observed did not have to be perfect or traditionally nice to be liked. We believe that this may reflect a broader standard that women are held to in the real world. Our research speaks to how movies shape us and give us hints about who we are supposed to be.

For more insights on how movies shape us, watch this TEDTalk.

Although our study stuck to a relatively strict gender binary and focused on white, middle to upper class, straight coded characters, we feel it brings up valid questions about the perception of women and what standard women are held to both in media and in real life.


References and Used Sources

Borresen, Kelsey. “How To Know If You’re An Interrupter Or A ‘Cooperative Overlapper’.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 4 Mar. 2021, www.huffpost.com/entry/interrupting-or-cooperative-overlapping_l_603e8ae9c5b601179ec0ff4e.

Ersoy, S. (2008). Men compete, women collaborate. Kristianstad University: Language and Gender. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:231309/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Fincher, D. (2010). The Social Network. Columbia Pictures.

Kubrak, T. (2020). Impact of Films: Changes in Young People’s Attitudes after Watching a Movie. Behavioral Sciences, 10(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/bs10050086

Luketic, R. (2001). Legally Blonde. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer & Marc Platt Productions.

Stokes, C. (2012, November). How movies teach manhood. https://www.ted.com/talks/colin_stokes_how_movies_teach_manhood

Susan Chira. (2017, June). The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women—The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/business/women-sexism-work-huffington-kamala-harris.html

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Laugh Now… Because It Won’t Be Funny Later

Angelena Escobar, Debora Gotta, Lilly Khatirnia, Talia Kazandjian

Comedy and laughter are often viewed as universal languages. It is said that comedians have the capacity to produce discourse about the darkest and most challenging aspects of life, all the while making us laugh. This meant nothing was really off the table for comedians in the 90’s and early 00’s. However, in the last five years especially, with the massive rise of social media and cancel culture, we have seen both celebrities and private citizens being reprimanded or heavily criticized for their current or past actions. Comedians, especially, who were appreciated for their dark and uncensored humor, are now having to rethink their entire routine. Keeping that in mind, is comedy still regarded as it once was or have societal values changed enough to transform the stand up comedy landscape?


Figure 1: Kevin Hart

Stand-up comedy is one of the major sources of entertainment. It began to hit the ground running in the early 50’s and 60’s, in which socially aware comedians made their way into the spotlight (Pulliam,1991, pg 164). However, stand-up comedy did not reach its peak until the 1970’s. The main purpose of comedy was to showcase current events, culture, and the personal lives of comedians (Zoglin, 2009, pg. 3). This essentially meant that a large amount of what was taking place during a certain point of history would be a focal point of comedic routines. Comedians also implemented their personal stories as a part of their jokes. While comedy has obviously been used for comedic purposes, it has been a factor in social change as well. In “Stand-up Comedy as a Tool for Social Change”, Manwell claims it is important to draw attention to negative stereotypes to be socially progressive. He emphasizes how humor that “draws criticism for being offensive and for perpetuating negative stereotypes” is, in actuality, progressive, because it pushes the boundaries of what is socially acceptable (Manwell, 2008, pg. 50). While Manwell piece was published too early to comment on the age of social media and social awareness, the implementation of stereotypes into comedians’ stand-up routines is crucial as it allows the audience to be more socially aware.


Although there has been some research done on the topic of comedians using language, there has not been research done focusing on how comedians use language to create a comedic effect. Stand-up can be succinctly described as an Anglo-American form of comedy where a solo performer aims at repeatedly making her co-present audience laugh, primarily through personal narrative. Comedians manipulate language and use comedic elements to generate humor.


Our project was consistently developing the more information we found; therefore, we continued to tweak and modify our research question. At the beginning of our analysis, we sent out an anonymous survey to our friends and family. We received a total of 62 responses from individuals aged 18-49. There were multiple questions in that survey that were not as helpful as we continued working on our project; however, one was very important. We asked our survey takers to name both male and female stand-up comedians, and as it is seen within the word cloud: Tiffany Haddish, Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, and Kevin Hart were the most popular ones. Seeing that Kevin Hart garnered 50% of the responses when asked for male comedians, it was a determinant in deciding which comedian to focus on and what kind of research we can do based on him.

Figure 2: A word cloud containing the names of the comedians named by the participants. The size of the name corresponds to the frequency the comedian was listed.

After deciding that we would work on Kevin Hart, we started to explore his past shows and decided to focus mainly on Seriously Funny, I’m a Grown Little Man, and Zero F**ks Given. These shows span a period of eleven years where we are able to observe and analyze the evolution of Kevin Hart and how/if his comedy have been influenced by fast changing social norms and values.

Figure 3: I’m A Grown Little Man (2009), Seriously Funny (2010), Zero F**ks Given (2020)

For our work to become more organized, we also decided to divide the jokes we looked at into four categories. It starts with the jokes being self-centered or other-centered, then within that there is a range of it being based on experience or appearance. Self-centered experience jokes are about Kevin Hart’s own personal experiences; Self-centered appearance jokes are about Hart’s appearance or how he is perceived outwardly; Other-centered experience jokes are about other people’s or a group of people’s actions or experiences; Other-centered appearance jokes are about how they look when they behave or are about other outward appearance features. The chart below shows the different topics of jokes Kevin Hart discussed throughout his comedy shows.

Figure 4: A visual representation of the types of jokes analyzed

Results and Analysis

The Use of Other-Centered and Community Based Jokes vs. Self-Centered

In I’m A Grown Little Man, Hart seemed to be more focused on community-based jokes. He used examples of the people he met and recreated scenarios with those individuals to portray how they acted in certain situations. One example is a specific scenario in which Hart imitates rappers and thugs to humor his audience– reflecting back to the theory of other-centered jokes. Hart made little jokes about his personal life because people weren’t as sensitive about certain topics/groups/stereotypes as they are now. Another example is the joke Hart made about a previous girlfriend of his that was White. He talked about her dad and turned it into a racial joke which the audience then took as humorous but would probably offend some people today. Hart acts out his jokes using code-switching and he indexes various communities by using alternate slang. He performs tone & slang differently when making jokes about the Black community compared to language used to connect with the White community.

Kevin Hart – Thug Laugh

Kevin Hart – Rich White Guy Laugh

In past comedy routines, Kevin Hart often used other-centered jokes in which he would use other communities as the primary focus of his jokes. While not all of Hart’s jokes were offensive, there were some that would not currently be socially acceptable. Hart has exhibited change in his most-recent stand-up, Zero F**ks Given, he tends to focus on himself and his family rather than making others the center of his joke. This not only depicts how Hart has evolved, but also showcases how the norms of what’s acceptable in comedy and society has been redefined. Considering the fact that this generation is more aware and sensitive to offensive topics, comedians are often pivoting and reconstructing their comedic routines in order to suit everyone. In the segment posted below, Hart uses intonation when telling the story about his daughter liking different guys every week. His voice rises and falls depending on what part of the story he is sharing. When name calling his daughter or son, he is relatively flat and speaking matter of factly and during other parts, he’s more animated and eccentric. Whereas before, the more offensive statements were other-centered, now the more “risque remarks “ are about him and his family. This is a significant sign of evolution in his routines reflecting social norm changes. The omission of teasing other people can stand as evidence that Hart has transformed his routines and has decided to become more adaptable to the times.

Kevin Hart – My Children


The Delivery of Jokes: No Filter vs. Socially Aware

This section of analysis focuses on Seriously Funny, Hart’s second recorded show in the touring part of his career. In this stage, he had a nonchalant attitude towards his jokes: no prevalent social awareness, no expected repercussions–and seemingly no filter–joking about any topic. Later, he defended these offensive jokes by saying “funny is funny”. To an extent, he’s correct as jokes now deemed offensive were successfully funny back then, in terms of success being measured by the intensity-and-length-of audience laughter. The change in the jokes he said is a great example of how societal norms/values have changed over time. What was accepted then, isn’t accepted now, what was funny then is now offensive. The following video is a segment from Seriously Funny. Hart’s joke is successfully delivered, and he effectively creates comedic effect through his use of intonation (the audible changes in his voice for emphasis), indexicality (personifying other people), and body gestures (for visualization of the story).  When he jokes about his son’s first gay moment, he clearly impersonates his son, the other child, and the woman who intervenes. Though his voice does not change much, unlike other segments he has done, his acting is very clear and he is able to distinctively act like the characters in his story through body motions. When he behaves like his son, he taps into how he described his son earlier in the show. He had claimed his son was, “a dumb kid that doesn’t really know what he’s doing” and shows this by waving his arms in all directions with no real or distinct rhythm. When he talks about the women who interferes, he becomes very calm and speaks in a standard tone of voice suggesting that there was no apparent problem between the two children. Lastly when he indexes his-self in that moment, he returns to an angry defensive tone and body language. Though this joke was comically effective back in 2010, this joke in particular has led to backlash–ultimately leading to Hart stepping down from being the 2019 Oscars Host. 

Watch the video and determine whether or not a joke like this would fly in current times: Kevin Hart – “My Son’s First Gay Moment” Seriously Funny (2010)

Contrastingly, in his latest comedy special, which aired in 2020 after his Oscar scandal, Kevin Hart is much more careful and aware of what he says and the types of jokes that he makes. Whereas before, the jokes were just delivered, now he actually uses self-repair in order to correct what he says or “soften the blow”. In the following video, there is an instance when he is about to make a joke on greeters, he pauses himself and makes a premise that he “… has nothing against greeters…” He makes it clear that he understands that it is an important and useful job, but it is something he does not have to or want to do. By making these comments, he’s able to go on with the joke, having established the foundation that he respects the occupation and does not see it as a bad thing. This can stand as an example of disaligning responses where Hart is able to “… revise or back down from… prior actions in order to permit preferred responses to be produced instead” (Whitehead, 2015, pg 4). In a time where there is heavy criticism to any kind of offensive remarks, making those preemptive comments or jokes about “cancelling” itself may make it so that those viewing the show don’t take it to heart as an offensive statement but rather a simple joke. He is mindful and concerned with how the wider/mainstream audience will interpret his joke. He is more socially aware of potentially offensive comments in his jokes. He is self-censoring which initiates self-repair. He does this by using specifically the use of intonation and indexicality to defer between the times that he is speaking as himself and the “persona” of those that may be after him post this joke. For example, when he impersonates the lady that is filming him as he eats his burger in front of McDonalds, he acts aggressive, angry, and accusatory. His hand is in front of him as if he is holding a phone and filming and his eyes are wide open (kind of as if he were crazy). When he is back to being himself he just describes what he did in a more relaxed tone and continues with the joke.

To further demonstrate what we mean, here are two segments from his latest comedy show attached below, where Kevin Hart makes the extra effort to communicate that he is not being offensive or seriously making a statement.

“Kevin Hart Loves Wal-Mart Greeters” Zero F***ks Given (2020)

“Why Kevin Hart Hates Snitches” Zero F***ks Given (2020)



Our research aim was to understand whether societal norms have changed in the past 10 years by investigating one of comedy’s biggest stars, Kevin Hart. Starting from Seriously Funny to Zero F*cks Given, we observed an evolution in Hart’s shows–leading to conclude that societal norms and values have indeed changed. What was once received as humorous and funny may now be unacceptable by the mainstream. This generation is much more vocal about the types of jokes and statements one can make about a community. We came to this conclusion by analyzing the language used by Hart. By using different communication tools, both verbal and nonverbal, (code switching, indexicality, intonation, self-repair) we gained a greater understanding of societal value changes and impacts on systems within society, like entertainment. Despite his controversial past, Kevin Hart remains incredibly popular (as was evidenced by our survey and his record breaking show attendances). As we conclude this post, we wonder: Would you also agree with our conclusion? Where do you think the relationship with comedy and risqué remarks is headed in the future?



Manwell, C. F. (2008). STAND-UP COMEDY AS A TOOL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE. https://lsa.umich.edu/content/dam/english-assets/migrated/honors_files/Manwell%20Colleen-Stand-Up%20Comedy%20as%20a%20Tool%20For%20Social%20Change.pdf.

Pulliam, G. (1991). Stock Lines, Boat-Acts, and Dickjokes: A Brief Annotated Glossary of Standup Comedy Jargon. American Speech, 66(2), 164-170. doi:10.2307/455884

Whitehead, K. (2015). Everyday Antiracism in Action: Preference Organization in Responses to Racism. JOURNAL OF LANGUAGE AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, 34(4), 374-389. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0261927X15586433 Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7767x91b

Zoglin, R. (2009). Comedy at the edge: how stand-up in the 1970s changed America. Bloomsbury USA.


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