]]]]]]]]]]]]]]     LOOK, JUST DON'T INTERRUPT!    [[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                    By Geoffrey W. Beattie
      Geoffrey Beattie considers the chatter of the sexes.
Dr Geoffrey W.  Beattie is at the  Department of Psychology in
                 the University of Sheffield.
      (From New Scientist, 23 September 1982, pp. 859-860)

             [Kindly uploade by Freeman 10602PANC]
[Though this  six-year-old article  is a  reply to  a piece  in a
British newspaper, it has important lessons about points-of-view,
`feminist science' and the  acceptance and spread of what becomes
`common knowledge'. -- OP ]

   Women are oppressed,  so the media  are wont to  tell us.  The
``Naked Ape''  column of  the Guardian's  women's page  acts as a
nagging reminder.  Recently, ``Guardian Women'' went further.  On
the 23 August, Dale Spender  produced scientific evidence for the
verbal oppression  of women.  Women,  it seems, can't  get a word
in.  The reason apparently is that when they attempt to talk, men
interrupt  -- ``I  found  that not  only do  men  do most  of the
talking --  they do almost  all of the  interrupting, taking over
the topic of conversation and cutting off the previous speaker.''
This might  come as  some surprise  given the  traditional wisdom
that women  talk the most  -- ``Si femme  il y a,  silence il n'y
a'', or Washington Irving's ``a woman's tongue is the only weapon
that sharpens with use''.  Dale  Spender says much folk wisdom is
simply  wrong.  ``Women  are  the talkative  sex.   Right?'', she
asks.  ``Wrong'', she replies.
   The evidence comes from  linguistics.  The classic study which
she mentions, although not by name, is the one that Don Zimmerman
and Candace West carried  out at the Santa  Barbara campus of the
University of  California in  the early  1970s.  In conversations
between men and women, men, it seems, were responsible for 96 per
cent of all  interruptions.  Zimmerman and West  are in no doubts
as to  what this means.   Interruptions, they  interject, are ``a
display  of  dominance  or  control to  the  female  (and  to any
witnesses)  and  ...   a  control  device   since  the  incursion
(particularly if repeated) disorganizes the local construction of
a topic.''  Dale Spender puts  it more simply: ``Those with power
and status  talk more and  interrupt more''.  No  whining here --
``Women are oppressed''.  Wham! there's the evidence.
   But how  sound are Zimmerman  and West's  observations?  In my
view, despite  this study being  very frequently  quoted, both by
academics and  most feminist authors  of the past  few years, the
answer is, ``Not  very''.  The sample  in the study  is small and
unrepresentative, the  figures misleading  and the interpretation
too  narrow.  First,  the sample,  31 conversational  snatches or
``segments'',  consist of  everyday  ``chit-chat''.  We  are not,
however, told anything  about the length  of these segments.  All
the  people  recorded  were  middle-class,  under  35  and white.
Moreover, we are simply told that in 11 conversations between men
and women,  men used 46  interruptions, but women  only two.  The
problem with this is that you  might simply have one very voluble
man  in the  study  which has  a  disproportionate effect  on the
total.  Indeed, one  man did contribute  11 interruptions (nearly
one quarter  of the  total).  This  means that  the other  10 men
contributed  on  average just  3.5  each.  If  there  was another
particularly voluble man in the sample, these figures would again
drop dramatically.
   Zimmerman and West also studied only conversations between two
people where  it may  not be necessary  to interrupt  to gain the
floor.   In  a  series of  studies  on  interviews  with Margaret
Thatcher by Denis  Tuohy, Brian Walden,  Llew Gardner, and others
on television, I found that she  is interrupted more often by her
interviewer than she  herself interrupts, although  of course she
speaks much more than her interviewer.  In other words, we cannot
draw  any conclusions  about the  amount of  talk allowed  on the
basis of frequency of interruption in conversations involving two
people.  I have  analysed rates of  interruption in larger groups
(Linguistics, 1981).  I  based my study  on university tutorials,
where it may  be necessary to  interrupt to gain  the floor since
there are more  people to whom  the current speaker  can hand the
floor.  It  involved about  10 hours  of tutorial  discussion and
some 557  interruptions (compared  with 55  in the  Zimmerman and
West study), I found that women  interrupted men in 33.8 per cent
of floor exchanges, and men interrupted women in 34.1 per cent of
floor switches.  No difference!
   There are  further problems in  the Zimmerman  and West study.
They  provide  no evidence  of  how  men behave  with  other men.
Perhaps men not only oppress women but also oppress each other as
well.  Zimmerman  and West,  however, combine  interruption rates
for  men by  men  and women  by  women.  They  report  only seven
interruptions for conversations between  members of the same sex.
Does that mean in such  conversations people do not interrupt, or
alternatively where the segments  shorter in these conversations?
Zimmerman  and  West tell  us  nothing  about the  length  of the
segments  in  the  study  nor  do  they  attempt  to  standardise
interruption rates.  Again, in my  study, there was no difference
in the rate of interruption of men by men, and women by women.
   Zimmerman  and  West's  data  are  weak  but  their subsequent
interpretation  is   also  too  narrow.    Why  do  interruptions
necessarily reflect dominance?  Can  interruptions not arise from
other sources?   Do some  interruptions not  reflect interest and
involvement as in the following exchange:

   TUTOR: ... so he he gives  the impression that he he wasn't
   able to train any of them up ("Now"
   STUDENT:                     ("He"  didn't try  hard enough
   heh heh heh

   This would be  classified as an  interruption by Zimmerman and
West  because  it  involves  simultaneous  speech  (the  words in
[double  quotes])  and  the  first  speaker's  utterance  in  not
complete.  Here, however, the student  interrupts not, I think to
appear dominant but to make  a witticism which reflected interest
and involvement in  the proceedings.  In my  study of tutorials I
found  that  students  interrupted  tutors  more  frequently than
vice-versa.   Interruptions,  therefore,  cannot  always  reflect
dominance.   Anne  Cutler,  from Sussex  University,  and  I have
carried out  experiments that  suggest some  interruptions in Mrs
Thatcher's interviews arise  because at some  points people think
she has  completed her  turn when  she has  not.  It  is not that
interviewers  are trying  to dominate  her in  conversation (even
though she  is a  woman) but  that they  are interpreting certain
signals in her speech incorrectly.
   Women may indeed be oppressed, and linguistic science may come
up with evidence  that women are  oppressed in conversation.  The
evidence so far, however, is weak.  ``Si femme il y a, silence il
n'y a?'' -- peut-etre, peut-etre  [circumflex accent on the first
`e' in `etre'].

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