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Gender and culture as equally important variables effecting the communication behaviors of African American women and Caucasian American women

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Title:
Gender and culture as equally important variables effecting the communication behaviors of African American women and Caucasian American women
Creator:
Logan, Alberta Diann Fincher
Publication Date:
Language:
English
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vi, 106 leaves : ; 29 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
Communication -- Cross-cultural studies ( lcsh )
Women -- Communication ( lcsh )
African American women -- Communication ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 93-106).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, Communication and Theatre.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Alberta Diann Fincher Logan.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
37854152 ( OCLC )
ocm37854152
Classification:
LD1190.L48 1997m .L64 ( lcc )

Full Text
GENDER AND CULTURE AS EQUALLY IMPORTANT VARIABLES
EFFECTING THE COMMUNICATION BEHAVIORS OF
AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN AND CAUCASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN
by
Alberta Diann Fincher Logan
B.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1994
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Communication and Theatre
1997
AL


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Alberta Diann Fincher Logan
has been approved
by
Michael M. Monsour, III
Date
Jennifer Rj Jackson


Logan, Alberta Diann Fincher (M.A., Communication and Theatre)
Gender and Culture as Equally Important Variables Effecting the Communication
Behaviors of African American Women and Caucasian American Women
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Benita J. Dilley
ABSTRACT
Current theories of gender-linked communication hold that certain behaviors attributed
to communicators are causally linked to gender status. The results of research in the
study of gender communication behaviors cannot be generalized to the American
population at large unless both gender and culture are given equal credence as
interacting variables. The communication behaviors of members of any given
American ethnic population are impacted by the process of socialization to cultural
values and norms, as well as by gender status. The presumption that gender
supersedes ethnicity as the primary determining factor of communication behavior is
unjustified. There are discernible differences in the communication styles and
behaviors of African American women and Caucasian American women. A review of
the research and literature in the field indicates that those differences are often quite
marked with regard to both verbal and nonverbal communication. These differences
can be seen to be a result of cultural variations in gender role training and
expectations. Expansion of current thought in the field of gender communication is
necessary in order to accommodate the distinct nature of the communication behaviors
of contemporary African American women and Caucasian American women.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
in
Benita J. Dilley


DEDICATION
This thesis is dedicated to past, present and future
To Mom and Dad
for the way they treat each other,
for the way they treat all people with respect,
for all the things they taught me as a child and all they continue to teach,
to the way they live their remarkable liveswith love.
To my daughter, Kirsten
for the loving and sharing,
for all the things she taught me when she was a child
and all she continues to teach mewith love.
To Ken,
for his love and strength and character,
for all the things we learn with each otherwith love.
To the African American women I am privileged to call friends,
for sharing from their hearts
for helping me get my education though it isnt their job to do sowith love.
To a future of more joy, more love, more understanding
for all of us


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION...................................................1
Purpose of the Study........................................2
Rationale for the Study.....................................7
Definition of Terms........................................10
Definition of Ethnicity.............................10
Definition of Gender................................11
Definition of Culture...............................12
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE......................................15
Gender-Linked Behavior in Language Use and Style...........18
Gender-Linked Behavior in
Conversational Organization and Content....................26
Gender-Linked Behavior in
Nonverbal Encoding and Decoding............................29
Gender-Linked Behavior in Eye Gaze and Eye Contact
34


3. INFLUENCE OF CULTURE ON COMMUNICATION..................36
Relationship of Culture and Communication..............37
Socialization..........................................38
Influence of Family..............................39
African American Cultural Values and Role Expectations.51
4. AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNICATION BEHAVIOR................59
African American Behavior in
Language Use and Style.................................60
African American Behavior in
Conversational Organization and Content................75
African American Behavior in
Nonverbal Encoding and Decoding........................77
African American Behavior in Eye Gaze and Eye Contact..80
5. IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
FOR FUTURE RESEARCH........................................84
WORKS CITED........................................................93
vi


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Changing demographic patterns, heightened social awareness and increased
political activism by women and minorities during the past three decades of United
States history have all played a part in fostering a viable new arena of study in the field
of human communication and interaction. Scholarly research and reflection have been
directed toward the understanding of the communication process between, and specific
communication behaviors and strategies utilized by, interactants from diverse
backgrounds, encompassing culture, ethnicity and gender.
The need for enhanced understanding of communication between diverse
communicators was sharply elucidated by the radical social upheavals of the decades
of the 1960s and 1970s. Prophesies about the increasing diversity of the American
experience have been bom out. American society, at the turn of the twenty-first
century gives adequate opportunity for the experience of communication with diverse
populations, and the study of the communication process between members of diverse
populations is ongoing. The need for enhanced understanding and improved
communication techniques exists, and current concerns with diversity and intercultural
communication are justified in light of the face of the work force, the political arena,
the school population, the composition of neighborhoods and communities, the clients
l


of counseling and human service providers. Research and study can, and should,
rightly be put into practice.
Purpose of the Study
Gender-linked communication behaviors have been researched, as well as
cultural factors that effect the communication process, but the link between gender
and culture, between gender and ethnicity, is often overlooked in discussions of the
differences between stereotypic masculine and feminine communication patterns.
Gender is one cogent variable deserving of continued study but it should not be
studied separately from ethnicity. Such separate study has led to misleading
information, often applied with a broad-brush technique to all women or all men
without regard to culture and ethnicity, leading to yet more misunderstanding.
There are pitfalls and problems in achieving understanding that crosses the
lines of culture and gender. Philosophical directions, as well as operational tactics
should be given due consideration. In the philosophical realm, Audre Lorde has
expressed concern about the tendency to pursue absolute equality at the expense of
recognizing difference. Differences, Lorde feels, do not automatically confer superior
or inferior status and the concept of difference can be explored and differences
respected without the fear that one is advocating stratification (496). The differences
2


between women in terms of race, class and age have often been misinterpreted or
ignored in the interest of pursuing equality.
In the realm of operational tactics and research, the possibility exists that
researchers exhibit cultural or gender bias as they translate research into theories. The
result may be statements made and inferences drawn that reflect the value judgments
and cultural norms of the researchers, rather than suggesting any genuine
understanding of the group studied. LaFrances Rodgers-Rose voices that concern,
stating, most of what we know about Black male-female relationships is a result of
the biased research conducted by white social scientists (251). Lena Wright Myers
goes even further and suggests that unless one is Black and female, it is almost
impossible to do enough valid research and offer enough sophisticated statistics to
give a fair view of the dilemma of black women in a white, male-oriented society (14-
15). Research that is not operationalized to reflect the reality systems of the group
being studied may demonstrate cultural bias.
Similar biases may be evidenced by researchers in the field of gender
communication. Behaviors posited by researchers to be gender linked may, in fact, be
the result of the interaction of several variables. The study of gender based differences
may therefore be much more complex than is often noted. In The Myth of Two
Minds. What Gender Means and Doesnt Mean. Beryl Lieff Benderly contends that
much of what is known about gender differences results from research designs that
3


may not have taken any other factors into account and suggests that due consideration
must be given to socially constructed concepts about appropriate gender behaviors.
Barrie Thome and Nancy Henley issue an indictment of the field of research into
gender differences in communication, in Difference and Dominance: An Overview of
Language, Gender, and Society. They caution that many populations other than the
white middle-class have been virtually unstudied and call for more research into the
interrelation of sex, social class, ethnicity, race, and age as they affect the use of
language (30). Cheris Kramer agrees and states bluntly:
Researchers interested in studying the speech of women .. must be careful
not to make the error of grouping all women together. The origin and race of
women speakers might be important factors which bring diversity into the
larger category ofwomens speech. (54)
Research designs that presume gender can be studied independently of other variables,
such as ethnicity and culture, do not adequately reflect the nature of gender linked
communication behaviors.
Nancy M. Henley and Cheris Kramerae1 take the position that, in addition to
gender and ethnicity, communication is affected by issues of power and class. Women
of different cultures experience different conditioning and this in itself is reason for
speculating that they may have different communication patterns and behavior. As
Henley and Kramerae argue:
1 Cheris Kramerae refers to the same author as Cheris Kramer, as per the authors self designation in
different publications.
4


Ethnicity, class, and gender may work either independently or interactively.
The fact that race/ethnicity and class are largely confounded in multiracial
societies puts special communicative strain on women of color, whose ideas,
opinions, and interpretations are often not taken seriously. (37)
Pointing to the paucity of studies investigating communication within nondominant
groups and between classes, races, and ethnicities, they suggest that two basic
questions should be pursued. First of all, they wonder if studies of
interracial/interethnic miscommunication apply equally to women and men, and
secondly, whether there is an interaction of race/ethnicity and gender such that
different races/ethnic groups have different gender differences and different gender
power relations, and consequently different loci of misunderstanding (38). There is
little existing research that approaches the study of communication behaviors from the
perspective of the interconnection of multiple variables, including gender, race, class
and ethnicity.
There is disagreement among researchers as to whether the differences
observed in the conversational styles of men and women are due purely to gender.
Faye Crosby, Paul Jose and William Wong-McCarthy have delineated three other
possible causative factors: biological sex differences, status and role differences, or
individual personality differences. Culture is not suggested by Crosby, Jose and
Wong-McCarthy, but the historical relationship between African Americans and
5


Caucasian Americans2 bears examination at the level of status and role differences and
thus any pronouncements about the communication styles of men and women from
those respective cultures should take into account the issue of status and role as well
as gender differences.
In addition to potential research bias, the study of gender and culture as
variables in the communication process has often lacked integrative understanding
when gender and culture are not perceived as equally potent, interactive variables. In
order to insure enhanced understanding of gender communication behaviors, it is
crucial that culture not be disregarded as a variable. Results of gender communication
research should be noted as culture specific and cannot be directly translated to
included members of all cultures by virtue of gender status alone. This thesis will
demonstrate that such direct translation is flawed by utilizing comparative studies of
the gender communication behaviors of two distinct cultural groups: African
American women and Caucasian American women, with age and socio-economic
status not considered as factors. By inference, gender communication theories and
pronouncements about how women communicate that do not hold true for both
2 This author will use the following scheme of capitalization: African American and Black will be
used interchangeably, Caucasian American and white will be used interchangeably. Black is
capitalized on the grounds that, as a racial designation, it replaces Negro, which is capitalized. It is
also considered an ethnic designation and so is capitalized as would be German, Irish, etc. When the
works of other authors are quoted, their scheme of designation and capitalization will be reproduced
without comment.
6


groups by virtue of cultural association can be considered suspect if applied to women
of other cultural backgrounds as well.
At issue is whether or not the communication behaviors of African Americans
and Caucasian Americans are demonstrably different. A review of the literature will
indicate that this is so. If African American women utilize African American
communication behaviors, it is expected that their communication behaviors -will
depart from both the stereotypic view of female communication behavior and from
research findings from studies that utilized primarily white female subjects, or did not
consider the variable of ethnicity. Although the discovery of one exception to an
axiom does not disprove it, an awareness of more intrinsic differences in cultural
patterns of communication behavior can allow the scope of that axiom to be properly
narrowed to apply only to the initial research group, delineated either by ethnicity or
culture.
Rationale for the Study
The rationale for conducting this investigation is upheld rigorously by African
American writers and researchers. Tony Cade Bambara posed this question in 1970
and it is deserving of consideration: How relevant are the truths, the experiences, the
findings of white women to black women? Are women after all simply women? (9).
Many African American feminists and social scientists have documented and defined
7


the double jeopardy in which Black women find themselves. The double jeopardy
facing Black women is depicted by Johnnetta Cole in Conversations:
African American women, confronted with racism on the one hand and sexism
on the other, find themselves, indeed, between a rock and a hard place.
Although we have been more preoccupied with the weight of racism, we are
keenly aware of the oppression we experience as women. (85-6)
As members of two oppressed groups, Blacks and women, African American women
have unique experiences not common to any other group.
One question that should be of concern to researchers is whether Black women
have more in common with Black men or with white women. Many times Black
women are included with one group or the other and studied as a part of the whole.
Some have expressed the idea that Black women are, in and of themselves, a whole, a
separate entity. Deborah K. King contends, [a]t one level, black women, other
women of color and white women share many common contemporary concerns about
their legal status and rights, encounters with discrimination, and sexual victimization
(280). However, King is careful to point out, [t]he assertion of commonality, indeed
of the universality and primacy of female oppression, denies the other structured
inequalities of race, class, religion, and nationality, as well as denying the diverse
cultural heritage that affect the lives of many women (280). In Aint I a Woman, bell
hooks makes the point forcefully, stating:
No other group in America has so had their identity socialized out of existence
as have black women. We are rarely recognized as a group separate and
distinct from black men or a present part of the larger group women in this
8


culture . When black people are talked about the focus tends to be on black
men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women.
(7)
A separate area of study is advisable, particularly if generalizations about gender
communication are involved.
A direct comparison of Black women and white women will demonstrate that
their communication behaviors are indeed different, distinctly allied to culture, as much
as to gender. The different communication behaviors of Black women and white
women are the result of a three-part set of circumstances. First of all, Black women
and white women experience distinctly different cultures, by virtue of their different
historical experiences, resulting in their differing patterns of behavior today. Secondly,
Black women and white women are socialized to different cultural expectations for
gender-appropriate behavior. Finally, specific different communication behaviors are
sanctioned for Black women and white women based on different philosophies and
ethics, different culturally implicit world views. All potential communication partners
may come into play so this thesis will also, by extension, look at the culture specific
patterns of communication behavior exhibited by the men with which these women
may be in communicative relationships.
Though the existing research is not copious, a number of studies have been
conducted and from them enough evidence exists to show that Black communication
behaviors differ from white communication behaviors on some levels and with regard
9


to some variables. Given that those differences have been established between the
groups under consideration, gender-based pronouncements based on the premise that
women are women are suspect.
Definition of Terms
The effective comparison of cultural differences in gender communication
behaviors rests on the specificity of definition of ethnicity as well as the other two
variables under consideration, gender and culture. The definition of ethnicity will set
the parameters of membership in the groups under consideration, African Americans
and Caucasian Americans. Gender, once defined, can be telescoped to include the
concept of gender role and further expanded to examine the cultural expectations of
gender. Culturally sanctioned gender specific behavior, including communication
behavior is then available for comparative review.
Definition of Ethnicity
Joshua Fishman offers a compact set of elements that comprise ethnicity when
he defines it as, a bond (self-perceived and/or ascribed by others, with or without
objective justification) to a historically continuous authentic collectivity (128). The
concept ones ethnicity is not biologically determined, but rather represents a set of
traits that define a specific group membership.
10


As Michael L. Hecht, Mary Jane Collier and Sidney A. Ribeau specify,
[e]thnicity is defined psychologically and historically through shared symbols,
meanings, and norms rather than being defined territorially or geographically (16).
Although ethnic identity represents only one part of the identity of an individual, when
self-selected it can be a powerful source of meaning and behavior (35). The feeling of
having a specific ethnicity is a chosen state that represents the culmination of cultural
transmission and family and peer socialization.
For the purpose of this discussion, ethnicity will be accepted as a self-
determined, self-ascribed state. African American/Black designation shall include any
and all who acknowledge and claim it as an ethnic identity. Caucasian American/white
designation shall likewise include any and all who acknowledge and claim it as an
ethnic identity. Since biological parentage does not determine ethnicity, children do
not automatically assume the same ethnic identity of either parent.
Definition of Gender
Clara Mayo and Nancy M. Henley call gender the social correlate to sex noting
that it is, a social construction, the means through which we attempt to apprehend
sex (3). Terry A. Kupers, in Revisioning Mens Lives, discusses how gender
relations function. He states, biology does not determine gender relations; gender is
socially constructed . shaped by culture in its historical permutations (40).
11


The strength of the relationship between gender and culture is explored by
Julia T. Wood who stresses:
Gender refers to social beliefs and values that specify what sex means and what
it allows and precludes in a particular society at a specific time. Because
cultures vary and each one changes over time, the meaning of gender is neither
universal nor stable. Instead, femininity and masculinity reflect the beliefs and
values of particular cultures at certain points. (156)
The relationship between gender and culture is such that the concept of gender can
only be apprehended from a cultural vantage point.
Gender identity develops early in childhood and is reinforced by the process of
socialization. That process, explicated by Kupers, teaches gender-appropriate
behaviors and attitudes to young children, specifying normal or proper gender roles for
men and women (158). Clyde W. Franklin II, in Men and Society, agrees that gender
is a social construction based on any given societys concepts of what it means to be
masculine or feminine, calling gender roles those behaviors defined by society as
appropriately masculine and/or feminine (8). The socialization process delineates
appropriate behavior per gender role and also sets the boundaries of sex role behaviors
considered permissible.
Definition of Culture
In Beyond Culture. Edward T. Hall pares the definition of culture down to its
basic components, a series of situational models for behavior and thought (10).
12


Hecht, Collier and Ribeau believe, [c]ulture is an interpretive process that manifests
itself in code, conversation, and community. . . (34). Cultural groups, provide
criteria for evaluating appropriate and effective communication. Inherent in a cultural
system are notions of what it takes to perform the culture by following norms and
interacting with in-group and out-group members (25). Leroy S. Harms specifies
that culture is manifested by commonly shared behaviors and that such culturally
engendered behaviors are learned, transmitted from generation to generation by
habits of child rearing (32). Member of a culture, then, share learned, common
behaviors.
Leith Mullings maintains that culture is comprised of the symbols and values
that create the ideological frame of reference through which people attempt to deal
with the circumstances in which they find themselves (13). Mullings thus establishes
the present tense aspect of culture, as well as its potential mutability. If the
circumstances of existence are altered, cultural symbols and values will change and a
current culture will emerge.
The nature of the problem thus far delineated in Chapter 1 is that the
propensity for direct translation of findings from the field of gender communication to
all men and all women is a flawed approach. Cultural and gender biases in research
designs have not produced integrative understanding of the interaction of both culture
and gender as interactive variables in the production of specific communication
13


behaviors. The definitions of ethnicity, gender and culture will be utilized to
investigate whether distinct patterns of communication can be specified as primarily
gender-linked. The communication behaviors of the two groups chosen for study,
African American women and Caucasian American women, will be compared in order
to examine whether gender alone is responsible for producing known communication
behaviors for either group. In Chapter 2, a literature review will demonstrate the
current tenets of the field of gender communication, when culture is not a stated
variable of study, and the communication behaviors ascribed to men and women
without regard to cultural affiliation will be discussed. Chapter 3 will detail the
process of socialization and the cultural transmission of norms of gender-appropriate
behavior, specify the differences in the cultural values socialized by the African
American culture and the Caucasian American culture and discuss the link between
those values and specific behaviors exhibited by members of both cultures. Chapter 4
details, through literature review, African American communication behaviors,
demonstrating that the patterns of communication exhibited by African American
women are the result of their socialization in the African American culture and that
those behaviors are different than the behaviors specified in Chapter 2 as gender
specific for women. Chapter 5 offers suggestions for future research directions and
applications.
14


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
In this chapter a review of the literature regarding gender communication
behaviors will reveal masculine and feminine verbal and nonverbal communication
behaviors. The primary focus of Chapter 2 is to establish the communication
behaviors purported to be linked to gender alone, and ethnicity and culture as variables
will be treated in Chapters 3 and 4. Verbal behaviors examined are language use and
style, and conversational organization and content. Nonverbal behaviors examined are
skill at encoding/decoding encompassing expressiveness and emotional display, and
eye contact/gaze behavior.
Current research and writing regarding gender communication behaviors are
based on the tenet that the communication behaviors of men and women are distinctly
different from each other, allied to gender. Specific behaviors and styles are ascribed
to men and women and a host of adjectives repeatedly applied to the styles of men and
women. Mens communication, as specified in the literature review that follows, is
said to be strong, direct, concerned with task orientation, less grammatically correct
with a smaller range of vocabulary, non-emotional, non-expressive and representative
of the status quo. Womens communication, also as specified in the literature review
that follows, is said to be weak, indirect, concerned with interpersonal orientation,
15


grammatically more correct with a large vocabulary, emotional, expressive and
different. Whether this dichotomy is representative of men and women when cultural
factors are considered is the focus of this paper.
The theoretical basis for studying the differences in language usage by gender
and/or culture may be found in the work of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, who
hypothesize that language structures perception, that it not only describes events, but
actually shapes and defines them. Sapir contends:
Human beings do not live in the objective world alone ... but are very much at
the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of
expression for their society ... No two languages are ever sufficiently similar
to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which
different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with
different labels attached. (162)
Whorf s influence in the field of language and perception is heralded by Hall, who
states in Beyond Culture:
Whorf s greatest contribution to Western thinking lay in his meticulous
descriptions of the relationship of language to events in a cross-cultural
context. He demonstrated that cultures have unique ways of relating language
to reality of all sorts . Nothing happens in the world of human beings that is
not deeply influenced by linguistic forms. (27)
Demonstrable gender differences in language usage would thus provide the framework
for assessment of different verbal communication behaviors exhibited by women and
men.
16


According to Marlene G. Fine, Fern L. Johnson, M. Sallyanne Ryan and M.
Nawal Lutifiyya, gender has consequences for verbal communication. There are
differences among gender-linked language, gender-situated language, and cross-
gender language (106). Separate mens language and womens language have been
posited by many researchers and this concept is at the heart of the current study of
cross-gender communication. Different language features and usage practiced by men
and women are known to exist in many cultures and the forms of womens language,
while somewhat variable, are widespread (Lakoff, Talking Power 202). The question
under consideration is whether the same separate patterns labeled mens speech and
womens speech can be shown to exist by definition, concept and behavior, in both
African American and Caucasian American cultures. Most current research is based
on white subjects so it is proper to ask, in a comparative way, if the speech of Black
men and Black women fits the parameters and bears out the theories thus defined
(Thome and Henley 30). A comparative examination of the language of men and
women as well as the language of African Americans and Caucasian Americans is
appropriate to delineate similarities and contrasts. Initially, the definitions of what
constitutes womens speech and mens speech will be explored. This exploration is
based on current claims and theories noted in contemporary literature on the subject.
17


Gender-Linked Behavior in Language Use and Style
Language features may be interpreted as being the result of socialization and
gender role stereotypes. Amy Sheldon argues that language is a powerful part of the
process of gender socialization. As a:
part of culture and an instrument for transmitting and perpetuating implicit,
historically situated, and culture-bound principles of social order and systems
of belief. . [l]anguage functions not only to initiate novices but also to
perpetuate and enforce asymmetrical gendered behavior by means of
reconstructing social relations between and among females and males in
countless ordinary daily conversations over a lifetime. (84)
Gender-appropriate forms of language usage are taught through socialization. In the
process of interactions between men and women, those same forms are repeated and
reinforced within any given culture as proper per gender.
One author whose work is much cited and quoted in the field of linguistic
studies about gender communication patterns is Robin Lakoff. In Language and
Womens Place, she delineates her methodology and theory. She describes her
research methodology as introspective, an examination of her speech and that of her
acquaintances, an educated, white, middle-class group, analyzed through her
intuitions (4-5). Lakoff perceives her work to be a starting point, an indicator of
direction for further research. She feels that the subgroup used for data is as worthy
of study as any other subgroup and that the majority of claims made will hold for the
majority of speakers of English; that. . much may ... be universal (5). In positing
18


the claim of universality, Lakoff suggests that womens language will not demonstrate
cultural influences and that findings for the subgroup studied will be applicable for
other subgroups.
While introspection and intuition must be held suspect as viable research
methods, Lakoff s claims are of interest to scholars in the study of gender
communication behaviors. Her work has been reviewed by many other authors, with
both agreement and disagreement as the end result. Lakoff details how women use the
language differently than men, and suggests that women are at a disadvantage in
conversing with men. Womens language contains lexical differences such as fine
discrimination in vocabulary (as for colors), less forceful expletives and the use of
trivial adjectives. Womens language contains syntactical differences such as tag
questions and compound request forms, and different intonation and supersegmental
patterns such as the declarative answer to a question that uses rising intonation as if to
seek approval (5-19). Lakoff also mentions womens greater usage of hedges and
intensive forms, hypercorrect grammar, and the superpolite forms: please and thank
you (53-55). She characterizes the overall effect of womens language as submerging
a womans personal identity, by denying her the means of expressing herself strongly,
on the one hand, and encouraging expressions that suggest triviality in subject matter
and uncertainty about it. . . (7). Thus, the specific forms of language usage taught
to women result in distinctly recognizable linguistic behaviors.
19


Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter concur that women use less precise
language and less profanity than men. Women are more frequently interrupted than
men, are better active listeners than men because they interrupt less and use
conversational devices such as questions to keep the conversation going. Men are
more likely to perceive questions as requests for information rather than
conversational encouragers. While women often use conversation as an opportunity
to discuss personal problems and experiences, men do not discuss personal problems
with each other from the framework of reassurance and empathy. Men are more likely
to assume the role of expert and offer advice (171-172). Edgar A. Gregersens cross-
cultural study of one hundred languages also leads him to the conclusion that indeed,
swearing is generally considered a mans style . women swear considerably less
often and less violently than men (4). The assessment of womens language as weak
hinges on the definition of strong language as precise, assertive, even profane.
Judy Cornelia Pearson, Lynn H. Turner and William Todd-Mancillas report,
through extensive literature review, the following differences in mens and womens
language: men and women have distinct vocabularies in the areas of color names and
differentiation, sexual discussion and anatomical references and the use of profanity;
women use more intensifiers, hedges and disclaimers than men; both men and women
use verbal fillers, but for different reasons (women to avoid silence in conversation,
men to maintain the floor and not relinquish their speaking turn); women use more
20


grammatical forms and engage in hypercorrection more than men (110-113). Thome
and Henley have synthesized the work of many researchers in order to paint a
composite portrait of the landscape of womens speech. As they write in Difference
and Dominance: An Overview of Language, Gender, and Society, womens speech
has been characterized as less obtrusive, less intense, filled with hesitation, more polite
and grammatically correct, and more emotionally expressive than the speech of men
(16-26). Both language content and usage are specified as different for men and
women, resulting in the concept of two distinct spheres, mens speech and womens
speech.
Samovar and Porter feel that women use hedges and tag questions in order to
avoid having to take a strong stand or to keep from appearing too direct or forceful
(170). While Jennifer Coates agrees that women use more hedges and questioning
forms than men do, she feels that these linguistic devices represent a strength rather
than a weakness in womens communication forms because they demonstrate a
preference for a collaborative floor rather than single, one-at-a-time turn taking
organization. By the use of hedges and questions, women seek to minimize the
distance between participants and maintain the collaborative floor (152-202). Coates
distinguishes the individual one-at-a-time floor from the collaborative floor, stating:
In a collaborative floor, the group takes precedence over the individual; by
phrasing utterances as questions rather than statements, speakers allow for the
expression of other views and for the participation of others. Questions permit
constant cross-referencing across the group. (202)
21


Thus, womens use of hedges and tag questions can be related to function, though
researchers disagree as to whether or not the function of hedges and tag questions is
situational.
In the arena of style, William S. Howell states, [wjomen as compared to men
have a questioning tone, use more rising inflections, and seem to seek support and
corroboration. Men use more downward inflections, conveying certainty (204).
Karlyn Kohrs Campbell argues that there is a feminine style of rhetoric, consistent
with traditional norms of femininity (440). According to Campbell:
Consistent with their allegedly poetic and emotional natures, women tend to
adopt associative, dramatic, and narrative modes of development, as opposed
to deductive forms of organization. The tone tends to be personal and
somewhat tentative, rather than objective or authoritative. (440)
In addition to language content and language usage, the stylistic elements of language
have been noted to be different for women and men.
Suzette Haden Elgin, who studied conversational interactions in mixed gender
dyads, feels that men and women speak different dialects rather than different
languages and she explores the possibility that different masculine and feminine
perceptions of reality exist and are reflected in the way men and women use language.
In claiming, [ljanguage is far more than the words people write and the words people
say, Elgin points to gender differences in the connotative meanings of language (20).
22


Theodore Reik expressed a similar attitude regarding gender differences in the
connotative definitions of language when he stated:
Men and women speak different languages even when they use the same
words. The misunderstandings between men and women are thus much less a
result of linguistic and semantic differences, but of emotional divergences when
the two sexes use identical expressions. (15)
This demonstrates that differences in the way men and women utilize language exist in
the assignment of connotative meaning, as well as the differences noted in denotative
vocabulary and stylistic elements, and suggests different perceptual frames of
reference.
Anthony Mulac and Torburg Louisa Mundell speculate that even if gender-
based language patterns are noted for spoken language, such differences should not be
apparent in written discourse because standards of writing used by educators at
primary and secondary levels would, presumably, be the same for both genders.
However, as their studies indicate, gender differences in adult written discourse do
exist and can be distinguished by untrained observers. The differences noted in
language features are similar to differences found for spoken discourse and consistent
with socially held gender stereotypes.
In The Cinderella Complex: Womens Hidden Fear of Independence. Colette
Dowling suggests that the traditional female role to which women are conditioned
encourages them to exhibit behaviors indicative of powerlessness and weakness.
23


Cultural conditioning includes the manifestation of stereotypically feminine
communication patterns and behaviors. Lea P. Stewart, Pamela J. Cooper and Sheryl
A Friedley are of the school of thought that gender based communication differences
occur because of cultural conditioning that specifies male dominance and female
submission. They claim.
The deferential style of communication is closely associated with femininity.
For the most part, men use a variety of communication behaviors to develop
control in their relationships with others. Because controlling communications
is important to males, males are expected to use more verbally-aggressive
persuasive message strategies than females do . Females are expected to be
less verbally aggressive and to use more prosocial message strategies. . (57)
Culturally sanctioned gender roles that specify dominant and submissive power
relationships between men and women are therefore seen as a causative factor in the
feminine use of deferential forms of communication.
Men and women show preference by gender for certain compliance gaining
strategies. Judith M. Dallinger and Dale Hample find men less likely to use prosocial
strategies and more accepting of negative strategies such as threats, negative expertise
and negative esteem, while women show preference for positive strategies such as
altruism and promise (43-9). B. Christine Shea details similar findings. In her study of
mediation tactics, she reports that men were more likely to select substantive or direct
tactics such as direct attempts at pressuring parties into ending a dispute, while
women as mediators show greater reflexive skills such as establishing common
24


ground, nonverbal sensitivity, and clarifying information for others (349-50). Ana
Maria Rossi and William R. Todd-Mancillas studied whether there are apparent gender
differences in management styles of men and women and in particular, whether men
and women managers use the same style for resolving personnel conflicts. They
contend, women may be more openly communicative in their management style than
men, while men are more inclined to use power as a means of resolving disputes
j
with female employee but not with male employees (100-101). Gender differences
noted in choice of compliance gaining strategies and management styles are reflective
of gender differences in language content, usage and stylistic elements.
Andrew S. Rancer and Kathi J. Dierks-Stewart found that trait
argumentativeness does not correlate to biological gender, but correlates to
psychological gender, as measured by the BSRI (Bern Sex Role Inventory).
Instrumental (masculine) individuals, operationally defined as, more assertive,
forceful, aggressive, and competitive were found to be:
unlikely to avoid situations perceived as argumentative. Conversely,
individuals classified as expressive (feminine) have different self-
characterizations and value more social attributes such as tenderness,
gentleness, and sensitivity. As such, this group whose compassion and more
pronounced interpersonal orientation is manifest may be more likely to avoid
situations they perceive as argumentative. (26)
The concept of psychological gender allows the previously discussed characterizations
of womens language as less intense, less obtrusive, more deferential, and womens
25


preferred compliance gaining strategies as more prosocial, to be tempered with the
awareness that not all women may be classified as equally expressive, nor all men
characterized as equally instrumental.
If one accepts the idea that language usage is determined by a dominant-
submissive structure, i.e. that women are socialized to be submissive, one will perceive
the language of women to reflect submission. Proponents of the dominant-submissive
school of thought regarding linguistics posit that language usage reflects the social
order, with those in subordinate positions always being more deferential, more polite,
demonstrating more self-disclosure and speaking more carefully and correctly than
those in positions of power. Therefore features of mens and womens language do
not occur because of gender per se, but because of ones position in the social order.
If that is the case, one might expect research to indicate that the language of women
and Blacks, both subordinate groups, is alike in terms of features and behaviors.
However, it will be demonstrated that white women and Black women, both
subordinate groups, do not necessarily exhibit commonality with regard to language
features and style or linguistic strategies and behaviors.
Gender-Linked Behavior in Conversational Organization and Content
In the study of the process of conversation many authors have noted
differences in the communication behaviors of men and women. The assessment of
26


interruptive behavior in conversation is often based on the model of conversational
turn-taking proposed by Harvey Sacks, Emanual A. Schegloff and Gail Jefferson.
They feel that speech exchange systems are organized to ensure that only one person
speaks at a time and that change of speakers occurs with regularity. Their model
specifies a rule set that is locally managed to effect transitions between speakers.
Three possibilities exist: that the current speaker selects the next speaker through
techniques such as addressing by name or title or direct question; that the next speaker
may self-select, in which case more than one person may begin to speak with the right
to a conversational turn being relegated to the first starter; or in the absence of self-
selection, the current speaker has the right, but not the obligation, to continue to speak
(696-735). Using the Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson model, Don H. Zimmerman and
Candace West found that men interrupt women more frequently than they interrupt
other men, and more frequently than women interrupt men (105-129). Howell also
observes men to be the more frequent interrupters (203). In follow-up lab studies of
mixed-sex conversational partners, West finds the same gender-related pattern of deep
interruption, defined as, instances of simultaneous speech which are initiated well
within the internal structure of a current speakers utteranceviolating that speakers
rights to the tumspace (86). Possible responses to deep interruption are retrieval
not yielding the floor, and nonretrievalyielding the floor. Though women are more
frequently interrupted than men, West finds no gender difference in the responses to
27


interruption. Both men and women are more likely to employ nonretrieval and yield
the floor to the interrupter (90-93). Although Zimmerman and West clearly note that
power and dominance are significant aspects of interaction between Blacks and whites
as well as between men and women, they go on to state, there are definite and
patterned ways in which the power and dominance enjoyed by men in other contexts
are exercised in their conversation interaction with women (105). Since men are
posited to exhibit more intermptive behavior than women, they are, presumably, more
likely to be interrupted by another man than by a woman. Thus, the noted masculine
response of yielding the floor to an interrupter is not explicated by the idea of
conversational dominance alone. The one-speaker-at-a-time conversational
organization pattern is also a factor in determining both the definition and the act of
intermptive behavior.
Gender differences occur in conversational topic selection and treatment
(Deakins 173-4). Women initiate more topics but men, using silence and/or delayed
minimal response, exert more influence as to which topics will be attended to (Howell
203; Zimmerman and West 129). Men rarely share personal details in conversation as
women do (Howell 204), and men devote less time to each topic while women treat
each topic in more depth (Samovar and Porter 171). In You Just Dont Understand:
Women and Men in Conversation. Deborah Tannen states that women speak of details
in their conversations more so than men do. She reasons that the telling of details is a
28


way of establishing intimacy and connection in conversations (115). She reiterates this
point in Talking Voices: Repetition. Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational
Discourse, noting that although, the use of details is most frequently considered a
conversational liability . women are more inclined than men to report details of daily
events and conversation to friends and intimates (148). The focus on details in
womens conversation may provide access to more intimate exchanges and thus be
related to assessments that womens language is more expressive, as discussed earlier.
Gender-Linked Behavior in Nonverbal Encoding and Decoding
Virginia P. Richmond, James C. McCroskey and Steven K. Payne, in
Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations, maintain:
A persons nonverbal behavior communicates the beliefs, attitudes and values
of that persons culture to others . nonverbal behaviors are not pancultural.
Most meanings attributed to nonverbal behavior are based upon the attributers
culture. The motivation for given behaviors is not universal, it varies from
culture to culture. Thus, the meaning we can reasonably attribute to any given
behavior must be culturally determined. Nonverbal behavior is differentially
learned from one culture to the next. (294)
Culturally held stereotypes affect perceived gender differences in nonverbal behavior.
Nancy J. Briton and Judith A. Hall have demonstrated that such perceived differences
correlate not only to stereotypes of how men and women should behave, but to
observed differences reported in research. Just as gender-appropriate language is
taught and thus reproduces the relationship between men and women, nonverbal
29


behavior corresponds to culturally sanctioned behaviors for each gender. In the
enactment of nonverbal behaviors, those behaviors are reinforced.
Pearson, Turner and Todd-Mancillas find verbal assertiveness, manifested by
verbal intensity, talkativeness and an open style of communicating to be a positive
attribute for all communicators (184). However, they observe that, our culture
imposes stereotypes on mens and womens assertive and aggressive communication
behaviors. Men are expected to err on the side of communicating too aggressively,
while women are expected to communicate nonassertively (186). Cultural sanctions
are thus partly responsible for the assessment of women as less assertive
communicators. Assertive and aggressive behavior is linked to lack of emotion and
thus, men may be characterized as less emotional communicators because of cultural
value structures that espouse assertive behavior as masculine.
Franklin, in Men and Society, also details the American concept of permissible
and/or desirable traits per gender, specifying, worldliness, dominance, aggressiveness,
and nonemotionalism are considered to be components of masculinity . while
talkativeness, gentleness, dependence, and expressiveness are perceived by many as
feminine traits (9). In tracing the development of the modem conceptualization of
masculinity, E. Anthony Rotundo references the historical antecedent for the lack of
emotional expressiveness noted in modem definitions of masculinity in his discussion
of intimate friendships between young men. According to Rotundo, such friendships
30


were often characterized as childish and a participant in such an intimate attachment
knew the tenderness, the dependence, and the expressiveness that these relationships
evoked in him were qualities at odds with the independence and emotional austerity
expected of a grown man (87). Henley draws a different dividing line between those
who are emotionally expressive and those who are not. Henley claims:
The cultures of most poor and ethnic peoples in our societies, and those of
women and children, allow for a broader and deeper range of emotional display
than that of adult white males, and members of those cultures are commonly
depicted as uncontrolled emotionally. (190)
The cultural sanction against emotionalism and childishness, noted in historical
reference to the development of the modem definition of masculinity, is linked to the
assignment of the sphere of nonassertive, emotional communication styles to women,
rather than to men.
Robert Rosenthal, Judith A. Hall, M. Robin DiMatteo, Peter L. Rogers and
Dane Archer developed and refined an instrument for measuring skill at both encoding
and decoding nonverbal communication: the PONS Test (Profile of Nonverbal
Sensitivity). In their extensive review of both the literature in the field of nonverbal
communication and their documented results, they note the gender effect in nonverbal
communication skill. Women demonstrate an advantage at both encoding and
decoding nonverbal cues (150-173). Their assessment is supported by other research.
31


Patricia Nollers research into the nonverbal behavior patterns of marriage
partners delineates distinct differences in nonverbal behavior regarding the delivery of
positive and negative messages to the partner. While wives used different, clearly
discriminated behaviors to accompany the delivery of positive and negative messages,
husbands used the same behavior to accompany both types of messages. Thus, Noller
judges wives to be better than husbands at encoding appropriate nonverbal messages
that match the verbal content (31-59). In assessing the style of mens friendships,
Drury Sherrod notes that men practice less self-disclosure and rely far less on
nonverbal cues such as gestures and facial expression in order to understand their
friends. In contrast, women report that they frequently utilize nonverbal information in
understanding their friends (220-221). It is difficult to assess whether men use less
nonverbal input because they are not good at reading nonverbal signals, or whether
men are not good at interpreting nonverbal information because they do not practice it.
Jack D. Balswick, in The Inexpressive Male, admits that it is difficult to
measure expressiveness, but has constructed and administered a series of Likert-type
instruments aimed at measuring both verbal and non-verbal expression of emotion.
Profound gender differences are noted with men found to be less expressive than
women in areas of amount and content. Balswick feels that socialization and family
role models contribute to the idea that men should be less expressive. Deborah
Borisoff also feels that self-disclosure is gender related and [m]en more readily
32


disclose views and attitudes while [w]omen are more likely to reveal fears and
feelings. Additionally, women receive more disclosure from others. . .(21). High
levels of self-disclosure and expressiveness may be more possible for women because
they are less restricted by cultural sanctions in both the sending and receiving of
nonverbal communication.
Stewart, Cooper and Friedley claim that women are better at both encoding
and decoding nonverbal communication, particularly nonverbal cues that facilitate
relationship maintenanceempathic facial expression, head nods that indicate
agreement and support, and touch to seek affiliative responses (68). Ronald E.
Riggio finds that women exhibit superior skill in spontaneous and posed sending of
emotions through facial cues, and have a corresponding sensitivity to facial
expressions of emotion (9). Men are more skilled with certain aspects of emotional
control and regulation, and appear better able to stifle the spontaneous expression of
emotion (10). Using self-report and slide viewing, H. L. Wagner, Ross Buck and
Meg Winterbotham conducted studies of nonverbal expression and communication of
emotion, specifically facial display of emotion. Women were found to be more
nonverbally expressive of emotion through facial display and communicated greater
strength of emotion verbally. Cultural expectations of gender-appropriate nonverbal
display correspond to actual behaviors for men and women.
33


The cultural expectation that women are emotionally expressive
communicators is underscored by Pearson, Turner and Todd-Mancillas. In Gender
and Communication, they note the extensive research that indicates that women reveal
more emotion in their facial expressions. Women are noted to use smiles as an
interactional device, a nonverbal signal to a conversational partner to continue (134-
137). Stewart, Cooper and Friedley concur that women smile more often and return
more smiles than men (76). In studies of mixed gender conversational dyads, Susan J.
Frances found female subjects did more smiling and laughing and paid more visual
attention to their partners than did male subjects (533), and Richmond, McCroskey
and Payne feel [wjomen smile more than men when a woman and a man greet each
other and when the two conversing are moderately acquainted (237). Women are
expected to smile more than men and indeed do so.
Gender-Linked Behavior in Eve Gaze and Eve Contact
Mark L. Knapp and Judith A. Hall delineate four functions of eye gaze:
regulating the flow of communication and establishing turn-taking behavior,
monitoring feedback to ascertain attentiveness on the part of the listener, reflecting
cognitive activity as is the case when both speaker and listener look away when they
are thinking of something else, and expressing emotion. Patterns of eye gaze and
34


mutual gazing may also help to determine the relationship between interactants, i.e.
dominant/subordinate status (298-305). Richmond, McCroskey and Payne contend:
Males and females have similar functions for eye behavior; however, their use
of eye behavior differs ... in terms of amount, frequency and duration.
Research reveals that women look more at the other person in a conversation
than men do . look more at one another than men do and hold eye contact
longer with each other than men do with each other. (237)
Turn-taking may be regulated in part by strategy signals such as head turning or eye
gaze toward the listener (Duncan 158-160). Interruptive patterns could, therefore, be
related to gaze patterns and it could be argued that mens interruption of women
occurs in part because of the nonverbal signal of eye gaze from the woman, since
women do more gazing at their partners.
In representative studies of communication related to language use and style,
conversational organization and content, nonverbal encoding and decoding, and eye
contact/gaze patterns, gender related communication behavior is noted and
documented, showing men as assertive but impersonal communicators, and women as
passive but empathetic communicators. The literature review in Chapter 2 does not
indicate if and how culture and ethnicity may be related to communication behaviors.
The relationship between culture and communication and the socialization process will
be discussed in Chapter 3.
35


CHAPTER 3
THE INFLUENCE OF CULTURE ON COMMUNICATION
Chapter 3 will examine the socialization process. While the process of
socialization is the same for African Americans and Caucasian Americans, at issue is
whether Blacks and whites operate from the same culturally sanctioned, gender-
appropriate behavioral basis, acquired through the socialization process.
Observed gender-linked behavior is the result of gender role expectations. If
gender role expectations are different for Caucasian Americans and African
Americans, their behavior will differ as well. Each acts to fulfill cultural expectations
and exhibit appropriate gender behavior. In the traditional Western approach to
gender role parameters, what is prescribed behavior for one gender is proscribed
behavior for the other. The dichotomy is rigorous and complete and instrumental
behavior, as prescribed for males, will not be considered appropriate for females.
Translated to the communication arena, feminine communication behavior will not
appropriately include the realm of assertive, dominant, active communication, as
prescribed for masculine communicators. However, as will be discussed, gender role
expectations are not the same for African Americans and Caucasian Americans.
36


The Relationship of Culture and Communication
With regard to culture, Karl W. Deutsch has stated:
culture [is] based on the community of communication, consisting of socially
stereotyped patterns of behavior, including habits of language and thought, and
carried on through various forms of social learning, particularly through
methods of child rearing standardized in this culture. (37)
Along similar theoretical lines, Rene Dubos has constructed the framework for the
relationship between culture and communication in So Human an Animal, defining
culture as, the expression of mans responses to the physical and human environment.
These responses take the form of behavioral patterns and emotional relationships as
well as the development of utilitarian objects (38). In discussing the impact of culture
in Beyond Culture. Hall perceives that culture does more than direct specific behaviors
and define standards of ethics. He feels that culture also directs the organization of
the psyche, which in turn has a profound effect upon the ways people look at things,
behave politically, make decisions, order priorities, organize their lives, and last but
not least, how they think (186). Culture thus specifies not only ones behavior but
also ones relationship to other members of the culture.
The relationship between culture and communication is discussed by Colin
Cherry, who maintains:
Strictly the word communication comes from the Latin communicomeaning
share. Communication is essentially a social process. Sharing does not mean
simply passing something, some sign, from one person to another, it implies
also that this sign is mutually accepted, recognized and held in common
ownership or use by each person. (2)
37


Harms specifies two predefinitional statements for discussing the relationship between
culture and communication. First of all, [t]he cultural background of a communicator
influences almost every detail and every pattern of his communication activities, and
secondly Harms notes, [cjommunication between communicators of similar cultural
background is usually easier, more reliable, faster, safer, etc. than is communication
between communicators of dissimilar cultural backgrounds (30). David A. Victor
states, [cjulture affects virtually every aspect of life and:
shapes social organization, of which formal and informal views of proper and
improper sex roles form an important subset. In almost every culture, people
learn to communicate differently with those of the same sex than they do with
those of the opposite sex. (30)
In addition to providing the framework for distinguishing appropriate gender roles,
culture is also seen to be responsible for learned communication behaviors displayed
by each gender.
Socialization
Given the omnipresent nature of culture, the experience of life itself can be
seen as culture bound and the method of transmission of culture, socialization, is of
interest. The process of cultural transmission is the same in African American and
Caucasian American cultures, but what is transmitted differs, resulting in different
cultural values and gender role expectations. Because of the link between culture and
38


communication, different communication behaviors may be expected. First the
process of socialization will be examined.
By Geert Hofstedes definition, socialization is, the process by which culture
patterns are transferred from one generation to the next... the stability of sex role
patterns is almost entirely a matter of socialization (265). There is widespread
agreement that socialization may occur through the influence of family, the influence
of a society as a whole, i .e. through peer contact, and to some extent through the
influence of media. Peer socialization is powerful because of its immediacy and
because such persons typically hold sanctioning power over us, and [socialization
by media delivers its effects through repetition (Mayo and Henley 6). Individual
socialization to a given set of cultural values is accomplished through many channels.
The Influence of the Family
Melvin N. Wilson, Laura P. Kohn, Judith Curry-El and Ivora D. Hinton
strongly support the idea that family, and particularly the mother, is the most
important influence in the socialization of the child (451-2). Harms also sees the
family, particularly the mother, as responsible for the childs developing
communication skill and claims that family communication patterns teach the child
how to communicate with other members of the community (66-7). Though the
socialization functions of media and peer contact may well be given their due, there is
39


a large body of work that claims family, and particularly the mother, to be the largest
single influence on the individual in the socialization process.
Howard C. Stevenson, Jr. feels that the family is the most important factor in
ethnic socialization, that ethnic identity is acquired through the cultural transmission of
values and beliefs that takes place within the family (447). The National Association
of Black Social Workers (NABSW) opposes transracial adoption on the premise that
the family is the most important entity in the socialization of the child. The
Associations perspective, documented in its position paper on transracial adoption, is
that white families cannot adequately provide the cultural socialization necessary to
Black children because, culture cannot be bought or sold, secured from a book, nor
learned from watching television, or attending a parenting class. Culture is best and
most effectively taught by those who have lived the experience. . . (8). The
transmission of cultural values related to ethnic identity is seen to be achieved through
direct means, within the family circle.
In the study of the family socialization process, the work of Talcott Parsons
and Robert F. Bales has been highly influential. They theorize that the family, like
other social structures, is a system. Within that system they delineate the axis of the
instrumental and expressive roles, with instrumental assigned to the masculine and
expressive assigned to the feminine. Instrumental is seen as task oriented, while
expressive is emotion oriented. A further delineation of the difference between the
40


two roles is offered by Morris Zelditch, Jr. who specifies that the instrumental or task
leader role is associated with a system of behaviors such as, giving suggestions,
directions, opinions, and with certain attitudes such as, an inhibition of emotions and
the ability to accept hostile reactions from others in the process of pressing a point.
The expressive role is characterized by a set of behaviors and attitudes such as, the
expression of emotions, supportive behavior to others, the desire to please and be
liked, and a more generalized liking for other members resulting in expressive
activities that Zelditch defines as, laughing, playing, release of inhibited emotions, the
expression of affection for each other, a warmth and a symbolization of common
membership through supportive, accepting behavior (309-11). It is clear that the
original content of this work referred specifically to the American nuclear family. It is
possible that this bifurcated approach has limitations when applied to other non-
nuclear family and social structures although the theoretical aspects of the sharp
distinction between women as expressive and men as task oriented can be noted in
more contemporary literature applied to both the socialization process and
communication behaviors of men and women.
Franklins approach represents the traditional split between masculine
instrumental orientation and feminine expressive orientation. He suggests:
Fathers . interact with sons differently from daughters. The difference
continues throughout childhood with fathers encouraging sons to be active in
play and setting different standards for them than for daughters. Fathers
41


emphasize task performance for boys while concentrating more on the
interpersonal aspects of learning for girls. (Men and Society 199)
John L. McAdoo does not find that this is necessarily the case for Black fathers.
While the expectations of Black and white fathers for their sons is similar, and maturity
and independent behavior are encouraged, the parenting style of Black fathers leads to
high levels of competence and independence for Black girls as well, in comparison to
white girls (260-262). Thus, differences noted between African American women and
Caucasian women may be engendered in childhood, in the process of being socialized
to different cultural value structures.
In their work on intraethnic and interethnic communication competence,
Hecht, Collier and Ribeau note that while both African American men and women
value expressiveness, there are gender differences. However, they are not the same
gender differences noted for Caucasian Americans. Expressiveness can refer to both
verbal and nonverbal communication, can mean both the expressions of emotions and
the verbalization of ideas and thoughts. African American men and women indicate
that appropriate expressiveness is tied to situation and context (131-33). Rosenthal et
al take note of cultural differences in PONS performance, in cross-cultural
comparisons, but admit very few data are available in the examination of ethnic
differences within the United States (230). Assessments of women as better
42


nonverbal communicators cannot, therefore, be applied to all men and women without
regard to ethnicity.
Sheila Kitzinger places the onus of socialization directly on the mother.
Kitzinger defines the parameters of the mothers role in socialization of the child in
Women as Mothers and states, [traditionally womans most important role has been
that of a disseminator of culture through mothering . She introduces the world to
her children and teaches the basic differences in sex roles. ... (46). Since mothering
is seen as an important factor in cultural transmission and dissemination, the role of
mother is of profound interest. As a mother, a woman sits at the apex of the
socialization process as both initiator and recipient. As the initiator of the socialization
of her children she may pass on cultural tenets of behavior intact, but she also has the
capacity to be a force for immediate cultural modification, through omission or
alteration of prevailing cultural standards. As a recipient of socialization, she
embodies her cultures ideology of womanhood, motherhood and appropriate gender
role behavior. If the standards of mothering and the concept of a good mother are
different for African American and Caucasian American mothers, it is probable that the
behaviors engendered in their respective children will differ.
The definition of a good mother varies greatly, not only by culture, but by
historical epoch as well, according to Shari L. Thurer. Maxine Margolis agrees, and in
Mothers and Such: Views of American Women and Why They Changed, details some
43


of the cultural differences and historical changes undergone by the concept of good
mother. Margolis states, motherhood as a full-time job can be questioned from a
historical and cross-cultural perspective . child rearing does not have to be a full-
time maternal job unless it is deemed so by cultural fiat (105). Black women and
white women have not experienced the same historical influences and the cultural
expectations of the role of good mother for each group reflect that historical
divergence.
Herbert J. Gans, in Subcultures and Class, proposed that, in America, one of
the major differences between classes is that of family structure and that the female-
headed household is purely a response to poverty. Gans described what he called the
lower-class subculture as, distinguished by the female-based family and the marginal
male. Although a family circle may also exist, it includes only female relatives (447).
Gans thinly veiled disapproval of such a family structure is apparent in his comparison
of it to the traditional nuclear family structure found in the middle- and upper-class
subcultures (447-453). Although Gans ascribes the matrifocal, female-headed
household strictly to economic class, there is much evidence to indicate that the
matrifocal family structure, noted in the African American culture, is not a response to
poverty, but rather a result of cultural history.
In The Meaning of Motherhood in Black Culture and Black Mother/Daughter
Relationships, Patricia Hill Collins has defined the differences in the perspectives of
44


whites and Blacks regarding the concept of the good mother. The white perspective,
as Collins depicts it, rests on three themes. First of all, mothering is perceived as
something that takes place within the confines of the nuclear family. Secondly,
mothering takes place within strictly segregated sex-roles, with the mother assuming
almost total responsibility for the rearing of children and tending to their emotional
needs, while providing economically for the child is perceived as the proper role for
the father. Finally, Collins notes the presumed link between mothering and economic
dependence on a male, which has led to the idea that motherhood can or should be a
full-time occupation. In contrast, the Black perspective of motherhood is framed by
the idea of collective responsibility with less rigid sex-role expectations about
providing for the child emotionally and economically. This perspective gives rise to
the presumption that a woman will work outside the home in order to provide for her
children and that she will be able to rely on a strong network of support and sharing of
child-care responsibilities with by other women in her family and community (3-10).
Thus, the cultural values that define a good mother can be seen to be different for
African American women and Caucasian American women.
Kitzinger speaks of the potential differences in the mothering experience due to
the different family structures apparent in Black and white families. She claims that
while the nuclear family fulfills sexual, economic and reproductive functions (38), it
also provides an isolated experience where no other adults share responsibility for the
45


child and parental control is not moderated and checked by the opinions of others
(40). She feels that the urban, white, middle-class family is especially isolated from
any other kin, while in the extended family blood ties between parents and children
and brothers and sisters are stressed (40). For this reason, Kitzinger advocates a
culturally centered view in the study of motherhood and the functions fulfilled by one
in the role and suggests:
The advantage of seeing mothering from a cross-cultural vantage point is that
the observer quickly realizes that instead of one ideal of mothering there are
many permutations of the motherhood role. No one of these is universally
right. Each is the product of womens empirical experience in a specific
culture and is finely adjusted to the value system of that society. (231)
The communication behaviors women exhibit as mothers are part of the culturally
sanctioned gender-appropriate behaviors to which they are socialized.
The traditional division between men and women into instrumental and
expressive roles respectively does not apply to the Black family structure, according to
Andrew Billingsley, in Black Families in White America. He defines as instrumental
functions those which maintain the physical and material level of family existence while
expressive functions are those which maintain emotional relationships among family
members (22). Billingsley finds that instrumental and expressive functions are
interrelated and, in the Black family, are not divided along gender lines. Rather, men
and women both perform instrumental and expressive functions (23-33). As a result,
46


gender roles in African American families and gender roles in Caucasian American
families can be expected to differ.
The historical antecedent of gender roles in African American families lies in
African values, where, according to Norma J. Burgess:
African women had a tradition of practical participation in public affairs ... the
profound philosophical ideas that underlay the assignment of separate tasks to
men and women stress the complementary rather than the separate nature of
the tasks at hand. Neither the division of labor nor the nature of the tasks
accomplished implied any superiority . Neutrality in gender roles was a
significant part of the lifestyle of African men and women . Given this
context, the diversity African American women display in their roles
necessitates an understanding of the tradition of female independence and
responsibility within the family and wider kin groups in Africa and the tradition
of female productivity and leadership in the extradomestic or public domain in
African societies. (396-97)
Neutral gender roles are transmitted to African American children since, according to
Castellano B. Turner and Barbara F. Turner:
Afro-American families ... do not define appropriateness of behaviors on the
basis of gender in early childhood. Unlike white children, both female and
male black children are trained to be oriented more toward people rather than
to the physical environment. The range of characteristics to which black
children are socialized (without regard to gender) imply expressive qualities,
i.e., affective qualities important in intimate relationships. White female
children are socialized in a similar direction, but the characteristics encouraged
in white male children may be described as instrumental, i.e., related to
mastery and later to the provider role. (24)
The combination of the historical antecedents noted by Burgess and the early
childhood conditioning which Turner and Turner elucidate results in adult roles in the
family that are more alike than different for African American husbands and wives.
47


Franklin, in Surviving the Institutional Decimation of Black Males: Causes,
Consequences, and Intervention, refers to the more flexible gender roles in the
African American family for both men and women. There is minimal sex-role
polarization, such as that found in more traditional white cultural standards.
Furthermore, he states that Black men do not have expectations about assuming the
traditional male sex role, instead adopting the more androgynous stance predicated for
both Black men and Black women within Black cultural norms (161-164). Therefore,
assessments of communication behavior are best accomplished within a cultural frame
of reference regarding masculine and feminine gender role standards.
The values transmitted to Black children differ from those transmitted to white
children. A. Wade Boykin and Forrest D. Toms feel that the socialization of Black
children is not the active transmission of rules and value structures, but rather a tacit
cultural conditioning process where distinct Black cultural styles and motifs are
enacted in the family and passed to the children. Black children are socialized to be
bicultural and this presents a special challenge to Black parents as they expose their
children to mainstream values yet maintain a Black cultural focus as well (42). The
socialization process in the Black family includes elements unique and distinct from the
socialization process in the white family such as preparing and equipping children to
function in both the dominant culture and in the Black culture, as well as instilling a
sense of racial pride.
48


Jean S. Phinney and Mary Jane Rotheram have called the process whereby one
obtains an ethnic identity ethnic socialization and define it as developmental
processes by which children acquire the behaviors, perceptions, values, and attitudes
of an ethnic group, and come to see themselves and others as members of such
groups (11). As Marie Ferguson Peters specifies, racial socialization is necessary
in order to raise physically and emotionally healthy children who are Black in a
society in which being Black has negative connotations (161). In addition to instilling
cultural values and a sense of racial pride, the minority family provides the context
where the individual first becomes aware of and begins to grapple with the
significance of racism and discrimination (Jackson, McCullough and Gurin 244-5).
The unique nature of the socialization process within the Black family is due,
therefore, to the need for establishing ethnic identity and the necessity of learning to
function in two cultures.
William Labov, in Sociolinguistic Patterns has defined the concept of a
communication culture, a speech community where a shared set of norms and values
exists that governs the communication patterns of a group. The communication
culture has a distinct understanding of how to communicate, and what the proper uses
and functions of talk are. Men and women may be thought of as communication
cultures, since they often do not share the same ideas about the uses and functions of
49


talk. Blacks and whites may be thought of as communication cultures, since they often
do not share the same ideas about how to talk, in terms of both style and structure.
Samovar and Porter introduce the concept of co-cultures which, exist within a
society but function to varying degrees outside of or differently from the dominant
culture with social realities and values that are different from the dominant cultures
values and realities, reflected in language usage (166). Women and African Americans
each represent distinct co-cultures in the United States and, as Samovar and Porter
advocate, the study of their values and behaviors should proceed through an
examination of their language (166). The study of the language of African American
women will divulge whether they are members of the African American co-culture or
the co-culture of women, as delineated by gender.
William B. Gudykunst and Young Yun Kim depict cultural norms as taking the
guesswork out of social interactions by giving participants a set of expectations about
acceptable and unacceptable behavior (35). Knapp applies the concept of norms to the
communication process and details a communicative norm, a standardized
generalization or rule which defines an expected and/or appropriate range of
communicative behaviors in given social situations ... a shared idea about what ought
to happen ... a probability statement about the expectations for the situation ... and
some communicative norms are unique to a culture, a subculture, or specific
situation (59-60). The examination of cultural norms and values and communication
50


norms will serve to distinguish differences in the communication behaviors of African
American women and Caucasian American women.
African American Cultural Values and Role Expectations
Given the link between culture, communication and the resulting
communication behaviors, an examination of specific differences between Black
women and white women can be conducted, first in terms of cultural values and
secondly in terms of actual communication behavior. This inquiry is based on the
premise that cultural expectations are different and specific for Black women and
white women. Though some expectations apply to both groups by virtue of their
status as women, by and large, commonly held gender expectations were initially
applicable to white women and later, by extension, to Black women. Sociologist
Joyce Ladner alludes to this in Tomorrows Tomorrow: The Black Woman when she
discusses the potential confusion between the terms dominant and strong. Speaking to
the question of whether Black women may rightfully be called dominant, when what
they exhibit is strength, Ladner explains that the misconception, comes from the fact
that women in American society are held to be the passive sex, but the majority of
Black women have, perhaps, never fit this model, and have been liberated from many
of the constraints the society had traditionally imposed on women (46). Bearing in
mind Ladners distinction, an examination of the communication behaviors of Black
51


women as related to gender socialization per cultural expectations of the Black culture
is pertinent.
Black women and white women have not been subject to the same historical
evolution. E. Franklin Frazier posits that, because of the institution of slavery, there
are historical differences in the experiences of Black women and white women,
particularly with regard to the relationships between the genders, patterns of courtship
and marriage and different gender roles (6-19). Black women and white women have
not historically been subject to the same stereotypes. Stereotypes applied to Black
women: Mammy, the good and faithful servant; Jezebel, the whore; and Sapphire, the
matriarch, are unique to them and never applied to white women (Cole 68).
Therefore, the assessment of the communication behaviors of Black women and white
women must include an awareness of their different historical experiences.
The experience of slavery is thought by many to have had an effect on shaping
the cultural expectations of Black women and defining their role within the culture.
Burgess has stated:
For African American women and role development, contrary to what once
were popular beliefs, the womans place for African American women was not
in the home ... To not work outside the home was considered deviant for
African American women. . (399-400)
Expectations for work productivity were the same for male and female slaves, and
Angela Y. Davis argues, [t]he enormous space that work occupies in Black womens
52


lives today follows a pattern established during the very earliest days of slavery (5).
The distinction in female gender role expectations between Black women and white
women had its inception during slavery and continues into modem times. In contrast
to nineteenth-century feminine ideology, Black women who survived slavery are noted
by Davis as having passed on a legacy of hard work, perseverance and self-reliance, a
legacy of tenacity, resistance and insistence on sexual equalityin short, a legacy
spelling out standards for a new womanhood (29). Ideal standards of womanhood
and femininity are linked to the historical evolution of gender role expectations.
Cultural and personal expectations evolved along separate paths for white
women and Black women. The mid-twentieth century debate about the advisability of
wives and mothers working outside the home had little relevance for Black women.
Providing economic support to the family, fulfilling an instrumental role, was, and is,
culturally sanctioned, gender-appropriate behavior for Black women (Thurer 250-
252). Changes in the perceived status of working women meant that [wjhite women
were freer to work outside the home, black women were freer to pursue jobs in fields
besides being maids and domestics (Turner 54). Cheryl Bernadette Leggon suggests
that Black women do not see work as taking something away from the family, but
rather as adding greater stability to it. In comparison to white women, Leggon feels
that Black women, view their careers as consonant rather than dissonant with the
53


maternal role. . (197). Black women may thus feel less guilt and ambivalence about
the effects of their jobs on their children.
Given the social nature of communication, cultural belief structures and
cultural expectations can be shown to influence communication, both in terms of what
is communicated and how it is communicated. By studying whether or not distinct
cultural differences exist between Blacks and whites, speculation can be engendered
about the likelihood that women of both ethnic groups will communicate similarly
because of their shared gender status, without regard for culture. Indeed differences
between the cultures of Blacks and whites have been studied and demonstrated by
many researchers and scholars.
Boykin and Toms refer to A. Wade Boykins distillation of the dimensions of
Black culture, which includes two expressed values that are relevant to this discussion.
The dimension of Expressive Individualism means that spontaneity, uniqueness of self-
expression and distinctiveness are valued in the Black culture. The dimension of
Orality refers to a special emphasis on oral and aural modes of communication,
especially the use of the spoken work to convey deep textural meanings not possible
through the written word, found in Black culture (41). Daryl Cumber Dance
suggests in Shuckin and Jivin: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans, that
the strong oral tradition of Blacks is due to historical prohibitions against education.
Because they lived in a closed, largely illiterate society, Black Americans developed
54


and maintained an oral tradition probably unmatched, and certainly not surpassed, by
that of any other group in America (XVII). The oral tradition of the African
American culture is one influence on the communication behaviors of African
Americans.
The emphasis on feeling and expression of feeling in the Black culture is
addressed by Julius Lester who claims that Black culture is a culture whose emphasis
in on the nonverbal, i.e., the nonconceptual... In black culture it is the experience
that counts, not what is said (87). This sentiment is echoed by Badi G. Foster in an
examination of the differing psychological referents that guide a sense of ethics and a
philosophy of life for Blacks and whites. Foster describes how:
Western epistemological systems are in part inadequate for people of non-
Westem heritage. Knowledge in Western societies is largely derived from such
propositions as I think, therefore I am. The non-Westem heritage of Afro-
Americans suggests that knowledge stems from the proposition that T feel,
therefore I think, therefore I am. (18)
Different psychological referents are responsible for different assessments of what is
appropriate communication behavior.
A cultural tenet for African Americans is the collective focus of the culture.
Such a focus will be seen in the particular expectations of the culture for appropriate
gender behaviors. Geert Hofstede has defined the parameters of individualist and
collectivist focus in cultures. According to Hofstede, [t]he relationship between the
individual and the collectivity in human society ... is intimately linked with societal
55


norms .., affecting both peoples mental programming and the structure and
functioning of many other types of institutions besides the family: educational,
religious, political, and utilitarian (214-15). Culturally sanctioned gender-appropriate
behaviors, including communication behaviors, are shaped by a collectivist or
individualist cultural focus.
Harry C. Triandis feels that members of collectivist cultures will perceive
sharper lines of distinction and greater differences between ingroup and outgroup than
do members of individualistic cultures and that this will result in specific
communication patterns. Communication with ingroup members will be perceived as
transpiring on more intimate levels with more emotional involvement and will be very
different than communication with outgroup members (60-95). Steven P. Banks, Gao
Ge and Joyce Baker, in Intercultural Encounters and Miscommunication, elaborate
further on the differences between individualist and collectivist focus. They state:
Individualistic cultures emphasize individual goals and careers, universalistic
value standards and multiple specific ingroups; collectivistic cultures tend to
emphasize group goals, different value standards for ingroups versus those for
outgroups, and fewer but deeper ingroup relationships. (110)
Potential ramifications of a collectivist focus within a culture include the relationship
group members perceive between each other and the way ingroup members
communicate with each other and with members of outgroups.
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In their work with inner-city African American children, J. Ron Nelson, John
G. Nicholls and Kenneth Gleaves have discerned that collectivist cultural focus is
relevant to learning style. In the classroom, these students demonstrated a clear
preference for what Nelson, Nicholls and Gleaves called a nationalist view. The
students were comfortable and excelled in group learning settings, worked to help
other students and, [o]nly rarely did any student explicitly devalue a communal
orientation (354). This observation supports the findings of others and draws on the
work of Janice E. Hale-Benson. In Black Children: Their Roots. Culture and Learning
Styles. Hale-Benson demonstrates clearly that African American family structure and
socialization patterns emphasize verbal expressiveness, kinesic ability and collective
endeavor. She argues that such culturally significant values have a direct effect on the
learning styles preferred by African American students and makes the point that these
values, as well as culturally engendered styles of communication and language, are
often not taken into account in the public school environment, leading to
misunderstanding and ineffective teaching styles and techniques.
Specific behaviors, taught through socialization, reflect a given cultures ethics
and value structure. As William S. Howell has stated, in The Empathic
Communicator. [t]he fundamental connection between culture and ethics is this:
Ethical standards are products of particular cultures. So it is not surprising that basic
appropriate and inappropriate behavior important to a group of people varies from
57


place to place (179). Therefore, if cultural ethics and values differ for any given
cultures, standards of behavior will reflect those differing ethics and values. The ethics
and values of the African American culture and the Caucasian American culture do
differ, so different behaviors may be expected.
Socialization encourages both gender-appropriate behavior, and further
delineates those behaviors deemed culturally appropriate. The family is the primary
vehicle for socialization, and family structure and the assumption of gender roles
within the family is culturally determined. The historical experience of African
American women and Caucasian American women differs as do the larger cultural
referents that guide behavior. Specific communication behaviors and strategies are the
result of socialization, and will be shown to differ for African American women and
Caucasian American women. Chapter 4 will discover, through a review of the
literature, those communication behaviors that are culturally sanctioned and specific to
African Americans. The communication behaviors utilized by African American
women, allied to culture, are different than the behaviors noted in Chapter 2 as being
feminine.
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CHAPTER 4
AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNICATION BEHAVIORS
Chapter 4 will investigate verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors,
specified as practiced by African Americans. The areas of focus are the same as those
utilized in the discussion of gender communication behaviors in Chapter 2: language
use and style, conversational organization and content, nonverbal encoding/decoding
and eye gaze/contact behaviors.
In the study of gender-related communication behaviors, ethnicity is often not
specified. The meager research available that specifies African American subjects
often shows markedly different results than research that does not specify ethnicity as
a variable. For example, Bernadette Gray-Little did not find the gendered interruptive
patterns found by Zimmerman and West in her studies of African American married
couples. Studies of topic selection by Donald K. Cheek, with ethnicity specified as a
variable, did show variation of topic selection based on ethnicity, but did not include a
gender breakdown (54). Thus, an inquiry into the nature of communication behaviors
of African American women and Caucasian American women may best proceed with
an examination of known characteristics ascribed to ethnicity rather than specified by
59


gender. An account of known African American communication behaviors as distinct
from Caucasian American communication behavior follows.
Michael L. Hecht, Linda Kathryn Larkey and Jill N. Johnson take the position
that communication is a problematic exchange because:
there are few £taken-for-granteds--information that is unambiguously
understood by all. One cannot assume that all interactants share a similar
definition of the situation, messages, conversational rules, and so on. These
problems may be even more extreme when interactants do not share the same
ethnic culture. Culture provides many of our givens, and when a common
culture does not exist communication is even more problematic. (210)
They reason that the problematic nature of interethnic contact is because:
most culturally distinct groups exhibit different patterns and styles of
communicating. In answering why interethnic communication is problematic,
it is useful to identify what constitutes effective communication from the
perspectives of each ethnic group and then compare differences. (211)
Distinct and different communication patterns exist for African Americans and
Caucasian Americans, as the following literature review will indicate.
African American Behavior in Language Use and Style
Reported experience by Blacks indicates and validates the existence of a
distinct style of communication by Blacks, who are often very aware that they must
switch styles when communicating with whites. Participants in Mark P. Orbes study
of the communication of Black men call the practice of style switching when
communicating with whites playing the part and indicate that they know how and
60


when to do it and have seen family members and other Blacks do it. To play the
part is to abandon the communication styles of the Black community and to adopt
those associated with white culture. Orbes participants indicated that the practice is
done is business settings and meetings in order to communicate more effectively with
whites and reduce the possibility of being stereotyped by the white communicator in
question (292). The awareness on the part of Blacks of the need for such style
switching indicates that a distinct pattern of communication exists that cannot be
employed if situational factors dictate otherwise.
Roger D. Abrahams, in Talking Black, refers to distinct differences between
Black man-talk and woman-talk, in both content and style. The most dramatic
difference is in the style of delivery (28). Man-talk is characterized by verbal contest,
with heavy emphasis on style, contest-oriented .. centered on witty style and
delivery (44). This follows from the Black cultures emphasis on performance, and
specifically the use of words and style to establish ones reputation. Abrahams
contends:
A number of features of Black talk contribute to an artful or stylized effect
because they call attention to the conversation as a performance . Rather
than focusing on information-passing, Black talk more commonly emphasizes
personal word power and verbal contest as entertainment. (84)
The white culture has no such emphasis on performance for either men or women.
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Monica Heller proposes that language and ethnic identity are related because,
[s]hared language is basic to shared identity, but more than that, identity rests on
shared ways of using language that reflect common patterns of thinking and behaving,
or shared culture (181). In her opinion, [t]o be a member of an ethnic group . .
means knowing certain things about how the world works and about how to behave
(including how to talk) in various situations encountered in everyday life. . (187).
Lawrence W. Levine concurs that Black language has historically served a group
function, that it is an important means of promoting and maintaining a sense of group
unity and cohesion (133). Thus, ethnic identity is established and maintained, in part,
through common language usage.
Abrahams contends:
Blacks use language in unique ways ... the reasons for this difference are
certainly cultural as well as social. . blacks differ from other American groups
in the varieties of speech they employ and in the ways they use these varieties
in carrying out the ritual (predictable) dimension of their personal interactions.
(Talking Black 35-6)
In detailing the characteristics of the unique language usage of Blacks, he makes the
point:
Though grammar and pronunciation are crucial features of a speaking style, it
is the system of decorum which governs what varieties of speech are
appropriate under what circumstances. The differences between the ways in
which Euro- and Afro-Americans communicate lie more in the area of
manners than language. In Black America, the patterns of expectation
carried into a public encounter and the ways in which disruptions are handled
may turn into (and be judged as) a performance. The emphasis on effective
talking found throughout Afro-America, the demand for copiousness and
62


verbal adaptability on the part of the speaker, the expectation that a speaker
will elicit a high degree of verbal and kinesthetic feedback from his audience
(feedback that will not only permit him, but urge him, to continue), the license
to repeat and to utilize the entire range of vocal effects, the overlapping of
voices, and the open-ended structure of conversations ... are the features of
the BE [Black English] speaking system which must be considered in any
discussion of the structure and maintenance of Black ways of talking. (Talking
Black 15-16)
Linguistic elements, situational determinants of appropriate communicative behavior,
and the relationship of speaker to audience all play a part in delineating the unique
characteristics and features of Black language.
In Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Geneva Smitherman
defines the existence of two dimensions in Black speech: language and style (3), and
the semantics of Black speech depends, not only on the immediate linguistic context
but on the sociohistorical context as well (62). Many vocabulary terms bom in the
Black community eventually cross over into and become part of white vocabulary,
usually due to the influence of mass media, particularly the music industry.
Smitherman feels that terms that refer to physical characteristics, such as good hair
and ashy skin will never cross over because whites have no referents for them.
Other words that dont cross over are church terms, words for whites and many terms
that refer to the relationship between men and women (Black Talk 26-7). Specific
Black vocabulary terms are used only when Blacks are communicating with other
Blacks.
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The uniqueness of Black language usage derives from a distinct philosophy
that guides the choice of rhetorical strategies. Shirley N. Weber notes several distinct
rhetorical strategies utilized by African Americans: call and response, rapping, and
runnin it down, which posit that the relationship between speaker and audience is one
of performer with involved audience. With the use of call and response, audience
involvement is expected and thus the speaker chooses rhetorical devices designed to
insure it. Weber feels that the call and response pattern is distinctly, a part of the
African world view, which holds that all elements and forces are interrelated and
indistinguishable because they work together to accomplish a common goal and to
create a sense of community between the speaker and the listeners (222). Sonja K.
Foss and Karen A. Foss define call and response as:
a pattern of spontaneous vocal and nonverbal responses from listeners in reply
to a speakers statements or questions that testify to the impact of the message.
Call/response functions much as applause does; it is a form of affirmation and
support. . Within this form, all audience responses are correct; the only
incorrect response is not to respond at all. (38)
Smitherman says, call-response seeks to synthesize speakers and listeners in a unified
movement, and that it is:
an interactive network in which the fundamental requirement is active
participation of all individuals. The process requires that one must give if one
is to receive and receiving is actively acknowledging another . This
interactive system embodies communality rather than individuality. Emphasis
is on group cohesiveness, cooperation, and the collective common good.
(Talkin and Testifvin 108-9)
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The relationship between speakers in conversation, as well as the relationship between
speaker and audience in group situations, is one of commonality when call and
response is the method of presentation.
An idea that Erickson finds prevalent in Black rhetorical systems is that verbal
artistry is best displayed by the ability to make ones point indirectly. Several
rhetorical strategies can be seen as deriving from this culturally held value. The act of
signifying relates to the art of indirectness, as does the use of narrative. Preferred
forms of logic and persuasion can also be seen as related to the art of indirectness. In
these instances, Erickson notes the presence of a strategy he calls argumentation by
anecdote wherein the point of an anecdote may not be a full-fledged proposition and it
is considered inappropriate and unnecessary to state the underlying point directly.
Listeners can be counted on to get the point for themselves (91-97). High community
status and appreciation are accorded, not to the speaker who must come right out and
say it, but to the speaker with the ability for pointed indirectness.
Smitherman underscores the importance of the oral tradition for African
Americans and links that orality to the African world view. Through the practice of
verbal performance black folk are acculturatedinitiatedinto the black value system.
Even in what appears to be only casual conversation, whoever speaks is highly
conscious of the fact that his personality is on exhibit and his status at stake (Talkin
65


and Testifvin 79-80). In the African American culture, verbal performance is seen as a
way to establish ones reputation as well as a teaching and socializing force.
Maijorie Harness Goodwin suggests that, stories are one of the principal
places where members of a society use language to encode and shape complex events
that are central to the organization of their culture (229). Hecht, Collier and Ribeau
see performance and narrative as, aspects of the African American oral tradition that
serve the functions of extolling unique verbal skills, showcasing the ability to be
assertive. They also link speaker to audience and reinforce shared identity, norms, and
values, and conversational organization when using narrative forms may be
associational rather than logical, which presumes some predetermined knowledge of
the cultural identity of the speaker (94-5). In studying the narrative styles of women,
Catherine Kohler Riessman finds that culture plays a part in determining narrative
construction and content as well as style and structure (170-171). Listeners are
known to have difficulty understanding the progression of narratives of those from
other cultures due to different understandings of how a narrative should be organized,
how to make a point and what style is considered appropriate (152). Smitherman
argues that narrative speech is, a characteristic register of black communication
generally, and Black English speakers will render their general, abstract observations
about life, love, people in the form of a concrete narrative (Talkin and Testifvin 147).
Although narrative is found in white conversational styles, as well as in Black
66


conversational styles, when narrative is combined with the emphasis on indirectness, a
unique form of Black communication is represented.
Another communication style, manifested in behavior practiced by Blacks and
not by whites is the act of signifying. Abrahams details the difficulty of specifying an
exact definition of signifying. Taxonomy of terms for language usage is difficult
because terms may vary by geographic region, by era or generation, or may change.
Abrahams feels that though the words that name speech acts may vary or change, the
acts themselves remain constant (Talking Black 45-9). For this paper several
definitions of signifying will be utilized in order to present the fullest possible picture
of this particular speech act.
One definition of signifying, offered by Jannette L. Dates and William Barlow,
is a rhetorical strategy calculated to reverse dialogue by turning a statement back on
itself in order to gain the upper hand in a verbal contest; it is yet another double-
voiced or intertextual practice that seeks to subvert existing power relations (13).
Carol D. Lee identifies signifying as, a traditional form of African American
discourse that contains the elements of innuendo, double meanings, word play, wit,
irony and figurative language (359-60). Smitherman details the following
characteristics of signifying:
indirection, circumlocution; metaphorical-imagistic; humorous, ironic; rhythmic
fluency and sound; teachy but not preachy; directed at person or persons
usually present in the situational context; punning, play on words; introduction
of the semantically or logically unexpected. (Talkin and Testifvin 121)
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One of the differences between speakers of Black English and speakers of white
English, according to Hall, is blacks will recognize or distinguish between types of
discourse that whites do not. One distinction that blacks make is between the times
that they are signifying and when they are not. When signifying, the speaker
communicates to the hearer indirectly and by analogy a message that is different from
the manifest content of the conversation. ... (Bevond Culture 202). Indirectness in
the form of signifying is a rhetorical strategy utilized by Black speakers and
understood by Black listeners.
In Language and Womens Place. Lakoff declares womens language weak,
and targets social pressure and socialization as the rationale for it. Claiming [i]f a
little girl talks rough like a boy, she will normally be ostracized, scolded, or made fun
of (5), Lakoff asserts:
Little girls are indeed taught to talk like little ladies, in that their speech is in
many ways more polite than that of boys or men, and the reason for this is that
politeness involves an absence of strong statement, and womens speech is
devised to prevent the expression of strong statements. (19)
The emphasis on politeness may also be related to the observation noted earlier that
women use less profanity than men.
In contrast to Lakoff s distinctions between the language and talk of men and
women, many authors have noted the importance of building verbal skill and
proficiency at the verbal arts for both men and women in the Black culture. Status is
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granted to those with great verbal proficiency at making strong statements and
expressing feelings and emotions. In Black Culture and Black Consciousness. Levine
details the tradition of verbal dueling, most often referred to as the Dozens, though the
name varies from community to community. The game involves what Levine calls,
the rhetoric of exaggeration and the ritual of insult and is engaged in by women
and girls as well as men and boys (350, 352). According to Levine, joking
relationships featuring ritual insult seem to have been common to all age groups, both
sexes and a variety of social and economic groups within the black community (358).
He identifies one function of the Dozens as being, an important training ground for
the development of verbal facility in a group in which oral culture played a central role
and which consequently held verbal ability in high regard (356). Though playing the
Dozens is sometimes specified to be strictly the domain of Black males, Thomas
Kochman, in The Ethnic Component in Black Language and Culture, notes that
Black females also engage in verbal dueling (233). Barnes refers to the presence of
stressful conversation in Black female dyads she studied and reasons that these
women engaged in such duels for a number of reasons, including stress . material
and emotional deprivation. .. . (105), but goes on to note verbal matches . .
satisfied such needs as status and attention. . . (127). Since women and girls are
specifically included as candidates for verbal proficiency and artistry, sometimes
manifested in verbal dueling, it is fair to suggest that LakofFs depiction of womens
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language as weakened and lacking the expression of strong feeling may not be
applicable to the language patterns of African American women.
Playing the Dozens is one of several communication rituals noted by Hecht,
Collier and Ribeau as occurring in African American culture. Other rituals include call
and response patterns, jiving, boasting and toasting. The purpose of such
communication rituals is to help tie a group together and affirm its members
interconnectedness. By engaging in rituals an individual is demonstrating allegiance to
the group and communicating an identity and a commitment to sharing with the
group by participating in common activities (99). Boasting does not have a negative
value for Blacks as it does for whites. It is seen as a type of humor, a joke, and the
appropriate response is laughter by Blacks, but whites feel that boasting, like bragging
should not be encouraged by any positive or appreciative response (Kochman, The
Ethnic Component in Black Language and Culture 230). Since boasting does not
have a negative value for Blacks, Black women are free to utilize it without cultural
censure, without the norm of politeness which, as Lakoff stated earlier forms an
integral part of white womens choice of communicative behavior.
Black culture allows its members considerable greater freedom to assert and
express themselves than does white culture, as Kochman has observed. Value is
placed on individually regulated self-assertion and spontaneous expression of
feeling. For that reason, black cultural events typically encourage and even require
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individuals to behave in an assertive/expressive manner, as in such black speech events
as rapping and signifying, call and response and . argument (Black and White 29-
30). Goodwins study of conversational organization in mixed-gender play groups of
Black children substantiates Kochmans observations. As Goodwin details the place
of argument and assertive talk in the play groups:
Opposition moves . provide the opportunity to register ones affective
alignment toward the other and in so doing to display character . rather than
organizing their talk so as to display deference to others, the children
frequently seek opportunities to display character and realign the social
organization of the moment through opposition. (142)
This is counter to the norm of politeness and deferential communication specified as
feminine by white cultural standards.
Hecht, Collier and Ribeau offer some insight into what is meant when African
American communication is depicted as assertive. According to them:
Assertiveness can be described as behavior that stands up for and tries to
achieve personal rights without damaging others. African American style is
described as assertive by some, forceful by others, and aggressive by still
others. Each is describing a style of communication that is intense, outspoken,
challenging, and forward. (104)
Feeling that studies of communication competence done on whites might not be
applicable to African Americans, Judith N. Martin, Michael L. Hecht and Linda K
Larkey conducted direct comparison studies of whites and Blacks to ascertain their
respective preferred conversational improvement strategies for problematic situations
such as interethnic encounters. Blacks and whites have different preferences for
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conversational improvement, particularly with regard to perceived locus of
responsibility. Whites are more likely to place the locus of responsibility on the other,
and use passive strategies such as giving in. In contrast, African American style is
more likely to be characterized by assertiveness, defined by Martin, Hecht and Larkey
as, actively expressing disagreement and arguing ones viewpoint (248). Cheek
does not include the idea of disagreement in his comments on the assertive nature of
African American speech. Rather, he feels, one of the best definitions of
assertiveness is an honest, open and direct verbal or non-verbal expression which does
not have the intent of putting someone down (18). Cheek goes on to observe, Black
language gets the feeling out. It has force, emotion and appeal, and that it lends
itself to being spoken with vigor and energy in a tone of voice that has more volume
than conventional speech (52-53). Therefore, the assertive nature of African
American communication can best be understood within the context of African
American cultural norms for communication behavior.
Annie S. Barnes, in Black Women: Interpersonal Relationships in Profile, has
reported different communication strategies utilized by Black employees with either
white bosses or Black bosses. In cases where complaints are made by Black
employees, the method of voicing such complaints is more likely to be discussion when
the employee and the boss are both Black, but written complaints are more often used
when the employee is Black and the boss is white. Argumentative strategies, display
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of unpleasant attitude and gossip are other behaviors noted as utilized by Black
employees with white bosses (48-51). Black women are more likely than white
women to prefer assertive strategies for dealing with sexual harassment on the job
(Yoder and Aniakudo 127). More assertive strategies of conflict management may
thus be seen as preferred by African Americans.
Tannen examines Black conversational style and the variation that may occur
from one speaker to the next. She feels this variation is possible because cultural
patterns provide a range of options rather than one specified form. From that range,
individuals choose strategies that they habitually use in expressing their individual
styles (Talking Voices 80). Tannen also points out that both formal and informal
Black discourse uses self-repetition and allo-repetition, i.e. repeating what someone
else has said, in recognizable, characteristic ways (Talking Voices 79). This form is
quite recognizable, for example, in the discourse of Black preachers.
Abrahams, in Positively Black, suggests that for Blacks, there is not only a
different language at work here but a different attitude toward speech and speech acts
(16). He is of the opinion that, for Blacks, words may not be viewed as things, to be
recognized and used in writing and reading. Instead, words are viewed as devices to
be used in performances (17). The impression of words as performance devices
rather than objects to be manipulated on a written page reflects the Black cultures
emphasis on oral expression.
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From Robert Nortons work on communicator style comes a definition of
style. It is, the way one verbally, nonverbally, and paraverbally interacts to signal
how literal meaning should be taken, interpreted, filtered, or understood (11). His
definition of a dramatic communicator is one who manipulates exaggerations,
fantasies, stories, metaphors, rhythm, voice, and other stylistic devices to highlight or
understate content (65). The dramatic communicators style vividly, emotionally or
strikingly signals that literal meaning is being highlighted or emphasized (130). For
Norton, dramatic communicator style, allows the communicator a way to make a
metastatement about the literal content... it clues the listener in on how to interpret
the intensity, truth, or quality of the context. Dramatizing influences popularity,
status, self-esteem, and attraction (67). Though Norton does not relate dramatic
style to ethnicity, his depiction correlates with Abrahams, Kochman and Smitherman in
their descriptions of the element of style in African American discourse as a necessary
part of demonstrating verbal skill.
Zimmerman and West studied only the performance of white men with white
women and their study is often cited by other researchers as universally proving that
men are the interrupters and controllers of topic choice. However, it can be shown
that the Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson model of conversational turn-taking is not
universally applicable and that an altogether different philosophy of conversational
organization is preferred by African Americans. Assertive speech, distinct rhythms,
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and varying volume and pitch levels, have all been noted in African American speech
behavior. These strategies are all related to ones ability to eam and maintain the
floor. The relationship of speaker to audience is depicted by Erickson as dialogue
between audience and speaker. Audience members not only need to be fluent in
comprehension; they also need to be fluent in production . those who mainly play
audience roles also need to be able to speak in order to participate, and therefore
have a need for resources of copiousness that are similar to the needs of the primary
speakers (94). The idea of spoken discourse as an art form, a performance created by
speaker and audience acting together, leads to the strategies of verbal contest, verbal
proficiency, unique vocabulary, emotionally expressive language and delivery,
expectation of audience response and involvement in such a way that linear one-
speaker-at-a-time conversational organization is inadequate.
African American Behavior in Conversational Organization and Content
Patterns of conversation are different for Black and white participants. Roger
D. Abrahams and Geneva Gay, in Black Culture in the Classroom, make the
observation:
the Black model of discussion is not our first-you-speak-and-Fll-be-quiet,
then-Ill-speak-and-you-be-quiet sort. Rather, the voice is used as an
expression of the self and if one wants to be listened to he will not hesitate (at
least among ones peers) to speak on top of other voices and to repeat the
same sentiments either until he is responded to by someone in the group or
until someone else catches his attention. Corollary to this, when someone
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speaks he expects the overlap of other voices because that generally means that
the others are listening and reacting to what he is saying. (76)
Abrahams further elaborates on the conversational organization patterns of Black
speakers. The point is to assert oneself within the group, not independently, by adding
ones voice to the ensemble of speakers. This allows the speaker to make an overall
contribution to the whole, utilizing voice overlap and interlock. Abrahams finds this
behavior/attitude to be crucial to the Black aesthetic of wholeness and group
involvement (Talking Black 83). This pattern of conversational organization, with its
emphasis on the group rather than the individual, is related to the collectivist focus of
the African American culture.
The standard model of conversation, posited by Sacks, ScheglofF and Jefferson
is also depicted by Victoria Leto DeFrancisco. In A Feminist Approach to
Integrating Gender Issues in the Intercultural Communication Classroom,
DeFrancisco details that standard model as having mutually acknowledged rules for
tum-taking: one person speaks at a time; speaker turns recur; turns at talk are both a
right and obligation; and turns generally switch smoothly with little or no silence
between (515). The African American system of conversational organization is not at
all similar, either mechanically or philosophically, to the standard model of
conversational organization.
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African American Behavior in Nonverbal Encoding and Decoding
According to Mayo and Henley, nonverbal behavior is resistant to personal and
social change in part because nonverbal behavior, lies out of awareness (5). In
addition, they make the point: nonverbal behavior is learned; it is acquired through
socialization by family, peers, and the media. Such socialization draws heavily on past
practices and norms and is slow to incorporate change (5). Hall labels nonverbal
communication the essence of ethnicity and proposes, [t]his creates problems for
Americans who have been slow to accept our ethnicities primarily because we are
intolerant of differences and believe that if something is different it is therefore
inferior (Beyond Culture. 71). Because it is a product of the process of socialization,
nonverbal behavior varies from one culture to another.
Myers characterizes the relationship between Black men and Black women as,
a social process that stresses communication through language and gestures (body
talk) . There are many things that are left unsaid among black women and men
(72), but because Black people are expressive and give and receive strong cues, shared
meanings and understandings exist (76). A. George Gitter, Harvey Black and David
Mostofsky, in studies using college students and still photographs, found that Blacks
are more accurate decoders of emotional intent through facial display than whites.
Hale-Benson, in Black Children: Their Roots. Culture and Learning Styles also
maintains that Black children are more feeling-oriented, people-oriented and more
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proficient at nonverbal communication than white children (69). Thus, variation in
nonverbal communication skill has not only been noted to be gender-linked, but can be
tied to culture and ethnicity as well.
Cultural expectations and related behavior may be un-gendered, but definitely
related to ethnicity. One communication behavior that can be distinguished for Black
women, but not white women, is acting ones color or turning it out. It is
distinguishable for Black women because of ethnicity, not because of gender. There is
a perceived (by Blacks) link between color and behavior. Children are often held in
check with admonitions not to act their color. In particular, the admonition is to be
more reserved, quieter, as if being Black carries with it intrinsic rowdiness and
noisiness (McCall 12). Karla F. C. Holloway, in Codes of Conduct, describes acting
ones color as a communication behavior that is specific to African Americans and not
relevant to Caucasian Americans. As Holloway defines it:
Turning it out or acting colored means that we give up trying to respond to a
situation as if both we and they (white people and/or men) are operating within
the same codes of conduct. It can mean handing over to our adversary our
version of the stereotype that motivates their disrespect to usjust to prove to
them that they could no better handle the stereotype than they can determine
and control our character. (31)
The background for understanding this concept rests in the idea that being a Black
woman has elements that are totally different, in terms of experience, from being a
white woman, because of ethnicity.
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Richmond, McCroskey and Payne assert that pitch variety is a feminine rather
than a masculine communication behavior (112). However, Molefi Kete Asante finds
a direct link between the use of pitch to distinguish meanings in many sub-Saharan
languages and the propensity for African American speakers to utilize pitch and
intonation as markers of meaning and intensifiers. In his essay from African Culture:
The Rhythms of Unity, he states, [t]he Black American means something precise by
his pitch . [v]ocal color plays a vital role for the black public speaker . who uses
various intonations and inflections to modify or amplify specific ideas, concepts, or
emotions. Furthermore, [t]here is a certain noticeable communicative style which is
transmitted in the tone, rhythm, or pitch of voice, and the so-called black voice can
be recognized ... by pitch and tone (241). Smitherman notes that Black speech
relies on tonal semantics, the use of voice rhythm and vocal inflection to convey
meaning in black communication (Talkin and Testifyin 134). She also traces the
origins of the use of tonal semantics to the tone languages of West Africa, where the
way a word or sound or syllable is pronounced gives it its meaning. For Black
speakers and Black listeners, tonal semantics is an expected part of Black speech
utterances (Talkin and Testifvin 135). Thus, Black speech patterns do not support the
idea that pitch variety is only a feminine communication behavior.
Erving Goffinan indicates that more than sound is at issue in the management
of conversational turn-taking. Because so many different nonverbal cues help with
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understanding as well as turn taking, Goffinan feels, sight is crucial, both for the
speaker and for the hearer. For the effective conduct of talk, speaker and hearer had
best be in a position to watch each other (129-30). Carl O. Word has studied the
dynamics of the interaction and the potential for error between white interviewers,
pollsters and survey researchers, and Black respondents. Though participants are in a
position to see each other, there is still a potential for miscommunication because of
the inability of standard English speakers to understand the subtleties and nuances of
paralanguage cues, intonation, pauses, and nonverbal gestural clues (e.g., hands on
hips, rolling of eyes) which accompany messages (34). Given the evidence that the
interpretation of nonverbal cues varies by gender and by culture, it should not be
presumed that if conversational partners are simply in a position to watch each other,
they will therefore arrive at a mutually acceptable format of conversational
organization.
African American Behavior in Eve Gaze and Eve Contact
Speaking of her grandmother in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sines, Maya
Angelou makes the following observation about lack of eye contact as a measure of
respect: [njobody with a smidgen of training, not even the worst roustabout, would
look right into a grown persons face. It meant the person was trying to take the
words out before they were formed (23). Like other nonverbal communication,
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patterns of eye contact are influenced by culture. Visual dominance behavior is the
ratio between looking while speaking and looking while listening. Steve L. Ellyson,
John F. Dovidio and B. J. Fehr conducted a series of studies designed to examine any
potential link between gender and visual dominance behavior. They were able to
demonstrate empirically that the dynamic of visual dominance behavior is similar for
both men and women. However, no controls were in place in their studies to take into
account the possibility that listener-speaker eye gaze patterns are culturally
differentiated. They are stating a cultural expectation when they assert, when
someone is speaking, social courtesy demands . that the listener attend to the
speaker, and that such attention is signaled, obviously and directly by, looking at the
speaker (64). As previously discussed, expectation of appropriate behavior is
culturally defined. Thus, the assessment of what comprises social courtesy regarding
eye gaze patterns is culturally determined.
Studies have been done that indicate that Blacks look more while speaking and
less while listening. Marianne LaFrance and Clara Mayo have described potential
ramifications of the reversed pattern of eye gaze for Blacks and whites when speaking
or listening. Given the reverse patterns of eye gaze while speaking and listening there
will be very little eye contact in interethnic conversations with a white speaker and a
Black listener. The expectation for eye contact from the listener by the white speaker
will not be fulfilled and may be interpreted as disinterest or boredom. In interethnic
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conversations with a Black speaker and a white listener, there will be more eye contact
than the Black speaker expects from a listener and more eye contact than a white
listener expects from a speaker. This may be interpreted by both parties as hostility or
aggression. These observations were confirmed by Frederick Erickson and Jeffrey
Schultz. In a study of cross-cultural job interviews and career counseling, they note
the potential for problematic interpretations of intent by both Black and white
participants, based on opposite expectations of eye gaze patterns. Because
expectations of appropriate eye gaze behavior during conversation are culturally
linked, there are cultural differences that signal, not only social courtesy, but also
attentiveness.
Different patterns of eye gaze indicate attentiveness for Blacks and whites.
Abrahams and Gay caution that the classroom behavior of Black students can be
misinterpreted by white teachers, who may feel:
a person is not listening unless he shows the outward signs of attention of our
communications system, such as being silent and directing his gaze toward the
speaker. . Anything less than complete silence is considered to be restlessness
and a sign of inattentiveness. Black culture operates on a pattern almost
directly the opposite. A Black child may be listening intently, yet to a white
person he gives the appearance of distraction, often because of a different habit
of directing his gaze. If the presentation is stimulating the audience will take
an active part, becoming vocally and physically involved in the interchange, if
only by murmuring and moving about in their seats. Complete silence is a sure
sign of boredom. (77)
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As with other interethnic exchanges previously discussed, different patterns of eye
gaze behavior, combined with the elements of call and response utilized by Black
speakers and Black listeners, are contributing factors for potential misinterpretation of
the behavior of Black students by white teachers.
Specific communication behaviors practiced by African Americans in the areas
of language use and style, conversational organization and content, nonverbal
encoding/decoding and eye gaze/contact behaviors have been discerned by research, as
Chapter 4 has demonstrated. Communication behavior of men and women is
delineated by the process of socialization to gender expectations, as discussed in
Chapter 3. Gender expectations are culturally determined and the definition of gender-
appropriate behavior is different for African Americans and Caucasian Americans.
The communication behaviors noted in Chapter 2 as gender specific and the
communication behaviors noted in Chapter 4 as unique to the African American
culture are not the same. The culturally sanctioned verbal and nonverbal
communication behaviors of African American women often differ from the gender
parameters detailed as feminine in Chapter 2. Theories of gender communication
behaviors that evolve from research on predominantly Caucasian American subjects or
from research where ethnicity is not a variable under consideration have not been
demonstrated to be true for African American women. Implications for future study
will be discussed in Chapter 5.
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CHAPTER 5
IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
Caucasian American women and African American women demonstrate
different communication behaviors based on different cultural expectations of gender-
appropriate behavior and different socialization. All of these factors, taken together
offer implications for further research.
Edward T. Hall points out, in Beyond Culture, that his studies revealed great
differences in kinesic, proxemic, linguistic and other behavior patterns between
working-class blacks and a wide range of whites (working class to upper middle class).
Such unconscious differences may well be one of the sources of what blacks feel is the
basic racism of white society (64). More recent studies are indicative of the
perception on the part of African Americans that there is a pervasive racism in
American society. Anecdotal evidence is abundant, but empirical research also
documents the African American perception of racism in everyday encounters with
Caucasian Americans. Hope Landrine and Elizabeth A. Klonoff have developed The
Schedule of Racist Events, (SRE) to measure the occurrence of racist encounters. In
their initial study, they report that 98.1% of the participants indicate having
experienced some type of racial discrimination within the past year. Cross-validation
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of their findings is desirable to assess generalizability and a potential future research
direction would be the development of a refined instrument to not only measure the
perception of racial discrimination but additionally, to test Halls earlier speculation
that the perception of racism may be linked to the misinterpretation of nonverbal
behaviors by African Americans and Caucasian Americans when they interact with
each other.
Joseph H. Pleck, known for his analysis of the theory of male sex-role identity,
pointed out in the early 1980s that assessments of appropriate gender behavior, as
measured by traditional masculinity-femininity scales may be culturally insensitive.
Pleck established that Black males might show a more feminine orientation than white
males because of cultural differences in defining appropriate gender roles and gender
goals. He argued, for example, that some items intended to designate feminine
orientation on the Bern Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), such as the desire to be a singer,
did not take note of the fact that for Black males, the role of singer is one of cultural
hero (127). Fifteen years later, with the same research tactics still in use, Allen C.
Harris offers the same analysis. Harris has conducted research that compares the
gender identity self-assessments of Caucasian Americans and African Americans, using
the Bern Sex Role Inventory (BSRI). Both African American men and women
exhibited high androgyny scores, and Harris goes on to enumerate his concerns about
the potential cultural bias inherent in the labeling of specific traits as either masculine
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or feminine. His study demonstrates:
not only is masculine behaviorconsidered appropriate for males in Anglo-
American culturedisplayed by both sexes in African American culture, but
feminine behaviorassociated with females in anglo-American cultureis
characteristic of both men and women in African American culture. (190)
Relying on much previous research, Harris documents that there is a range of traits
that would be categorized as either masculine or feminine by Caucasian Americans,
but which are considered desirable for both men and women by African Americans.
The range of traits considered includes aggressiveness, nurturance, emotional
expressiveness, sexual assertiveness, nonconformity, independence, self-confidence
and focus on interpersonal relationships. Since definitions may differ from one culture
to another, culture-specific gender-role inventories should be developed rather than
translating gender-role measurements developed with white, middle-class samples.
Mija E. Lee, David Matsumoto, Masami Kobayashi, Deborah Krapp, Erica F.
Maniatis and William Roberts have developed a theoretical model that they feel is
helpful in understanding, predicting and explaining cultural similarities and differences
in facial expression of emotion. The model relies on two dimensions for distinguishing
cultural variability: Individualism-Collectivism and Status Differentiation. Their
research direction is justified by their underlying philosophy: [although the
universal aspects of emotion were demonstrated over two decades ago, cross-cultural
research only recently has provided systematic documentation of how cultures differ in
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the expression and perception of nonverbal behavior (257). Since cultures are
sociopsychological entities rather than geopolitical states, they enjoin other researchers
to, identify dimensions of cultural variability that have meaning across nations and
races (243). This philosophical research approach will be productive if applied to the
study of the differences in nonverbal communication demonstrated by African
Americans and Caucasian Americans.
In Linguistic Sex Roles in Conversation. Bent Preisler describes current
research in the field of gender and language usage as linguistically primitive (8).
Preisler draws this conclusion because much of the research relies on merely counting
the occurrence of a specific language feature and assuming a function for the language
feature without establishing how that feature actually functions within the given
conversation. J.C. Condravy, in Womens Talk, voices a similar concern about the
current status and methodology in the empirical study of gender differences in
language usage. In Condravys opinion, such research is potentially flawed due to:
the reliance on counts of language features or interaction strategies outside of
the context of the conversation, the assignment of function to language out of
context, the study of language in nonnatural settings, and the drawing of
conclusions regarding women and language use only in the context of mens
language use. (403)
Preislers and Condravys observations have merit, and an additional focus in the
empirical study of gender differences in language usage should certainly be the
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inclusion of cultural context as a factor in determining function.
Deborah James and Sandra Clarke, authors of Women, Men, and
Interruptions: A Critical Review, have pointed out inconsistencies in research results
regarding patterns of interruption. Studies often produce conflicting results and James
and Clark argue that this is because research occurred in varied situational contexts
and may have proceeded from a faulty set of assumptions, i.e. that interruptive
behavior is dominance-related and violates the speaking rights of others. They suggest
that future research should include an awareness of other possible functions of
interruptive behavior. Simultaneous speech may be supportive and cooperative in
some instances and may be used for clarification. By distinguishing the function in the
study of gender-related interruptive behavior, research could then proceed from a solid
consistent definitional basis, would be less likely to produce skewed results and thus
would be more likely to demonstrate internal consistency and engender greater
understanding of any gender-based relationship to the frequency of interruptive acts
(231-247). Though their review is extensive, they note no studies whgre cultural
definitions of turn-taking and interruptions may be a factor. This direction of research
would be productive if pursued, since as noted, the African American culture defines
turn-taking in different terms than one-at-a-time. Therefore, African Americans have a
different definition of what constitutes interruptive behavior.
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One very specific health and counseling issue is that of AIDS education and
prevention. Gina M. Wingood, Dinese Hunter-Gamble and Ralph J. DiClemente decry
the general failure of AIDS awareness programs that target young African American
women. Since African American women represent a disproportionate number of
female AIDS cases, the failure of AIDS awareness programs in the African American
community has potentially devastating ramifications. Wingood, Hunter-Gamble and
DiClemente feel that this situation is due to three factors: the failure of such programs
to take into account the sociocultural influences in the African American community,
the lack of understanding of the sexual politics in heterosexual relationships, and the
failure to, address the process by which ethnic-minority men and women initiate
communication about condom use, how such dialogues are constructed, and the
effectiveness of these negotiation processes (191). Research that promotes
understanding of the communication patterns of African American women and men
will be useful in the arena of AIDS awareness and prevention in the African American
community.
In Sex Role Orientation and Psychological Well-Being Among Working
Black Women, Linda Napholz cautions that, in the fields of counseling and
psychology, potential cultural biases do not promote appropriate care for Black
women. She recommends that in both clinical and occupational settings appropriate
intervention strategies must be culturally sensitive and must incorporate gender, racial,
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cultural, and societal realities. Counselors and psychologists need an understanding of
how the communication behaviors of Black women and white women differ in order to
provide such culturally sensitive services, for both groups.
With regard to the aim of a successful outcome in marriage and family
counseling of African American families by white counselors, Johnni McFadden
observes:
One of the first issues to master in the client-counselor relationship is
communication. Since there is a variation in the language patterns within the
black community, it, therefore, behooves the counselor/therapist to become
familiar with these patterns so as to be able to communicate effectively with
members of a black family and to interpret their messages correctly. These
messages could be verbal or nonverbal and appear coded especially for the
counselor/therapist who is only slightly familiar with black life. The counselor
needs to understand a broad range of idioms and modes of communication.
Accompanying gestures and other nonverbal cues must be noticed also and
correctly grasped by the counselor. (214)
Until the early 1990s, in the field of marriage and family counseling, most research
had been conducted with white subjects, according to Sandra Graham. Jean Oggins,
Douglas Leber and Joseph Veroff note specifically, research on perceptions of marital
and sexual relations has mainly been conducted with Whites (153). Studies have now
been undertaken with the primary purpose of validation and correlation of past
research results with race as a variable. For example, in their studies of relationship
satisfaction and relationship commitment, Bettie Sanderson and Lawrence A. Kurdek
state that their position and motivation for including both race and gender as variables
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is because while predictions and suppositions derived from previous research, might
apply across race and gender of respondent, it is imprudent to assume so without
supportive evidence (263). Given the place of communication skills in developing
and maintaining satisfactory interpersonal relationships, gender communication
research from the field of communication should be integrated and will have an impact
in relationship studies and field work and practice in family counseling.
Nowhere is the imperative for research reflective of human diversity in
communication behaviors more clear than in the field of education where the
misunderstanding of a students learning style and communication patterns can lead to
the derogation of his or her accomplishments. Evelyn Baker Dandy expresses the
hope that schools of the twenty-first century will be populated by culturally-sensitive
teachers who maintain positive attitudes toward their own culture, and at the same
time, seek to understand culturally acceptable modes of communication other than
their own (106). Students interactions with teachers and with each other will be
more productive if appreciation for diverse styles of communication is the norm.
Smitherman recommends a course of Black studies for all students because there are,
some fundamental cultural and linguistic differences that must be understood if blacks
and whites are to be able to communicate and exist in America (235). Smithermans
suggestion is well taken and can be expanded to include gender and other ethnic
groups as worthy of study. As those students grow into tomorrows theorists,
91


researchers and empiricists, the awareness of ethnic and cultural diversity in gender-
roles will guide them to germane discoveries in the field of gender communication.
92


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