Gendered Use of Compliments and Insults in Professional Video Game Streaming

Kavi Dalal

This study examines male to male power hierarchy in online multiplayer video games. Using screen recorded footage of a professional gamer’s live broadcast as data in addition to transcription based conversation analysis, I present some observations on how compliments and insults are used in male socialized environments. The analysis sheds light on actual tactics employed by men in order to build solidarity and/or establish power amongst themselves. In conclusion I discuss the importance of continuing linguistic analysis at the intersection of gender and hierarchy in emerging online and male dominated environments.


Gender inequality is a growing concern in the professional video gaming industry. Esports and professional gaming channels are growing more rapidly than ever as a form of globally reaching entertainment. Twitch, the most popular video game channel streaming platform, is presently ranked as the 32nd most traffic-heavy site in the world, ranking ahead of with millions of daily viewers and subscribers. Undoubtedly the market for professional gaming has grown to include a larger and more diverse following than ever. Still, male professional gamers continue to outnumber females by far in their field. According to the 2019 ESA annual report, female gamers represent roughly 46% of all video game players, yet only represent about 5% of the tactical shooter genre that is most commonplace amongst Esports competitions and professional competitive play. For this reason, sites like Twitch that broadcast professional gameplay videos are dominated by male-to-male dialogue between members of all-male gaming teams. These videos offer a unique window into the linguistic patterns of a highly gendered industry that is only growing in popularity and size.

Various studies have been conducted locating the meaning of compliments relative to gender and hierarchy in professional environments. Few however have analyzed male-male utilization of compliments and insults in a professional setting and none have used professional gaming as the sample for researching the operation of evaluative speech acts. Deborah Tannen and Janet Holmes are the loudest voices in academia when it comes to the gendered nature of complimenting. Both have proposed that women tend to perceive complimenting as an expression of positive affect or solidarity while men tend to view compliments referentially or with more emphasis on their objective informational content  (Holmes, 2008, p. 11). In You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Tannen (1990) argues that for men, complimenting is primarily about asserting one’s authority over the other through evaluation. Even when evaluating  someone positively, a person who gives a compliment is asserting that they have the authority to pass judgement on someone else. In return this causes men to occasionally perceive compliments as a face threatening act. Insults, another form of evaluation, are face threatening acts by nature. In an insult, the speaker gives a negative evaluation of some trait, possession, or behavior of their addressee, thereby attacking their positive face (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, p. 187). This, coupled with knowledge that even positive evaluations can be used to assert dominance over an addressee, helps to explain why in interaction research, insults are viewed as a way to establish hierarchy and power. Perhaps surprisingly, however, many scholars have also theorized about how insults can be used to strengthen community bonds and establish solidarity. In The Hidden Life of Girls: Games of Stance, Status, and Exclusion, Goodwin (2006) describes both boys and girls trading mock insults as a way to practice verbal skills through play. Kochman (1972) has observed similar mock ritual insult exchanges between boys and theorizes that, while ritual insult can be used as a way to build bonds between addressors and addressees, even if an insult is intended as play, it may be taken seriously and seen as a face-threatening act. This risk is especially high when the insult just exaggerates an actual characteristic of the addressee. This research seeks to determine whether evaluative speech acts are used to build solidarity or enforce power differentials in an all-male professional game setting. Taking into account that there already exist observable power asymmetries between the owners of video game streaming channels and the other players they invite to play with them on their channel, research methods were designed to answer the following question. How are complimenting and insulting behaviors affected by the dominance status? Who pays more compliments and insults? Who is the typical addressee? Based on the prevailing theory that men typically use evaluation to assert their own authority to judge others, I hypothesized that both compliments and insults would flow down the power differential more freely than they flowed up it, and that ownership of a channel would contribute to the hierarchical power distribution.


Target Population

Research for this study was conducted by recording and analyzing gameplay dialogue between professional male gamers and their male teammates in multiplayer, first-person shooter games. Twitch is a live video streaming website specializing in E-sports broadcasting and personal streams of individual players known as “streamers”. The website operates on a channel and subscriber model in which a streamer runs a channel and amasses followers through streaming content and participating in tournaments. A streamer is able to monetize their channel through endorsing sponsors as well as being gifted small money contributions from subscribers. A typical stream session consists of broadcasted live game footage either solo or with teammates invited to play in a game broadcasted onto the channel. The video game that was chosen for this study was a first person shooter (FPS), battle royale style game titled Call of Duty: Warzone. Gameplay in Warzone is multiplayer, consisting typically of four teams fighting against each other to be the last one standing. Teammates communicate verbally through audio chat to strategize, but the audio communication is often used for socializing in less strategy demanding situations of gameplay. In the context of the gaming platform, the owner of the channel is superordinate to the guest players, and streamers with large followings hold particular status. As of June 16, 2020 TimTheTatman was the 8th most followed Twitch channel, boasting roughly 4.9 million followers and making him one of the most successful professional streamers. In this professional gaming environment, TimTheTatman’s role was analogous to a boss to his guests, some of which were professional streamers themselves but with smaller followings. Guest players were privileged to be on TimTheTatman’s stream and have exposure to his fanbase with no guarantee that they would be invited back again. In this context, the channel owner was the dominant player, and his guests were subordinates, or occupying a position of lower status.

Data Collection & Linguistic Units

This study analyzed six hours worth of gameplay dialogue between TimTheTatman and his channel guests. To collect data, instances of compliments and insults were recorded and tallied noting the speaker and the addressee. Addressors were broken into two categories: the dominant player (TimTheTatman) and non-dominant players (Tim’s three teammates). Addresses were broken into three categories: the dominant player, the non-dominant teammates, and the opponents (players on other teams that were encountered during the game). For this research a compliment was defined as a speech act that attributed credit from a speaker to an addressee, be it explicitly or implicitly, for some trait, action or possession valued positively by both interlocutors (Holmes, 1986, p. 485). An insult, on the other hand, was defined as “a negative appraisal and attack on the addressee’s positive face through implicit blame for what is being criticized” (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, p. 187). Once the data was collected, certain calculations were required to accurately compare the data. The number of compliments/insult speech acts made collectively by all three guest players were subsequently divided by three to arrive at the mean number of compliments/insults made per guest player. Guests were not counted individually because there was no conclusive way to distinguish the voices of the three guest players on the audio chat. For that reason, the average number of compliments and insults per guest was calculated instead. The total number of speech acts by each type of speaker was also tallied, as well as the ratio of compliments to insults given by each type of player.


Overall, the data from this study indicated that while the non-dominant player complimented others with more frequency than the dominant player did, the dominant player insulted his teammates more than non-dominant players did. Both dominant and non-dominant players complimented and insulted their opponents at roughly the same rate. As indicated in Figure 1, there was a significant difference in the frequency of compliments given out by the dominant player versus non-dominant players. On average, non-dominant players complimented their teammates and the dominant player twice as often (4 times) as he complimented them (twice). Interestingly, both dominant and non-dominant players complimented their opponents at exactly the same rate (twice). There was no difference between the rate at which the dominant player complimented his teammates and his opponents. However, non-dominant players averaged slightly more than twice as many compliments for their teammates as for their opponents.

By contrast, Figure 2 shows that the dominant player insulted his teammates at a much higher rate (7 times) than the average non-dominant player insulted him (2.3 times) or other non-dominant teammates. Both the dominant player and the non-dominant players insulted their opponents at roughly the same rate (2 and 2.6 times respectively), and interestingly, this was similar to the rate at which both speakers complimented their opponents. The dominant player insulted his teammates at more than three times the rate that he insulted his opponents. The average non-dominant player insulted the dominant player slightly less than he insulted his opponent, and insulted other non-dominant players even less than that.

In total, dominant and non-dominant players engaged in a similar number of evaluative speech acts. As is visible in Figure 3,  the dominant player engaged in a total of 13 evaluative speech acts, and the average non-dominant player engaged in an average of 16.7 evaluative speech acts over the course of six hours of gameplay. The preferred type of evaluation differed by addressor, however. 

Figure 4 shows that 69.2%, or slightly more than two thirds, of the dominant player’s evaluative comments were insults and only 30.8% were compliments. Conversely, only 36%, or slightly more than a third, of the average non-dominant player’s evaluative comments were insults, while 64% were compliments.


In setting out to conduct this research, I hypothesized that evaluative speech acts would be used in all-male gaming settings to assert power and reinforce hierarchy. I expected that the dominant player would engage in more evaluative speech acts than non-dominant players did. The data suggests, however, that the overall frequency of evaluative speech acts does not reflect the hierarchy within this setting as much as the types of evaluations and whom they were directed to do. Both the dominant and non-dominant players had similar numbers of evaluative comments, and, in fact, the non-dominant players made ever so slightly more evaluative comments.  The fact that dominant and non-dominant players both complimented and insulted their opponents at a similar rate suggests that evaluating individuals outside of a group is a low-risk way for all players, regardless of hierarchical status, to build solidarity amongst individuals within the group. Goodwin (2006, p. 232) reinforces how insults can function to unite those laughing with the insulter while othering the target. Contrary to my hypothesis, the data showed that while the dominant player had a higher tendency to insult teammates, the average non-dominant player had a higher tendency to compliment. One explanation is that,  “implicit in any evaluation is a claim on the part of the evaluator that he or she is in a position to judge the evaluatee. And taking an evaluation seriously attributes this position to the evaluator.” (Eckert & Sally McConnell-Ginet, 2013, p. 180). In other words, the dominant player’s frequent use of insult seems to support the interpretation of evaluations as speech acts used to assert power.

However, the frequency of compliments from the non-dominant player directed toward the dominant player raises questions about this interpretation. One potential explanation is that non-dominant players used compliments to facilitate interaction and create solidarity within the gameplay. This type of compliment use has been frequently observed within groups of women, as well as in co-ed groups where women take on the role of the ‘interactional shitworker’, instigating and facilitating communication between the parties present (Fishman, 1978, p. 398). Given the inferior status of non-dominant players within the Twitch power hierarchy, it seems likely that these players use of compliments in this setting is evidence that they were attempting to deliver positive affect compliments, which have been typically gendered as a more feminine use of complimenting, (Holmes, 2003, p. 143). The difference between the use of compliments as a solidarity building linguistic act as opposed to an evaluative linguistic act is illustrated in the excerpt below.

Excerpt 1


TIM=TimTheTatman        PL1=guest player 1 
PL2=guest player 2      PL3=guest player 3

01  PL1:     Tim the Tatman’s~cookin ~now~uh-

02           ((Tim’s character dies))

03  TIM:     I got sniped at the same fucking time I just want to 

                                                      fuck myself

04           baby, YEAH:::=

05  PL1:     =(h):::m (h)m (h)m? 

            ((laughter followed by 6x slow claps))

06  TIM:     Put it right in my f(h)ucking a:::ss.

07  PL2:     Alright calm down for two seconds I’m coming.=

08  PL3:     =I’m stayin here cause they’re hunting me

09  PL1:     hhhhu hhh (1) hhhhhe:: ((laughter))

10           ((Tim gets revived by PL2))

11  TIM:     Hey thank you Matt you’re a good friend.

Excerpt 1 opens with a compliment from Player 1, a non-dominant player, about Tim, the dominant player. Player 1 observes that Tim is “cookin,” a metaphor implying that Tim is playing well. Although the compliment is about the dominant player, it is not addressed directly to him. Rather, it is addressed to the group and names Tim in the third person. This, coupled with the fact that the compliment evaluates Tim’s playing generally without describing any specific feature of his gameplay, suggests that Player 1 is using flattery to create solidarity with Tim rather than to evaluate him objectively. “Giving praise is inherently asymmetrical,” and compliments given from a high hierarchical position to someone lower are called “praise” while a compliment from a lower position upwards is called “flattery”, (Tannen, 1990, p. 69). Immediately after Player 1 flatters Tim, Tim makes a mistake and his avatar dies. Tim acknowledges the mistake and then adds “I want to FUCK myself baby,” followed by “put it right in my fucking ass”.  Often, men use sports metaphors to describe sex, but in this example the inverse is true (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, p. 250).  Sex, specifically the act of being penetrated, is a metaphor for losing, or dying, in the game. Tim uses misogyny to liken himself to a woman or other passive participant in sex. His use of profanity and hyperbole detracts from the sincerity of the admission that he made a mistake, and therefore diverts blame away from himself. Ironically, by linguistically equating himself with a powerless participant in a graphic sexual act, he is able to save face by avoiding a sincere apology or acknowledgement of his mistake. This outburst spurs Player 2 to put his own avatar at risk to revive Tim’s player, after which Tim says, “Hey thank you Matt, you’re a good friend.” In contrast to Player 1’s compliment, this statement is directed at its subject and directly acknowledges a specific helpful behavior from Player 2. This is a rare instance of compliment from the dominant player, and is in keeping with the observation that when compliments are less frequent, they are more likely to be referentially oriented or genuine expressions of admiration (Herbert, 1990). This compliment garnered no response from the addressee or the other players, which is typical of most compliments in this setting apart from the occasional expression of gratitude. This evaluation allows Tim to assert his authority to evaluate Player 2. Perhaps he does this in part to recover his face after having lost agency in the course of gameplay.

Excerpt 2 illustrates the ways that insults are used to assert power and establish solidarity. It is an outlier situation in which we get to see both dominant and non-dominant players insult each other.

Excerpt 2


TIM=TimTheTatman     PL1=guestplayer 1

01  PL1:     Tim you’re always nowhere near us [fighting people

02  TIM:                                       [ºsh:::: I got this 

                                                          shit bro

03  PL1:     ((sarcastic)) Oh here we go

04           ((tim kills opponent))

05  TIM:     wha what did you say Matt,

06  TIM:     ((mocking)) Oh here we go. Yeah look at that shit bro

07  PL1:     Tim I gotta be honest with you man 

08           like know your truth. You die a lot=

09  TIM:     =No I do not.

10  PL1:     Tim there’s another guy there’s another guy below 

11           you. I mean you are deaf as a fucking.

12  TIM:     under me::?

13           (3)

14  Tim:     ºI’m so confused bro

This excerpt begins with a non-dominant player implying that Tim is too far away from his teammates, to which Tim tries to reassure Player 1 that he “got this shit,” and is therefore in control, not a liability. Player 1 responds in an exasperated tone, implying that he doesn’t trust Tim not to mess up. His use of sarcastic tone suggests this is an instance of an off-record request using irony (Brown and Levinson, 2014). The implied request is that Tim not enter into combat by himself. Rather than accepting the request, Tim quickly questions and repeats Player 1, in effect insulting and mocking him. Even though non-dominant players rarely insult Tim, overtly or implicitly, in this instance, Tim responds to Player 1’s suggestion as if it were an insult. This is a reasonable reaction  considering Eckert & McConnell-Ginet posit that “comments can be taken as serious insults even if not so intended” (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, p.188) . He sees it as a face threatening request and he questions player 1’s right to challenge Tim. He then mocks Player 1’s indirect, less confrontational, and more stereotypically feminine speech style by repeating the phrase “Oh here we go,” in a mocking tone. This indirect insult reaffirms Player 1’s subordinate status. What follows in lines 6 to 11 is an escalated series of insults from Player 1 and more deflections from Tim. Given the tone of the insults, this seems to be an example of “mock ritual insult” (Kochman, 1972, p. 314). The teammates seem to be verbally jousting more than they are giving serious insults. Tim holds his face throughout the whole altercation. He didn’t give legitimacy to any of the insults by evaluating them as false. In this way he was able to maintain face by resisting imposition (Brown and Levinson, 1987).


The total amount of evaluative speech acts had no bearing on enforcing power differentials in an all-male professional game setting. Insults flowed down the power differential more frequently as expected, but contrary to my hypothesis, compliments flowed up it more frequently. This was ultimately attributed to non-dominant players’ assumption of a more typically feminine speech style that utilized compliments effectively to boost solidarity. This exposes how gendered hierarchies are present in language between men, even when no women are present.

One limitation of this study was difficulty distinguishing the voices of guest players. In a future study a stream in which the voices of players could be distinguished via timbre and pitch would be preferable. This study also only analyzed one small slice of the gaming world. Future studies could benefit from analyzing a wider spectrum of games and streamers that might reflect different power hierarchies. In addition there are more nuanced speech acts such as declaratives which were far more frequently occurring than compliments and insults. I would encourage subsequent studies to analyze other evaluative speech acts in male-male gameplay and how they operate to assert a hierarchy. This research unsurprisingly shows that language between males in professional gaming ascribes to strict patriarchal tendencies. This is important to understand in the growing field of professional gaming, and this language must be challenged if women are to have a more representative presence in the profession. Certain Twitch streamers such as KittyPlays are paving the way for the next generation of female pro gamers by challenging sexist language as it is encountered real time during her stream. Nonetheless, given that hidden biases are likely to perpetuate in this domain through language even if there are more professional female players,  more studies should look into gender hierarchy’s implications on the gaming world given its influence over language in popular culture.


See also:

HALO 3: Negative comments by gender

SEXISM IN VIDEO GAMING: Online harassers are literally losers?



Berger, P. L. and T. Luckmann (1966). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

Brown, P. & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Fishman, P. (1978). Interaction: The Work Women Do. Sociolinguistics by N. Coupland and A. Jaworski. London: Palgrave.

Goodwin, M. H. (2006). The Hidden Life of Girls: Games of Stance, Status, and Exclusion. Oxford: Blackwell.

Herbert, R. K. (1990). Sex-based Differences in Compliment Behavior. Language in Society, vol. 19. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Holmes, J. (2003). Complimenting: A positive politeness strategy. Sociolinguistics: The essential readings. ed. by Christina Bratt Paulston and G. Richard Tucker. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Holmes, J. (2008). An introduction to Sociolinguistics. London: Pearson Education Limited.

Kochman, T. (1972). Rappin’ and Stylin’ Out: Communication in Urban Black America. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation. New York: William Morrow. Competitive Analysis, Marketing Mix and Traffic – Alexa”. Retrieved June 16, 2020.

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Heroines in K-Dramas are Now Changing: How and Why?

Dowon Yoon

When we think of K-Dramas, we can easily think of the Cinderella story: a poor heroine meets an extremely rich hero and becomes a modern princess. A famous screenwriter named Eunsook Kim always fascinates numerous viewers by entertainingly telling this kind of story. When I looked into her most famous works, Lovers in Paris (2004) and Goblin (2016), I discovered that the speech patterns of heroines have changed over time even though the setting of the Cinderella story remains the same. I analyzed dialogues from two dramas, and the analysis showed that a heroine from recent drama Goblin speaks in a more dominant way than a heroine from the older drama Lovers in Pairs. It shows that Kim reflects the change in women’s speech behavior in her script. This reflection is very important because it is a mirror of the time which demonstrate the change in women’s speech behavior in the real world.

Different social roles for males and females create different essential ways of thinking, and eventually, they lead to the difference in pronunciation, sentence constructions, and many other linguistic components. According to Lakoff (2004), the speech patterns of men are naturally more dominant than women. Based on women’s usage of tag questions to get confirmation and assurance by male’s opinion, he argues that women are subordinate to men during the conversation. On top of the theory of Lakoff, Men and women are expected to use a different style of language in Korean culture. For instance, because of the influence of patriarchal culture, females use more polite language than males, but the expectation towards femininity underlies behind it.

However, by comparing two different K-Dramas, Lovers in Paris (2004) and Goblin (2016), I observed that a heroine Euntak from the Goblin has dominant speech style just like men while a heroine Taeyoung from the Lovers in Paris still uses the traditional subordinate speech style of women. This is important because the change of speech patterns of two heroines may reflects women from the real world also use the dominant speech style in today’s society and the differences between men and women’s speech behavior may reduced in these days.

To demonstrate that the differences between dominant speech style of men and subordinate speech style of women are now reduced in these days, I compared and contrasted dialogues of Taeyoung from Lovers in Paris (2004) and Euntak from Goblin (2016). They are in a similar situation where they both had to depend on extremely wealthy heroes, so it is very interesting to see the difference in their speech behavior.

By comparing two dialogues, I realized that Taeyoung tends to be interrupted by the hero during a conversation, while Euntak tends to interrupt the hero more. According to Sohn (2006), interruptions and overlappings can be a signal of power since they are primarily viewed as impolite behavior and “powerful people are more likely to feel warranted to interrupt powerless people than vice versa.” In the dialogue from episode 2 of Lovers in Paris, Giju, the rich hero in this drama, comes to Taeyoung’s house as a surprise after they meet at the bar by coincidence (Korean in bold italics):

In this dialogue, they do not communicate with each other, but just says what they want to say. In this unilateral conversation, Giju simply conveys what he wants to do and does not pay attention to what Taeyoung says as he interrupts while she is still talking at line 2. He is very dominant and leads the whole situation by almost demanding her to head out for a cafe. Meanwhile, Taeyoung is completely and helplessly led by Giju in the conversation as Giju keeps brings up what she did not expect at all. Lines 3 and 5, she reacts by saying, “Huh?” and “What?”, which shows that she is very surprised by what Giju brings up and the only thing that she can do is reacting to it. Although Giju interrupts her and even tries to take her outside her house, she never interrupts him and asks what he is going to talk about nor try to continue what she was going to say.

However, if we look into the dialogue of Angel of Death and Euntak in Goblin, we can observe that the heroine Euntak is not subordinate to the male character like Taeyoung in Lovers in Paris. In this conversation, Euntak meets the Angel of Death while she is with the Goblin, the rich hero in this drama. Euntak is scared of the Angel because she thinks that the angel came to take her to the afterlife.’

In this dialogue, Euntak interrupts the angel and leads the conversation by asking back to him at line 4. Even in the situation where her life is threatened, she bravely stands against the angel. Although she was with the Goblin, she did not depend on him. According to Sohn (2006), women tend to avoid interruptions and overlapping. In other words, Euntak’s speech style is dominant just like traditional men.

Through comparing two dialogues, we found an interesting change in the usage of interruptions by heroines, which shows that Eunsook Kim made a change in the speech behavior of heroines; they used to have the subordinate speech style, but they now use more dominant speech style. In the script, she may reflect that women’s speech behavior has changed over time. Whether her dramas are a mirror of the time or viewers get influenced by her drama, it is worth looking back at our speech behavior and think about which speech style we want to use for our daily conversation.


Kim, E. (Writer), & Lee, E. (Director). (2016). Chapter 2 [Television series episode]. Goblin. Seoul: tvN.

Kim, E. (Writer), & Shin, W. (Director). (2004). Chapter 2 [Television series episode]. In Moon, J. (Executive producer), Lovers in Paris. Seoul: SBS.

Lakoff, R. (2004). Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaries. Oxford University Press.

Sohn, H. (2006). Korean Language in Culture And Society. University of Hawaii Press.

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Manspeak: Is It a Real Thing? Is It Sexist?

Evan Yong

Videos of celebrity interviews on the show “Conan” are analyzed to see whether female guest interviews or male guest interviews have more authoritative language. In this study, authoritative language is broken down into three components: interruptions, commands, and hedging. Hedging occurs when a speaker is trying to convey uncertainty or ambiguity by using tag questions or phrases such as “kind of,” “sort of,” or “I guess.” For each and every interview, I count the number of times the celebrities and Conan interrupt each other, the number of times they give commands to each other, as well as the number of times they hedged their sentences. Results show that overall, there is more authoritative language used in Conan interviews with male celebrities than female celebrities. The male guest star interviews with Conan have more interruptions and commands as well as less hedging than the female guest star interviews. Men appear to be more “in competition” with other men, more so than with women. In today’s modern-day society, this is characterized by fighting over control of the floor to establish linguistic dominance in a conversation.

Don’t men seem to have their own language when they talk to other? It is most definitely characteristically different from the way they talk to women. Aside from the trite but quintessential stereotype of guys calling each other “dudes” or “bros,” they also appear to use harsher language when speaking to one of their own. There seems to be a universal preconceived notion that this is the way a man must act with other men; little boys were raised and taught to embody certain traditionalistic masculine behaviors growing up, such as the way they should talk to members of same as well as opposite sex. A study conducted by Yokoyama (1999) on Russian children’s literature found that even the texts in children’s books were rife with these stereotypes that men have to be strong and women are inherently weak. The gender stereotypes were even represented in the way male and female characters talk in the books. Female characters are nine times more likely to speak with diminutives and interjections compared to male characters (Yokoyama, 1999), giving the impression that they “softer,” “cuter,” more polite, as well as more easily confused than male characters.

These are the types of books that we commonly get for our developing young children. Apparently, these textually-represented gender stereotypes are prevalent from nursery books all the way to preschool level texts (Yokoyama, 1999). Children are able to differentiate between the two sexes and their associated activities (i.e. boys play with toy soldiers and girls play with dolls) from as young as 2 years old (Thompson, 1975). Because of this, Yokoyama (1999) argues that these children’s books can most definitely influence the way children grow up and how they come to think of the two genders as they develop into mature adults.

Fortunately, this may not be the case. A recent study conducted by Park et al. (2016) claims that based on their Facebook posts, women are just as assertive as men are. The study found women to be warmer, politer, and have more compassion than men, but are just as assertive. It would appear that, based on people’s online behavior, they did not grow up to fulfill the traditionalistic stereotypes imposed on them as children.

The study conducted here today hopes to solidify and support Park at al.’s (2016) findings that women are just as assertive as men by analyzing the language used in internet videos. Internet videos are arguably the most accessible and popular form of media being used today. Just imagine the possible implications of sexist overtones being present in the viral videos young children around the globe watch during recess in the playground, quietly influencing their views on the world. My focus today is specifically on Conan celebrity interviews on the TeamCoco channel on YouTube. “Conan” is a late-night TV talk show that airs on TBS but also has clips frequently uploaded to their YouTube channel. It is hosted by comedian Conan O’Brien and “sidekick” Andy Richter.

I analyzed the differences in authoritative language between Conan interviews with male celebrities and female celebrities. I divided authoritative language into three subsections: hedging, interruptions, and commands. Hedging is a linguistic phenomenon that occurs whenever a speaker is trying convey uncertainty or ambiguity. A common example of this is by adding the phrases “I guess” or “kind of” to sentences. Another is by adding tag questions to the end of sentences like, “You’re John, aren’t you?” Hedging would be an example of unauthoritative language. Interruptions is further divided into two more subsections: successful interruptions and unsuccessful interruptions. A successful interruption is when someone successfully interjects and the other person stops talking. An unsuccessful interruption is when someone interjects but the other person continues talking and so the first person who initially interrupted stops talking. Commands is anytime anybody in the interview tells another person to do something using a direct imperative like, “Tell us about your day,” or “Stop it!” Any commands addressed to the live studio audience were not counted into the results of this study. Interruptions and commands would be considered examples of authoritative language. A combination of low instances of hedging and high instances of interruptions and commands would mean a high “score” for overall authoritative language.

Table 1. Total number of instances of hedging, interruptions, and direct imperatives (commands) in female celebrity interviews with Conan
Table 2. Total number of instances of hedging, interruptions, and direct imperatives (commands) in male celebrity interviews with Conan

Based on the tables above, it is quite clear that male celebrity interviews had far more instances of overall authoritative language than female celebrity interviews; male celebrity interviews had more instances interruptions and commands as well as far less instances of hedging. It would appear that the hosts (both men) appear to use different types of language when speaking with male celebrities than with female celebrities. This is not consistent with the results from Park et al. (2016) that women were just as assertive as men. In the context of celebrity interviews, the female celebrity Conan interviews had far less authoritative language used than the male celebrity Conan interviews. Moreover, the hosts consistently hedged more in the female celebrity interviews than they did in the male celebrity interviews. This further solidifies and supports the idea that men do indeed talk differently with other men than with women.

It would seem that we as a society have not quite reached the level of progressiveness as we had hoped and that traditionalistic stereotypes still haunt our subconscious biases to this very day. The frightening takeaway from this study is that these effects were observed after only analyzing two hours’ worth of Conan footage. If we were to assume that these Conan celebrity interviews accurately represented and reflected the entire population of internet videos, it would indeed be a dangerous and unnerving precedent. Almost every young child in the Western hemisphere carries around a smartphone around with them and with that, internet access. Should you choose to believe Yokoyama (1999), these viral videos that your kids are watching everyday are casually and subconsciously influencing the way they think, particularly on their beliefs and opinions on the two sexes, based on the subtle linguistic differences that occur between the men and women in those videos. The language used in these videos, and consequently the beliefs that come along with it, will be emulated by our future generations unless we decide to make a change, now and today.



Park, G., Yaden, D. B., Schwartz, H. A., Kern, M. L., Eichstaedt, J. C., Kosinski, M., … & Seligman, M. E. (2016). Women are warmer but no less assertive than men: Gender and language on Facebook. PloS one11(5).

Thompson, S. K. (1975). Gender labels and early sex role development. Child Development, 339-347.

Yokoyama, O. T. (1999). Gender linguistic analysis of Russian children’s literature. PRAGMATICS AND BEYOND NEW SERIES, 57-84.

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Did you just interrupt me again? Gender and Interruptions in Presidential Political Debate

Chloe Tamadon

The central question I want to address in this blog is the impact that gender can have on the way politicians choose to express themselves in political debates and how gender can influence the type of interruption. Interruptions can range from being more destructive and face-threatening to being more supportive and polite. So what is a face-threatening act? A face threatening act threatens the face of the speaker or the hearer and may threaten what is called a positive or a negative face. Politicians on the debate stage commonly threaten the positive face of their opponents by negatively evaluating the hearer’s face through criticism and interruption.

According to Brown & Levinson, “face is threatened when individuals intrude on others to pursue their own goals, and even minor face threats can threaten the other’s chosen image and damage the relationship”. This can be seen on the debate stage as male politicians will threaten and criticize other candidates by employing face-threatening interruptions while female candidates are more likely to use supportive and non-threatening interruption as a result of the societal expectation that “women ought to communicate politely” (Rudman & Glick, 2001). Women utilize face threatening acts less often. This is because they are expected to communicate more politely by endorsing politeness speech strategies. As expressed in literature, “politeness enables people to make requests or express ideas and opinions without threatening the other’s face, which is one’s chosen image” (Goffman, 1967). Women are more likely to engage in this form of polite and non-threatening communication than men.


I am going to study the Democratic presidential debate held on February 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is an interesting opportunity to study gender dynamics, and the effects gender can have on the types of interruptions politicians employ during a debate. To understand this, it is important to study the portions of the debate where there is a lot of discussion and conversation between candidates. In these moments, we see different kinds of interruptions take place: some threatening while others are more supportive. It is expected that the evidence will point towards the following: that when men interrupt others, they are more likely to do it in a face-threatening or rude manner so that they can criticize and threaten the image of their opponent while women are more likely to interrupt in ways that are supportive and less face-threatening (thus communicating politely). This can be applied in the context of debates as male candidates will likely interject and interrupt other candidates in order to either make a threatening comment or to defend against a face-threatening act in order to damage their opponents’ image and position themselves in a better light. Women, on the other hand, are less inclined to jump in with the same assertiveness for fear of being deemed too aggressive or threatening by the public (Pfafman, 2014). During the course of this Democratic presidential debate, candidates frequently interrupt and challenge one another on stage by employing different kinds of interruptions (either more threatening or more supportive)—specifically looking at how these types of interruptions are utilized by each gender and how often they are used.


In watching the Democratic Presidential Debate that was in Las Vegas on February 19th, 2020, I focused on portions of the debate where candidates entered into heated discussions and responses that resulted in a high frequency of interruptions. The portions studied were about 1-2 minutes in length and contained multiple interruptions of varying types. These interruptions span the range from face-threatening to supportive. I counted the number of interruptions of each type and kept track of who made them (whether the person was male or female). The following legend decodes the transcriptions below:






Results and Discussion

The following examples from the beginning of the debate depict interruptions between Buttigieg and Sanders that are considered to be face-threatening acts since they threaten the hearer’s positive face. In this example, Buttigieg is speaking about the campaign contributions he has received from his supporters and says the following:

Sanders interrupts Buttigieg in order to threaten Buttigieg’s face and self-image (in this case Buttigieg is the hearer). This interruption is an expression that negatively evaluates Buttigieg’s positive face as Sanders is criticizing who Buttigieg is receiving his campaign contributions from. It can also be understood that the speaker (Sanders) does not care about the hearer’s positive face because he is not only interrupting Buttigieg, but also criticizing him in the same moment in line 4. A few moments later, Sanders interrupts Buttigieg again in line 14.

This example of a face-threatening act is motivated by the desire to damage Sanders’s positive face and threaten his image. The interruption in line 11 comes as a response to this attack, so Sanders interrupts Buttigieg in order to defend himself and take back some control from Buttigieg. It is understood that communication style is shaped by many factors—one of the most important ones being gender (Pfafman, 2014). Thus, the relationship between the use of face-threatening acts and their frequency must at least in part be due to the differences in communication styles between the genders. Politeness strategies and politeness patterns differ based on gender: men are less likely to reduce the inherent harm of face-threatening acts while women are more likely to behave in ways that utilize politeness strategies in order to mitigate the harm of face-threatening acts (Ramadhani, 2014).

Interruptions may not always be face-threatening, sometimes interruptions can be more supportive. In this example, Warren attempts to interrupt Buttigieg in line 5:

In line 5, Warren interrupts Buttigieg but does so just as Buttigieg is wrapping up his response in line 4. This type of interruption is non-threatening as Warren is not attempting to criticize Buttigieg nor is she striving to defend herself; she is attempting only to insert her opinion in a moment when Buttigieg is done speaking. Her interruption was not disruptive, and it did not occur at a time in the conversation where it would have derailed the speaker’s train of thought. Therefore, it cannot be considered a deep interruption. The interruption also did not have any face-threatening qualities to it since there is no indication in line 5 that Warren was motivated to threaten Buttigieg’s image or attack him.  Since the interruption occurred right at the end of her opponent’s statement and was not meant to criticize; this interruption can be classified as non-face threatening because it does not threaten the speaker’s face or the hearer’s face. Women are challenged by the constructed notion that “they ought to communicate politely” (Rudman and Glick, 2001) so when female politicians interrupt others on the debate floor; it is less likely because they want to introduce criticism or threaten another individual and more likely because they want to “make requests or express ideas and opinions without threatening the other’s face” (Goffman, 1967). This is done so through the patterns of politeness that women are socially expected to present.          


In this blog, I studied the types of interruptions in presidential debates and how gender plays a role in these interruptions. I was specifically studying whether the interruptions were more supportive or more face threatening. There is evidence that politeness does have an impact on how each gender employs different types of interruptions in language. It is found that women, since they more commonly utilize politeness patterns and strategies, are less likely to produce interruptions that threaten or attack another person’s positive face. This is because there are societal expectations and standards in western culture that favor polite women, and in these situations, women will attempt to mitigate and reduce the harmful effects of face-threatening acts by using these politeness strategies to appear less assertive. This becomes especially important on the debate stage where the perception of the candidate is important to maintain a certain public image. The genders have different communication styles that allow them to use language in different ways—meaning that the types of interruptions as well as how and why they are used in conversation are also gender dependent.


If you are interested in learning more about politeness theory or face-threatening acts in general, the following links to videos may be of interest:

A Coursera video on the notion of face (free course)

A YouTube introduction to Politeness theory


Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2006). Politeness: some universals in language usages. In A. Jaworski & N. Coupland (Eds.), The Discourse Reader (pp. 311-323). London & New York: Routledge.

Eelen, Gino (2001). A Critique of Politeness Theories. Manchester: St Jerome.

Goffman, E. (2006). On Face-Work: an analysis of ritual elements in social interaction. In A. Jaworski & N. Coupland (Eds.), The Discourse Reader (pp. 299-310). London & New York: Routledge.

Janney, Richard W. and Horst Arndt (1993). Universality and Relativity in Cross-cultural Politeness Research: A Historical Perspective. Multilingual 12.1: 13-50.

Locher, Miriam A. and Richard J. Watts (2005). Politeness Theory and Relational Work. Journal of Politeness Research 1.5: 9-33.

O’Driscoll, Jim (2007). What’s in an FTA? Reflections on a Chance Meeting with Claudine. Journal of Politeness Research 3.7: 243-268.

Pfafman, Tessa M. “Polite Women at Work: Negotiating Professional Identity Through Strategic Assertiveness.” Taylor & Francis, 2014.

Ramadhani, Putri. (2014). Politeness Strategies And Gender Differences In Javanese Indirect Speech Acts. Jurnal Linguistik Terapan Pascasarjana Unimed. 11 (1): 24-33.

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She’s the Man: The Role of Interruptions in Conversation in Establishing Power in Politics

Mannat Sukhija

Election season is heating up,  and one of the most thrilling parts of the election is watching candidates go at each other during their debates. Whether the argument is over healthcare, gun control, immigration and so forth, there’s something about watching the most educated and successful politicians in America call each other idiots and try to talk over each other that I find very entertaining. There are always certain points of debates, during large disagreements or differences in opinion where the candidates start ignoring the moderator and going at each other. During these periods of crosstalk, there can be extensive interruption, which is surprising in this relatively structured conversation. These interruptions could be interpreted as a display of power dynamics at play, which is especially important between candidates of different genders. How does the gender of a candidate influence their role in these power-establishing interruptions in conversation? By qualitatively and quantitatively analyzing the interruptions in the Democratic National Committee’s debates, a better understanding of how the gender of a candidate influences their ability to express power in an election may be better understood.

Introduction and Background

We’re in the midst of election season, and extensive debates between candidates constitute this component of our politics. Candidates come on stage to share their opinions, spread their ideas, and also to minimize their opponents and show that they are deserving of the party’s nomination. Like any conversation, gender influences the discourse in these debates, as one could easily argue that American politics are a man’s world, and thus the female candidates have to fight for their place on the stage. Looking at the role of gender in this form of political discourse could help us understand how gender influences elections, debates, and the power dynamic in politics as a whole.

In order to look specifically at the establishment of power and assertion of dominance, which are key outcomes of a debate6, the linguistic device of interruptions can be analyzed. Interruptions in gendered conversation have been extensively studied, and a multitude of theories surrounding the frequency of interruptions with gender have been established. I looked at studies done by Tannen, Lakoff, Anderson and Leaper, and James and Clarke to hypothesize how gender would influence frequency of interruptions by candidates based on gender. According to James and Clarke, who conducted a series of reviews between 1965 and 1991, there is no difference in the frequency of interruption between men and women, however the cause or function of the interruption can vary.4 Aligning with this theory, we can expect no drastic difference in the frequency of interruptions by any given gender group, in the context of the ongoing democratic debates starting from June 2019.


The study done on the ongoing democratic debates was two-fold, consisting of both a qualitative and quantitative analysis. The entire 2 hour debate from July 30th, between 7 male and 3 female candidates was analyzed and all instances of interruption, including the gender of the candidate who interrupted and the gender of the candidate who was interrupted were recorded. In addition, transcription on the 22-minute segment of the debate regarding healthcare was also executed. Transcriptions will help understand how the structure imposed by the Democratic National Committee for turn-taking is disturbed through linguistic features other than interruption.

For the purposes of this study, an interruption will be marked by a candidate speaking over, and successfully pausing the speech of another candidate, and interruptions of the moderator, silent interruptions, and non-intrusive interruptions will not be considered.

Results and Analysis

The quantitative analysis of interruption during a debate was conducted on the first night of the second 2019 Democratic Debate, seen below.

Throughout the debate, there were 24 occurrences of interruption, which are further broken down into four groups in the following tables.

As seen in the data above, when the number of interruptions instigated by males and females was normalized to the number of candidates per gender, there was no difference in the frequency of interruption by any gender group. This aligns with James and Clarke’s theory that interruption does not vary in frequency between genders, but rather in origin and meaning.

It is important to normalize these results, so that our understanding of interruption is not skewed by the imbalance in gender seen in this realm of politics.  Claims such as males interrupt more during debates, or males speak more during debates are not necessarily false, but prevalence of males and females in the conversation must be considered. To determine if females are responsible for fewer interruptions due to a characteristic of their gendered language, or simply because there are less women present at the stage during the debate, a comparison of the origin and execution of the interruptions can be done. Further detailed analysis of the marked occurrences of interruption can help explain the nature of the conversation in a more qualitative manner.         

Starting from the first two occurrences of interruption in the debate, of which one is by a female candidate and the other is by a male candidate, a great deal of discrepancy in the nature of interruption is observed.

In the first interruption, of a male candidate by a female candidate, she interjects to inform the speaker that she should get an opportunity to speak, as in accordance with the rules after one is name-checked in question response.

In the interruption by a male candidate, there are many differences. The interrupted, Delaney, takes this opportunity to address the audience regarding the flaws in Sanders’ opinion by saying “But now he’s talking.” This interruption is not confrontational, but rather argumentative in nature.

While both these intrusive interruptions, regardless of propagator, are similar in the way they impact the conversation, there are differences in why and how they are executed.


In this study, the frequency of interruption between male and female candidates was not drastically different, yet when qualitatively analyzing the nature of the interruptions it was apparent that gendered differences did exist. While the results of this study are informative about the power dynamics between different genders in politics, this study is quite possibly limited to the field.

It could be argued that women in politics may be a deviant case from a woman in other fields, as they have to use dominance-establishing discourse in the form of interruptions to assert their position in a debate. No one would doubt that a male candidate belongs in a debate for a presidential nomination due to his gender, but a female candidate would have to prove her belonging in that scenario.

Interruptions can help establish dominance or an imbalance of power, but when utilized by a population that historically has not held power on the platform of presidential debates, can result in a gendered view of this language. The repeated interruption by Senator Warren during the debate analyzed is just one example of this. Successive interruptions by Warren could be in an attempt to express equality in this playing field by asserting dominance in a conversation, but also indicate an acquittal from gender roles and thus are additionally marked. Her dominance is therefore interpreted as “pushiness” or “nastiness” in the political realm, as illustrated below9.

The gendered expectation is that women should behave and speak differently from men, and when this is contrasted, can lead to disruption of the hierarchy discussed in Tannen’s theory.7

While not many conclusions regarding how the frequency of interruptions influence the power dynamic in democratic presidential debates can be reached from this study, the understanding that a power imbalance can exist is quite evident. It is not only the frequency of interruptions but also their execution and response that influences who can assert dominance in these conversations.



1. Anderson, K.J., Leaper, C. Meta-Analyses of Gender Effects on Conversational

Interruption: Who, What, When, Where, and How. Sex Roles 39, 225–252 (1998).

2. Burns, A., Flegenheimer, M., Lee, J. C., Lerer, L., & Martin, J. (2020, February 7).

Who’s Running for President in 2020? The New York Times.

3. Eckert, P., & McConnell-Ginet, S. (2013). Language and Gender. Cambridge University Press.

4. James, D., & Clarke, S. (n.d.). Women, Men, and Interruptions: A Critical Review. In Critical Reviews of the Literature (pp. 231–277).

5. Lerer, L., Epstein, R. J., Goldmacher, S., & Glueck, K. (2019, July 30). 6 Highlights From Night 1 of the July Democratic Debates. The New York Times.

6. McLeod, J. (1999). The Sociodrama of Presidential Politics: Rhetoric, Ritual, and Power in the Era of Teledemocracy. American Anthropologist, 101(2), 359-373. Retrieved March 4, 2020, from

7. Tannen, D. (1994). Gender and discourse. New York: Oxford University Press.

8. Trucotte, J., & Paul, N. (2015). A Case of More Is Less: The Role of Gender in U.S. Presidential Debates. Political Research Quarterly, 68(4), 773-784. Retrieved February 11, 2020, from




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Interruption: Is It a Men’s Thing?

Viona Sihono

Commonly heard stereotypes regarding men’s strength is not only applicable physically but also linguistically. For instance, the idea that men are more powerful than women created this stereotype that men typically interrupt more frequently than women in a conversation due to male dominance (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, p. 95). Though gender and interruption have been the focus of multiple types of research in the past, the results have been inconsistent as one study proves that the difference in the number of interruptions used in a conversation amongst both genders is insignificant (James & Clarke, 1993), while the other proves otherwise.

Besides proving whether or not this theory is applicable in all situations, I will also take a closer look beyond the frequency of interruptions between both genders. Since interruption is thought to occur unconsciously, I will see whether avoiding eye contact can be characterized as a gendered action while doing deep interruptions. Thus, I am going to test whether this stereotype of men dominating a discussion occurs in the community of New York chefs from the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen. Through this experiment, it is hoped that people could be more aware of each gender’s behavior in different types of interaction and eventually diminish the use of stereotypes regarding male dominance.


Interruption is described by O’Canaill and Frohlich (1995) as “a synchronous interaction which was not initiated by the subject, was unscheduled and resulted in the recipient discontinuing their current activity” (p. 262). In this study, I decided to focus on the use of deep interruptions, which disrupts the flow of the conversation and ultimately changes the topic of the discussion. According to Lakoff (1975), the idea of male dominance signifies a more hierarchical status that men hold, throwing women under their dominance, even linguistically. Since the male dominance model has been affecting the performance of women’s speech negatively, I conducted this test to prove whether or not this objective applies to my subject of study and whether the difference is significant. In addition, the role of eye contact in human interaction is crucial for the delivery of information from one another (Russon, Bard & Parker, 1998). Therefore, I would like to see if deep interruptions would affect the absence of eye gaze depending on who and to whom it is applied to.


I separated this study into two distinct cases: mixed-sex interaction and same-sex interactions and in each case, I observed five different videos to determine the frequency of successful interruptions as well as the avoidance of eye contact while deep interrupting. Unfortunately, due to the limited number of video availability, there are only three videos of female-female interactions that can be used for this analysis. Throughout watching each video, I tallied up the number of deep interruptions that occur, including the frequency of eye contact avoidance which takes time during the deep interruption itself. Since all of the videos that were observed have various time intervals, I divided the number of deep interruptions observed by the length of the video to obtain the number of deep interruptions per minute. Once I gathered the numbers from all of the sample data, I calculated the average frequency per minute for each gender in each type of interaction. Next, I would find the p-value for each combination of gender and the type of interaction to dictate the significance of these differences. Similarly, I would do the exact same thing with the frequency of avoiding eye contact while successfully interrupting. The only difference is that I divided the number of eye contact absences by the number of deep interruptions that was previously calculated to obtain its percentage. The succeeding steps remained the same.


After gathering all of the data and quantifying the number of deep interruptions that arises in each interaction, I have found the average number of incidents in both cross-sex and same-sex interactions

Table 1: Frequency of deep interruptions between men and women in mixed-sex and same-sex interactions






Looking at the table above, it is obvious that men from the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen successfully interrupt more in a mixed-sex conversation, where the difference is twice as much as the women’s behavior. However, using R Programming, I discovered that the p-value for this particular situation (0.1276) is larger than 0.05, which means the difference between the use of deep interruptions in a mixed-sex conversation between men and women from this sample data is not significant. Likewise, this insignificance also occurs in any other combination of gender and type of interruption of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen Members.

Successful interruptions that occur in this particular setting are oftentimes denoted by a pattern of eye contact avoidance between the speakers prior to or while interruption takes time. Below is one of the examples that can be found in cross-sex interaction between Brad and Priya regarding the steps of making home-made yogurt.

From the example above, a successful interruption occurs at line 14 when Brad is justifying his use of the term ole man. Being worried that people misheard him for calling Priya’s dad an old man, he cuts Priya off with his explanation without making any eye contact. This absence of eye contact allows him to share his opinions without getting interrupted. A similar situation also arises prior to the successful interruption, which occurs in lines 1 through 4. While Brad is asking a question to Priya, their eyes do not meet and this, too, enables Brad to talk at a longer period of time without being cut off by Priya.

To give a better insight related to the evidence shown above, I have observed the mean percentage of eye contact avoidance in each type of interruption.

Table 2: Percentage of eye gaze avoidance between men and women in mixed-sex and same-sex interactions





Merely from the table above, there are a few apparent deviations that stand out, like the difference between men and women in mixed-sex interaction and the difference between mixed-sex and same-sex interactions in women’s speech. Nevertheless, by applying the same statistical method as I did for the frequency of deep interruptions, I found that the only significant difference results from the latter one.

Discussion & Results

After thorough analysis, I have found that there is no power dominance in the community of Bon Appetit Test Kitchen in which one gender successfully interrupts more than the other while conversing. Perhaps due to time development, there has been a lot of positive improvements towards the approach that society provides to women, thus refining the way women construct their speech. Moreover, in regard to the pattern of avoiding eye contact while successfully interrupting, I found that there are patterns in which this action is not merely a subconscious gesture. Just like the example shown in the results section, the absence of eye contact gives the speaker the ability to talk in a longer period of time without any interruption. Other than that, in other observations, I found that speakers tend to break eye contact while deep interrupting the other person to shift his/her focus to the object that is being discussed. Finally, for the members of Bon Appetit Test Kitchen alone, considering they make videos to be uploaded to YouTube, they often successfully interrupt the other to engage more with the audience by looking straight to the camera.



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

James, D., & Clarke, S. (n.d.). Women, Men, and Interruptions: A Critical Review. In Critical Reviews of the Literature (pp. 231–277).

Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and women’s place. New York: Harper and Row

O’Conaill, B., & Frohlich, D. (1995). Timespace in the workplace. Dealing with Interruptions. doi: 10.1145/223355.223665

Russon, A. E., Bard, K. A., & Parker, S. T. (1998). Reaching into thought: the minds of the great apes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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May I Answer Next? Politeness Strategies within Speech Overlap and Interruptions Among Presidential Hopefuls

Kaylie Sagara

As the 2020 Presidential Election gets closer, the Democratic primary candidates are battling it out on the debate stage, which airs live to the public on National Television. While the American political system has been consistently male-dominated since the time of our Founding Fathers, recent years have shown a candidate pool that is getting closer to representing the general population, with more female candidates in the running. However, traditional gender differences illustrated in speech between men and women may affect female politicians’ ability to steal the floor during these debates. Since debates are under a strict schedule and structure, it is already difficult to squeeze in an answer between other candidates and the network moderators, so polite requests used by women are ineffective compared to the forceful demands of their male counterparts. This study analyzes and compares the turn-taking strategies employed by male and female candidates in several of the 2019 televised debates in order to interrupt or take the floor, revealing how traditional gendered forms of speech can negatively impact female politicians in this debate setting.


The presidential democratic debates are tightly structured and the rules are stated directly by a moderator at the start of each debate, where amounts of time are set for answers and rebuttals, and a warning is given against interruptions. Despite the tight format, as illustrated in video compilations like this one, there are many instances when rules are broken and there is a lot of overlap and interruptions as candidates attempt to get a chance to speak. This is where we can see examples of overlap and interruptions, as well as the use of polite requests and demanding directives.  The way in which candidates either demand or request time reflect overarching societal expectations of politeness on gender and power. 

The two debates I have analyzed interactions from are the September 12th, 2019 debate at Texas Southern University in Houston (Fig. 1), and the October 15th, 2019 debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio (Fig. 2). 

On the topic of linguistics and gender, we know that there are traditional differences in the way women and men speak, due to differences in how we are raised and taught. Robin Lakoff (1973) examines how women speak and the effect that is produced, which is a position of subordination to men because of politeness and an unsureness. However, a more recent and properly conducted study by O’Barr and Atkin’s chapter on women’s language as powerless language (1998), examines courtroom dialogue to look at language variance due to gender differences in a courtroom. They classify the features as a language of powerlessness, which can apply for men, not only women, and depends on power relationships between participants (1998, 24). Something that Lakoff (1973) examines is the use of requests and politeness, which I have examined in this study. While being wary of Lakoff’s view on classifying requests as women’s language, the use of simple requests on the debate stage is predominantly exemplified by women, whereas direct orders are rare, and are more often used by male candidates.  Requests with please are described as “distinctly unmasculine” (Lakoff, 57) in a way that allows women to prevent expressing a strong statement. However, the point of the presidential debates is to make strong statements when conveying views on topical issues in order to gain attention from the public. The use of “please” and forming polite requests thus relinquishes a candidate’s ability to appear compelling and strong to viewers. In Carroll and Fox’s book (2018) on gender in elections, they note that language used in the public’s expectations about politicians and candidates illustrate a very stereotypically masculine space, where “tough, dominant, and assertive” are used to describe ideal leaders; typically gendered as male words (Carol & Fox, 2018). Gender also operates within the public’s approval of political candidates and how they should act. This traps female candidates in a traditionally feminine box, where they must act out certain womanly stereotypes and expectations in order to earn favor with implicitly biased citizens who are socialized with these ideals about gender. By examining these debates, it will help show what extent gendered speech strategies have on male and female candidates’ ability to take the floor.


I used conversational analysis conventions to transcribe the excerpts of the debate where there are significant overlap or interruptions occurring, as well as opportunities for interjection during pauses and lowering pitch, which normally occurs when someone is ending a sentence. I will also look at word choice by candidates when making attempts to get the floor, and whether or not they are successful by looking at whether or not the moderator grants them time to answer. 


In two excerpts from the September Debate, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden both attempt to grab the floor, following the end of another candidate’s answer. They both engage in overlap with moderator George Stephanopoulos—who is supposed to choose the next speaker by name. These contrasting attempts at self-selection and the reaction from the moderator illustrate the importance of demands, rather than requests, when commanding authority.

We can see that in Example 1, Klobuchar attempts to enter the debate after Bernie Sander’s starts to finish his response, but she was unsuccessful. Klobuchar’s word choice in line 7 indicates politeness, using an “if I could” request to interject, instead of a demand.  This request is contrasted by Joe Biden’s response in example 2 when he attempts to get the floor using a directive.In line 8, Biden says “fifteen seconds;” he is not asking, he is demanding. The strategy employed by Biden is successful, and the moderator changes his mind in line 10 to give the floor to give him the floor instead of O’Rourke. Klobuchar’s use of politeness toward the moderator designates respect, and illustrates the power to which moderators have over the candidates, as they are the ones choosing speakers and deciding when rules can be broken. Biden does not use respect, and he is ultimately successful.


Once in both debates, Kamala Harris unsuccessfully attempts to enter the conversation after another candidate’s turn is over by using phrases “could I” and “I’d like.” Both times the moderator denies her request by choosing a different speaker. 


In example 3, Harris is ignored. In example 4, Harris is ignored again, but her persistence in requesting to answer results in her microphone volume being shut off. She can still be heard speaking as Lacey then refers to Biden for the next question. This transcription exemplifies the quieting of women in political arenas. 


In the next examples, we see the candidates verbally deny the moderator’s request to choose a new speaker by using masculine, demanding tones. 


In example 5 from the September Debate, Biden does not allow Lindsey Davis to fulfill her role in choosing the next speaker because he was not done answering. Instead, he references the previous candidates who also overlapped with moderators and continued answering despite attempts to give the floor to someone else. Biden is direct and firm in his speech in line 3, saying “No no” to the overlap by Davis, to which she allows. In example 6, from the October Debate, Elizabeth Warren also states “no” and raises her voice when moderator Burnett starts to overlap her speech and firmly denies the attempt at selecting a new speaker and is eventually successful in standing her ground. However, she ends her firm statement by using “please” in line 3 to prevent the command from sounding too assertive. This goes back to the idea in Gender and Elections that female candidates cannot adopt the demeanor of male politicians to become equals (Carrol & Fox, 2018). Rather, they have to play into public ideas of women in power and what normal citizens expect to see and hear from a woman.



The goal of the debates is to allow Americans to hear the candidates’ platforms, as well as assess their ability to command respect on stage through articulate speech. As seen in the transcription examples, it appears that male candidates tend to speak with more demand than the female candidates, and are also able to take the floor more often than women. This goes back to the theme of politeness, and the societal expectation that women use “feminine” speech that projects a tentative and unsure quality.


The ability of each candidate to select themselves when a new turn is beginning is not exactly reflected in the overall time spoken during these debates. In Fig. 3 and Fig. 4, there is varied distribution for speaking time between the female and male candidates, with Biden and Warren switching off between the top two spots for both debates, so we cannot explicitly correlate gender and gender strategies of speech with ability to get time on the stage, since both candidates show different approaches to turn-taking in the above examples and had different success rates in interrupting.  However, we can use these transcriptions to show that gender stereotypes in language do persist and are evident in formal, traditionally male settings like these debates. As the democratic debates and primary elections end, the persistence of misogyny and scrutiny over female politicians is exemplified in the two last candidates standing; heteronormative, white male candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. As more women run for elections in the future, methods of speaking and taking the floor may become more similar between male and female politicians, and will hopefully allow women leaders to contribute to changing power dynamics, shifting stereotypes about women in leadership roles, and thus affect linguistic strategies and norms.  



Carrol, Susan J. & Richard L. Fox. (2018) Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics. Cambridge University Press.

Lakoff, Robin (1973). Language and Woman’s Place: Language in Society 2 (1): 45–80.

O’Barr, William M., and Bowman K. Atkins. (1998) Language and Gender, A Reader: Women’s Language or Powerless Language? Malden, MA: Blackwell. 377-387.

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Um, I Wasn’t Finished: How We Undermine Female Expertise Through the Misinterpretation of Filler Phrases

Sandhya Rajkumar

The so-called “cultural mismatch” between femininity and expertise has been pointed to as a source of the gender discrepancies in academia. However, this phenomenon has consequences that reach beyond the scope of the ivory tower, as the notion of expertise is present in nearly every field. This “cultural mismatch” is even present in the culinary field, a field that is often presumed to be free of common gender stereotypes that are present in other spheres. In order to better understand how this phenomenon is perpetuated, interviews of famous male and female culinary experts were recorded and transcribed. Portions of the interviews in which the interviewees were discussing their areas of expertise were analyzed, through which it was observed that though both men and women use filler phrases such as uh and um, women’s use of these filler phrases was more likely to be interpreted as a cue for interruption, and thereby followed by subsequent interruption, while men were able to use these phrases to hold the conversational floor. This finding may be one way through which women’s authoritative expertise and influence are undermined, thus furthering the negative stereotype of the “cultural mismatch” between femininity and expertise.


A previous study on gender and expertise found that in group settings, even when men and women possessed similar levels of expertise, women were perceived as less expert than men, were less influential, and were less confident about their impact (Thomas-Hunt & Phillips, 2004). Another study found a difference in the styles of interaction used by male and female graduate students, namely that male students were much more likely to use styles that highlighted their expertise (Hirshfield, 2017). Though the culinary field seems to subvert many of the age-old gender stereotypes, previous work has shown that in foodie culture, men are more likely to focus on the theme of knowledge and expertise when describing their relationship with food (Cairns et al., 2010). This study will focus on gender-related linguistic differences pertaining to expertise and how they present themselves in an interview setting, specifically within the culinary field. 

Filler phrases like uh and um are commonplace in our everyday language. However, these simple terms can have large effects on the way speakers are perceived by their audiences. One study found that though these phrases can be used by speakers to “hold the floor” and give them time to continue their thought, they may not always be interpreted as such (Clark & Fox Tree, 2002). In fact, another study found that people often interpret use of filler phrases as a sign of nervousness or inadequate preparation (Christenfield, 1995). The present study seeks to find any gendered difference in the way the use of filler phrases is interpreted, and if this difference in interpretation can affect the occurrence of interruptions.

When looking at interruptions, the present study classifies them based on their purpose; interruptions can serve to either change the topic, express disagreement, or obtain the conversational floor (Murata, 1994). These interruptions will be distinguished from other types of speech overlap, such as backchanneling, which is often used to show encouragement by the listener, rather than to change the topic or take control of the conversation (Murata, 1994). 

This study found that women’s use of filler phrases such as uh and um were more likely to be interpreted as a cue for interruption, and thereby followed by subsequent interruption, while men were able to use these phrases to extend their conversational turn. This phenomenon may be a potential mechanism through which women’s expertise is undermined.


The analysis was performed on a viral interview series called “Hot Ones,” posted by the First We Feast channel on the streaming platform YouTube. In these videos, the interviewer, Sean Evans, a 33-year-old male, interviewed celebrities while they ate hot wings in order of increasing spice level. Four interviews with famous culinary experts, two males and two females, were chosen in order to look at differences in language use between genders. The focus of the study was on gender and expertise, so only portions of the interview in which the interviewees were discussing their respective areas of expertise were transcribed.


 Before delving into a more detailed conversation analysis of each interview, the first metric that was recorded was the frequency of the use of filler words. Filler words are a feature of “women’s language” (Lakoff, 1973) so the default assumption would be that they would be more present in the interviews with female interviewees than with male interviewees. To measure this, the total number of filler word usages was divided by the total number of words spoken by the interviewee during the clips of interest. This gave a measurement of how frequently each interviewee used filler words, which is presented in the table below.

Figure 1: Each interviewee, by gender, and their filler word usage rate

Surprisingly, both of the male interviewees used filler phrases much more frequently than either of the female interviewees in these data.

The first interviewee that was looked at was Rachael Ray, a 51-year-old Caucasian woman. The following is a transcription from the opening clip of her interview:

Figure 2: Transcription from Rachael Ray (00:10-01:10)

This interruption is particularly interesting because it coincides with the use of the filler phrases um and uh in lines 18-19. The interviewer appeared to have read these filler phrases as a cue for him to comment, as he proceeds to interrupt her in line 20. However, she then proceeds to interrupt him to continue her thought, reclaiming the conversational floor, which could indicate that her use of filler phrases in previous lines were not intended as a cue to interrupt.

However, it is important to note that female interviewees were still interrupted in other scenarios when they did not make use of filler phrases. This becomes apparent through the interview with Padma Lakshmi, a 49-year-old South Asian woman.

Figure 3: Transcription from Padma Lakshmi (00:24-00:58)

When Sean interrupted Padma in line 7, he shifted the focus of the conversation from Padma to himself, and “took the floor” of the conversation. This shift in focus persisted until line 10, where she then interrupted him to bring the focus of the conversation back to herself. Also, in that same statement, she emphasized the word I, which also could have been an attempt to reclaim the conversational floor.

 As seen in Figure 1, both male interviewees use filler phrases more often than the female interviewees. Alton Brown, a 57-year-old Caucasian male who used filler words the most frequently, was actually interrupted less often and less disruptively than either of the female interviewees. In the opening clip of his interview, there was only one instance of overlapping speech between Alton and the interviewer.”

Figure 4: Transcript from Alton Brown (00:35-01:16)

The speech overlap in line 14 could be classified as a form of back-channeling, as the interviewer is trying to express his agreement, rather than change the topic or take control of the conversation. Note that in lines 12 and 15, Alton is making use of the filler phrases um and uh, but the interviewer does not seem to interpret this as a cue to interrupt. This is different than what occurred in the interview with Rachael Ray, where her use of filler phrases were often met with subsequent interruptions.

This same trend was present for the interview of Gordon Ramsay, a 53-year-old Caucasian man. During his clip of the interview, there was not a single successful interruption by the interviewer.

Figure 5: Transcript from Gordon Ramsay (03:04-04:01)

The overlapping occurrence of “oh” in the above transcript was the only time there was an incidence of overlapping speech during this portion of the interview. Again, though compared to Rachael Ray, he used more filler phrases and took longer pauses, the interviewer did not seem to interpret these as a cue to interrupt.


This analysis suggests that there could potentially be a relationship between the way women’s use of filler phrases are interpreted and the negative stereotypes that undermine female authority and expertise. In conversations, the person who is doing the interrupting can come off as the more powerful, dominant party, leaving the person who is being interrupted as their less-powerful counterpart. In situations where a woman is sharing her expert opinion, this dynamic can function to undermine the perception of the woman as an expert.

However, there are a few study limitations that should be kept in mind. First and foremost, these interviews are from an online streaming platform, and were edited and put together by the Hot Ones team before being uploaded. Additionally, this study only looked at portions of the interview where interviewees were discussing their relevant areas of expertise; future work could be done to see if and how these portions differ from those where other topics are being discussed.



Cairns, K., Johnston, J., & Baumann, S. (2010). Caring About Food: Doing Gender in the Foodie Kitchen. Gender and Society, 24(5), 591-615. Retrieved February 10, 2020, from

Christenfeld, N. (1995). Does it hurt to say um? ​Journal of Nonverbal Behavior​, ​19​(3), 171–186.doi: 10.1007/bf02175503

Clark, H., & Fox Tree, J. E. (2002). Using uh and um in spontaneous speaking. ​Cognition,​ ​84(​1), 73–111. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(02)00017-3

Hirshfield, L. E. (2017). “I Don’t Know Everything, But Ethan Would Know”: Language, Expertise, and the Cultural Mismatch for Women Scientists. NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 10(1), 118–137.

Lakoff, R. (1973). Language and woman’s place. ​Language in Society,​ ​2​(1), 45-79.doi:10.1017/S0047404500000051

Murata, K. (1994). Intrusive or co-operative? A cross-cultural study of interruption. ​Journal of Pragmatics​, ​21​(4), 385–400. doi: 10.1016/0378-2166(94)90011-6

Thomas-Hunt, M. C., & Phillips, K. W. (2004). When What You Know Is Not Enough: Expertise and Gender Dynamics in Task Groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(12), 1585–1598.

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Your Voice Speaks Volumes: Linguistic Insight Into the Trauma Affiliated with Adoption

Sakina Qadir

Adversity plays a large role in how one thinks, behaves, and acts. Early life experiences countlessly show both negative and positive long-term effects that can be brought out in later stages of adult hood. This study looks at how early childhood adversity can induce differences in speech patterns. Additionally, to properly measure adversity this study focuses on adopted children as subjects and transcribes interactions with parent guardians from a set of YouTube videos on the channel called “The Cut”. This study also compares gender differences between these interactions to see if male or female behaviors exist and whether they show deviant behavior. More so, two linguistic features: volume and word choice tests whether further differences exist, such as tone of pitch and vocabulary. This study will seek to determine if linguistic features and gender differences between the adopted and biological children exist in the way they communicate and whether societal pressures push children to act in a certain manner. Different identity faces give insight into how individuals react in their environment and this paper analyzes whether a child’s upbringing provides a reasonable explanation to their linguistic variances.

Introduction & Background

Jim Beggs once said, “What we say is important…for most cases the mouth speaks when the heart is full.” The way we talk is tightly connected to social norms that motivate our choices. As humans we reflect upon the community we surround ourselves to. A lot of research has shown connections to cognitive differences with speech fluctuations. Interestingly enough, the Social Affective Neuroscience and Development (SAND) Lab at UCLA shows that adopted adolescents seem to show the highest level of cognitive variances and therefore are a vital group to conduct a study on. While a stressed-induced situation may vary, for the purposes of this paper a stressful situation is defined as the adoption of children. This experience has been proven to show markers that indicate adopted children deal with more trauma in their childhood and therefore have more fluctuations in the way they speak (Silvers et. Al, 2017). With this in mind, this paper identifies linguistic differences within these groups of children by looking at their volume of speech and word usage. Beyond this, gender may play a role in the interactions of male and female adopted and non-adopted children as topic of conversation may vary and volume of voice can be lower for females than males.

As seen from Eckert, construction of an identity is based on obligations and rights that one has, and based upon the expectation they have within a society (Eckert, 2013). As human beings we are subjugated to indexicality 1 as we are constantly constructing to build new personas based on the experiences that occur around us. Gender can have different responses and the context that individual places themselves in will allow one to make choices and choose which face they want to display. The environment we are in shapes us and the outcome is the communicative style we put forward. In other words, people use different performative displays to communicate aspects of their moment-to-moment identities (Butler, 1990).

In considering speech differences between genders, Debora Tannen’s viewpoint on gender is that men portray their speech behavior as hierarchical, meaning that they are actively trying to assert dominance, whereas women are seen as more supportive and less demeaning (Tannen, 1990). In simpler terms a man is deemed in society to be more assertive, whereas women are not. This study demonstrates how adolescents’ use of volume and word choice become stylistic resources to convey momentary identity displays consistent with gender expectations as a response to authority.


For this paper, language differences are being analyzed from a YouTube series called, “The Cut”. These short six-minute videos adequately provide interactions that happen between adopted children and their parents as well as biological kids and their parents. The set-up of the conversation involves answering questions from a deck of cards (Figure 1), and those questions that go unanswered elicits the individual taking a shot of alcohol.

Figure 1: The type of cards in the Truth or Drink game, each card lists two questions in which one player must answer. If the player chooses not to answer they will be forced to drink alcohol.

This behavior can act as a type of identity display, for sake of understanding it deems to see whether the act of taking alcohol, i.e. not answering the question, is a nature seen in one group of kids over the other. The reason this behavior is of importance is because the individual forgoes from talking and therefore indicates a level of deviance from a normal conversation that should occur. On top of linguistic differences in speech orientation, it seeks to answer whether this identity display of taking a shot of alcohol is seen more heavily between adopted kids or not, or if this behavior is more often associated with males or females which would highlight important differences between gender. These videos also deem to answer and compare occurrences of behavior that may be expected by society when in reality there could be occurrences that may not adhere to an anticipated outcome.


Yellow highlighter: shows moments of pause in the conversation
Arrow: shows deviant body behavior
Figure 2: The dad’s facial expression, paying close attention to his hand placement and how far back he is leaned, he seems very uncomfortable and is avoiding eye contact.

This is one example of a conversation between an adopted daughter and her father. This analysis is unique because it highlights an occurrence of negative face 2 when the daughter answers no to adopting any children, which in itself shows a response unlikely to be perceived as a decent one in any community. As seen in line 3 of the transcription above, there are some serious differences in both language and body behavior (Figure 2) when the father asks his adopted daughter the question and the response he gets from her. Even more so, the adopted child seems more alert when answering this question and answers it quite thoroughly without any hesitancy to show some remorse or compassion. This interaction seems very deviant because the adopted child then seems to go on about her real parents in which the father seems to have a reaction to, as he starts to shift in his chair and becomes unsure on how to respond. The daughter displays a face threatening act as she is critiquing her father. We believe that adopted children seem to avoid this subject but this participant also uses a higher pitch which is a behavior more associated with a biological child. Indexicality in this example is outwardly defiant as the daughter displays herself as someone who is unable to be affected by her past, and goes to the extent in which she seems disapproving of her dads choice in adopting children.

Yellow highlighter: shows moments of pause in the conversation

One other example, that seems more cohesive and supportive of the hypothesis is an interaction between an adopted daughter and her mother. In this example, the daughter is extremely hesitant to ask her mother a question, as seen in line 3, whereas biological children in the other interactions in the same videos had no problem in doing so. Her shyness comes off as peculiar as the question, although personal, is not anything to be hesitant from. This highlights an identity face that could have been developed due to strenuous conditions from her childhood that makes this child unsure of her actions. As Tannen also proclaimed, women tend to be less assertive as compared to men so a gender difference could be in effect in this example as well. However, that is not to say that all adopted children act in one way as there are some cases where the adolescents are actually more geared to raise their volume and use proactive language to purposefully exhibit bad behavior. Children are often times a tricky group to study as their development can be easily altered by what they face and respond by displaying different indexicalities (Umberson et. al, 2014).


In conclusion, differences in behavior can be well associated with how the world perceives certain people to behave. Even though this paper points out various examples of behavior that elicit differences in gender and language, there is no guarantee that this is a product of how these young children believe that they should behave versus the way they truly want to. Both word usage and speech volume showcase a wide variety of implications that can still vary by situation. Adopted children are faced with an early childhood adversity and the way they behave can be the product of their hardships (Juffer et. al, 2011). Kids are often times neglected, especially adopted children, so they develop to pick up on cues around them which they are seldom aware of and this leads to speech and gender differences which coincidently arise from their identity displays they have inherently adapted (Silvers, 2017).


Useful YouTube links

A Crash Course on Language and Meaning

Politeness Theory


Academic references

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Eckert, P., & McConnel–Ginet, S. (2013). Speech situations, events, and activities. Language and gender (2nd edition).

Juffer, F., Palacios, J., Le Mare, L., Sonuga-Barke, E., Tieman, W., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M., Verhulst, F. (2011). II. Development Of Adopted Children With Histories Of Early    Adversity. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 76(4), 31-61. Retrieved February 25, 2020, from

Silvers, J.A., Goff, B., Gabard-Durnam, L., Gee, D.G., Fareri, D.S., Caldera, C., & Tottenham,    N. (2017). Vigilance, the amygdala, and anxiety in youth with a history of institutional careBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 2, 493-501.

Umberson, D., Williams, K., Thomas, P., Liu, H., & Thomeer, M. (2014). Race, Gender, and Chains of Disadvantage: Childhood Adversity, Social Relationships, and Health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 55(1), 20-38. Retrieved February 25, 2020, from

Tannen, D. (1990). You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York, NY: Morrow.

YouTube Videos

Cut. (2019, March 7). Adopted Kids & Their Parents (Frederick & Marisa)|Truth or Drink [Video]. YouTube.

Cut. (2019, March 14). My Adopted Daughter & I Play Truth or Drink (Cynthia & Tabitha |Truth or Drink [Video].YouTube.   


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I’ll Make a Man Out of You: A Look at Asian American Male Interactions in a Competitive Game Setting

Anonymous Author

With the sudden increase in Asian representation in American media, more light has been shed on Asian culture and common stereotypes are slowly being dismissed. Nuances of Asian culture, specifically the Asian American experience have yet to be explored. Delving into such an experience reveals a historical portrayal of Asian men as often being weak and effeminate. Asian American men are subject to sociocultural expectations of gender roles dictated by a tradition of patriarchy. Masculinity, for many Asian American men is externally defined, and the strength of a male’s connection to his Asian American heritage may be indicative of the pressure he experiences to conform to such cultural expectations. This study examines male-male interactions involving Asian American men to look at how aggressive displays may inform the pressure caused by the desire to conform to sociocultural expectations that such men often experience. A transcription analysis was performed on recorded conversations between Asian American male friends during a competitive board game setting, to determine the frequency and type of both interruptions and profanity, and level of speaking volume during the interactions. Although there seems to be no direct relationship between an Asian American male’s perceived connectedness to his cultural identity and level of aggressiveness in his language use, this may indicate the likelihood of other contributing factors such as the desire for him to preserve in-group norms.


One context in which gender roles and masculinity often play a significant role is dyadic interactions. Although much research has been done on mixed-sex interactions, research on same-sex interactions, specifically focusing Asian American males, is lacking. The current literature on same-sex interactions between Asian American males involves studies on father-son relationships, but there has not been extensive research on how the degree to which a male identifies with his Asian heritage affects his use of language. Looking at the linguistic units of profanity, interruptions, and speaking volume, this study explores how an Asian American male’s perceived connectedness to his cultural identity manifests itself in the form of aggressive behavior through language. By doing so, this study posits that within a competitive game setting, aggressive displays such as speaking at a higher volume and using both more profanity and non-supportive interruptions at a greater frequency during male-male interactions, are indices of sociocultural expectations that Asian American males who are strongly connected to their heritage might feel pressured to conform to. While this correlation may exist in certain settings such as in a competitive game setting, this hyper masculine behavior may, instead, be a product of a male’s relational proximity or perceived closeness to his audience, or a way for a him to demonstrate camaraderie by maintaining in-group norms.


Target population

Participants included four Asian American males and one, non-Asian male who were all part of the same friend group. All of the participants were college students, also known as emerging adults, with ages ranging from 18 to 22 years. Likewise, homosexual males were excluded from this study because sexual orientation was a potential confounding variable. Participation in this study was voluntary. 

Data collection

Data collection involved collecting audio recordings of participants playing the competitive board game, Taboo, where partners were tasked with describing and guessing words. In each round, the non-Asian friend was tasked with being the guesser while the describer would rotate amongst the Asian American friends until all had participated. At the end of the rounds, the Asian American participants were asked to complete an exit survey to be kept and used for later analysis. The recordings were then compiled and analyzed for each pairing using an online software, and then subsequently transcribed for further analysis.

Linguistic units

This study focused specifically on the linguistic features of interruption, profanity, and volume as units for analysis. In the study, interruptions were defined as either cooperative/supportive or competitive/non-supportive. Cooperative interruptions, as described in Yang (1996) involves interruptions that are more supportive of a speaker’s hold of the floor and serve to draw focus on the speaker’s claims or statement. Likewise, Yang (1996) characterizes competitive interruptions as interruptions that attempt to take the floor away from a main speaker when another speaker feels that their ideas are more valuable. Additionally, profanity was categorized as mild, medium, or strong, with mild profanity being words that one could use in everyday conversations without much offense or words that are acceptable on nationally broadcasted media, strong profanity being words that most individuals would not use in a school setting without some sort of disciplinary consequence, and medium falling roughly between the two. Lastly, volume in this study was differentiated into categories of normal, loud, and soft. Normal volume was defined as a speaking volume appropriate in a café, soft volume was defined as the speaking volume appropriate in a library, and loud volume was defined as the speaking volume appropriate in a noisy environment.


The data collected was comprised of both qualitative and quantitative data. In four different conversations, the frequency of interruptions, profanity, and speaking volume were recorded to assess displays of aggression. The results on interruptions and profanity were further stratified, with interruptions separated between the categories of supportive and non-supportive, and profanity separated between strong, medium, and mild. These results were then compared with results from the exit survey on the participants’ perceived level of connectedness with their Asian heritage to determine if there was a correlation between each of the two variables. A 5 on the survey would indicate a strong connection to a one’s Asian heritage and a 1 on the survey would indicate little to no connection to one’s Asian heritage.

Figure 1: Overall Frequency of Profanity Use per Participant


Figure 2: Frequency of Strong, Medium, and Mild Profanity Use per Participant


As indicated in Figure 1, there is no clear difference between the overall use of profanity between males with varying levels of connectedness to his Asian heritage. The average use of profanity in each of the four scenarios was around 3.5 times per the 1.5-minute span of the conversation. However, when stratifying the data to differentiate between the 3 levels of profanity: strong, medium, and mild (Figure 2), there is a clear contrast between each of the participants. Excluding the outlier DAN, it seems like there is a positive correlation between the variables of strong profanity use and perceived connectedness to one’s Asian heritage.

Figure 3: Overall Number of Interruptions per Participant


Figure 4: Frequency of Supportive and Non-Supportive Interruption Use per Participant


Likewise, in Figure 3, there is also no clear difference between the overall number of interruptions between males with varying levels of connectedness to his Asian heritage. The average number of interruptions in each of the four scenarios was around 2.5 times per the 1.5-minute span of the conversation. However, when stratifying the data to differentiate between the supportive and non-supportive interruptions (Figure 4) there is a clear contrast between each of the participants. Excluding the outlier DAN, it also seems like there is a positive correlation between the frequency of non-supportive interruptions and perceived connectedness to one’s Asian heritage.

Discussion & Conclusions

Examining the results from the surveys and recordings, there were discrepancies between an Asian American male’s perceived connectedness to his own culture and his expected display of aggression through language during male-male interactions. In some instances, it seemed as if the degree to which a male identified with his Asian heritage was a strong predictor of his displays of aggression. However, this correlation was not applicable to every scenario in the study. What is important to note is that all of the conversations occurred within the parameters of a competitive game amongst a group of friends. As such, regardless of the degree to which an Asian American male identifies with his heritage, this does not mean that this is an identity that is static or present in every situation. The in-group solidarity that Kiesling (1998) calls “camaraderie” could ultimately be the underlying/confounding factor that could also inform the observed results. By constructing their identity within the constraints of heteronormative masculinity, males are pressured to perform in a way that expresses or exerts dominance with others. Yet amongst other males, this shared experience is what ultimately fosters community relationships, something that may have played a role in each of the conversations.

There were several limitations to this study. One of these limitations involved sample size, which was quite small for this study. Likewise, although having a non-Asian male assume the position of a guesser for each round did control for the variable of familiarity to the describer, it may have been more conducive to have participants play multiple rounds of Taboo and then take the average of the results. Additionally, although the study did define the various operational variables, it would have been better if they were defined quantitatively as opposed to qualitatively. Future studies could possibly benefit from taking a look at the effect of racial identity of a partner in a conversational dyad on the level of aggression displayed in language used by Asian American men.

The main takeaway of this study was that, although there seems to be somewhat of a positive correlation between an Asian American male’s feelings of connectedness to his culture and the level of aggression he displays in his language, this does not hold true for all Asian American males. There are likely a multitude of factors which could possibly contribute to such an observation, one of which could be due to the desire for such males to maintain in-group norms by performing hyper masculine acts such as displaying aggressive behavior.


Other Informative Works    

How Men Talk (an opinion piece on Medium)

Male Friendships Are Just Bullying (a YouTube episode by CollegeHumor)

The Comedians Challenging Stereotypes About Asian-American Masculinity (The New York Times article)




Kiesling, S. F. (1998). Men’s identities and sociolinguistic variation: The case of fraternity men. Journal of Sociolinguistics2(1), 69-99.

Yang, L. C. (1996, October). Interruptions and intonation. In Proceeding of Fourth International Conference on Spoken Language Processing. ICSLP’96 (Vol. 3, pp. 1872-1875). IEEE.

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