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Gendered Discourse Practices in Instant Messaging Gisela Redeker University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Example (1): Instant message exchange (from Lee 2003)

Outline of this Lecture • • • • • • •

Instant messaging as a CMC* genre Gender differences: conflicting results Corpus: 60 IM conversations Topics & Amount of talk Openings & Closings Humor & Expressives Conclusions & future research

* CMC = computer-mediated communication

Instant Messaging as a CMC Genre IM as a medium – Interactive – Synchronous – One-to-one

(unlike websites, blogs)

(unlike discussion lists, email) (unlike discussion lists, chat)

IM as a mode of communication (usage): – Sustained – Supplementary

(friends, colleagues at work) (+ face-to-face, phone, sms)

Gender Differences Men



Social facilitation




Qualifying, justifying

More & longer turns

Fewer & shorter turns

Short openings & closings

Elaborate openings & closings

Sarcasm, teasing, joking

Laughter; humorous anecdotes

Strong language

Hedges, emotional language


Supportive, polite

But: • Results not always replicated (no difference or reversal) • Findings depend on familiarity of participants, gender composition, and activity (meta-analysis by Leaper & Ayres 2007) • This argues against an ‘essentialistic’ view of gender differences and for a social constructionist model. • Most CMC genres involve mixed-sex groups of strangers • We need to (i.a.): – study interactions among friends – compare same-sex vs mixed-sex interaction

Studies of Gender in Instant Messaging Baron (2004): 18 same-sex conversations of US undergraduates – Women’s conversations were longer than men’s. – Women took on average 9.8 turns to close a conversation, men 4.3. – Women used more emoticons than men. – Men used more contractions than women.

Fox et al (2007): 212 same-sex & mixed conversations of US undergraduates – Women used more ‘expressiveness’ features (emphasis, laughter, emoticons, adjectives). – Messages to women contained more references to emotion.

Corpus* • 60 private IM conversations among close friends, solicited from 10 male and 10 female advanced university students (average age: 24) 20 conversations of pairs of male friends 20 conversations of pairs of female friends 20 conversations of male-female pairs • Total 21,947 words (min 79, max 1,201), 3,620 turns (min 21, max 181) * from den Dulk (2006); used by permission

Hypotheses 1.

Men use IM for informative, women for social purposes


In mixed dyads, men produce more words and more and longer turns than women; for same-sex dyads, the difference is reversed (Baron)


Men produce shorter openings and closings than women


Men produce more other-directed humor, women more humorous anecdotes


Men use fewer expressions of emotions than women, at least in male-male dyads (Fox et al)

Variables in this Study 1. Main / initial topic of the conversation (focus on information or on the other) 2. Number of words and turns, words per turn 3. Openings (use of greeting a/o name) Closings (number of turns from leave taking) 4. Humor (frequency and kind) 5. Expressives (verbal renderings, emoticons)

Topics • Focus on relationship with the other Inquire about a known activity or concern of the other (e.g. “How was your exam?”)

• Focus on information Tell news, ask a question, request information

• Planning Propose or arrange a joint activity

Topic relation





80 60 40 20 0 m in mf


w in mf


• Women use more relational topics than men in mixed (mf) and female-female (ff) dyads • Men tend to give or ask information or make plans more often than women in same-sex and mixed dyads

Amount of Talk • No differences in number of words • No differences in number of turns • No gender difference in turn length, only: – Men produced shorter turns in mixed than in male-male conversations (5.3 vs 6.5 words/turn) – For women, the difference was smaller and not statistically significant (5.6 vs. 6.4 words/turn) – Baron (2004) reports 5.2 and 5.3 words/turn

Openings • No opening (example 2) • Greeting (“hi”; “hey”, “ey” “good afternoon” in example 3) • Name or nickname (“Danny”, “dude” and “mister” in example 3) (2)


how did it go???


Jan: Jan: Danny:

hey Danny dude ey, good afternoon mister!






70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 m in mf


w in mf


• Men more often than women add a (nick)name to their greeting, esp. in the male-male dyads • Both men and women use names less often in the mixed (mf) dyads

Closings • Leave taking “gotta run”, “I’m gonna take a shower”

• Reference to future contact “See you this afternoon!”

• Bye “bye”, “[see y’] later”, “kisskiss”

Example (4) shows a 12-turn closing sequence:


Marlies: Marianne: Marlies: Marlies: Marianne: Marianne: Marlies: Marianne: Marlies: Marianne: Marlies: Marlies:

hey, but I’ll go take a shower, meeting someone for coffee in town I’ll have a cup of tea on the couch oh wonderful, in this weather! have a nice weekend! and til Tuesday watching videos, of all my progrms I haven’t been able to watch this week see you Tuesday oh that’s completely top of course! and have a very nice weekend bye!!! Byye by byee

median number of turns

Length of Closings 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 mf



Female-female dyads produce longer closing sequences than male-male or mixed dyads (= Lee 2003, Baron 2004 for mm vs ff, but Lee 2003 also finds longer closings for mixed dyads)

Humor 1.

Self-directed humor


Other-directed humor (teasing)


Humor about external referent

These will be illustrated in example (6)


Wordplay (example 5)

(5) Jasper: hey Francis pencis Francis: hey Jasper lasper


Fran: Vera: Fran: Vera: Fran: Vera: Fran: Fran: Fran: Fran: Fran: Vera: Fran: Vera: Vera: Fran: Vera:

I’m always free on Wednesdays. that’s true, aren’t you always free…..:P OTHER heehee hahah the good life SELF and hows theo rich guy heehee lets look for a rich guy for you too heehjee heehee yyyyy can we go shopping and do fun things together yes, he’d be welcome, cause I don’t own a cent SELF and drink champagne (wink) as long as he’s not from heereveen, hahaha EXTERNAL

Humor 6

per 100 turns

5 4 3 2 1 0 m in mf


w in mf


• Men tend to use more humor than women • Men and women tend to use more humor in mixed dyads than in same-sex ones

Target of Humor self




per 100 turns

2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 m in mf


w in mf


• Men use more self-directed humor in the mixed dyads (= Lampert & Ervin-Tripp 2006) • Men and women use more other-directed humor in mixed than in same-sex dyads. • Men engage in wordplay in the male-male dyads, and less so in the mixed dyads.

Expressive Elements • Verbal renderings of laughter “haha”, “heehee”

• Interjections “wow”, “oh”, “hmmm”

• Emoticons

smile, happy, kidding laugh or big grin tongue out, being silly sad, depressed

Expressive Elements 30

per 100 turns

25 20 15 10 5 0 m in mf


w in mf


Men and women use more expressive words and icons in the mixed dyads than in the same-sex dyads.

Laughter and Interjections haha


14 per 100 turns

12 10 8 6 4 2 0 m in mf


w in mf


• Men use fewer verbalizations of laughter in the male-male dyads, but as many as the women in the mixed dyads. • Men and women make much more use of interjections in the mixed dyads.

Emoticons smiley

other emoticons

12 per 100 turns

10 8 6 4 2 0 m in mf


w in mf


• Men and women use more smileys than other emoticons (= Baron 2004) • Men use more smileys in the mixed dyads (= Lee 2003)

Conclusions • Expectations from ‘classic’ gender differences were confirmed for: – Topic (information vs relation) – Closings (longer for female-female dyads)

• but not confirmed for: – Length (words, turns, turn length) – Humor – Expressives

• The most striking differences were found between the same-sex and mixed dyads: – Longer turns, fewer names in openings, much more humor, more expressives

• This supports the view that gender is constructed situationally and interactively.

Future Research • Expand current study – Other stylistic features (affect, intensifiers, strong language) – Topic management – More material

• Compare to email, sms, phone, face-to-face • Expand beyond Western college students – Other cultures, educational levels, ages

References Baron, Naomi S. (2004). See you online. Gender issues in college student use of instant messaging. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 23(4): 397-423. Baron, Naomi S. (2008). Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World. Oxford University Press. den Dulk, Fenja (2006). Gender en het gebruik van humor tijdens informele IM-conversaties [Gender and the use of humor in informal IM conversations]. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, University of Groningen, Netherlands. Fox, Annie B., Danuta Bukatko, Mark Hallahan & Mary Crawford (2007). The Medium Makes a Difference: Gender Similarities and Differences in Instant Messaging. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 26(4): 389-397. Guiller, Jane & Durndell, Alan (2007). Students’ linguistic behaviour in online discussion groups: Does gender matter? Computers in Human Behavior 23: 2240–225. Hancock, Jeffrey T. (2004). Verbal irony use in face-to-face and computer-mediated conversations. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 23(4): 447-463. Herring, Susan C. & John C. Paolillo (2006). Gender and genre variation in weblogs. Journal of Sociolinguistics 10(4): 439-459. Koch, Sabine, Mueller, B., Kruse, L., & Zumbach, J. (2005). Constructing gender in chat groups. Sex Roles 53(1-2): 29-41. Lampert, Martin D. & Ervin-Tripp, Susan A. (2006). Risky laugher: Teasing and self-directed joking among male and female friends. Journal of Pragmatics 38(1): 51-72. Leaper, Campbell & Ayres, Melanie M. (2007). A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Variations in Adults' Language Use: Talkativeness, Affiliative Speech, and Assertive Speech. Personality and Social Psychology Review 11(4): 328-363. Nardi, Bonnie (2005). Beyond bandwidth: Dimensions of connection in interpersonal interaction. The Journal of Computer-supported Cooperative Work 14: 91-130. Schiano, D., C. Chen, J. Ginsberg, U. Gretarsdottir, M. Huddleston and E. Isaacs (2002): Teen Use of Messaging Media. Extended Abstracts of ACM CHI 2002 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 594–595). NY: ACM. Thomson, Rob (2006). The Effect of Topic of Discussion on Gendered Language in Computer-Mediated Communication Discussion. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 25(2): 167-178.

Gendered Discourse Practices in Instant Messaging