Tag questions and gender

Teacher notes


The conversational styles of men and women are a key area of study in the two major English Language A-level specifications. Students are encouraged to analyse examples of conversation, informed by their study of some of the major research into deficit, dominance, difference and social constructionist models. The most able students are often capable of discussing conversational interaction with some insight, and seem prepared to challenge assumptions about how men supposedly interrupt more, women use more tentative forms, or how women are systematically dominated in conversation. However, less able students often cling to lists of features or broad-brush recall of research (Zimmerman and West, usually), and rarely deal with problematic examples of real interaction which seem to go against the theory.

This resource is an attempt to encourage students to consider the links between grammatical form and function: what something is and what it does. The aim is to show that while certain grammatical forms can be easily counted and identified in transcripts, the functions often depend very much on who is using them, where they are being used and what has gone before. Moving on from this, we hope to encourage students to test different hypotheses against data available in language corpora, and to help them develop research questions by thinking through various ideas about methodology.


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