Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Deborah Tannen on conversations

"Right" and "wrong" aren't words a linguist uses. My job is to analyze conversations and discover why communications fail. The biggest complaint I hear from daughters is: "My mother's always criticizing me." And the mother counters, "I can't open my mouth; my daughter takes everything as criticism."

But sometimes caring and criticism are found in the same words. When mothers talk about their daughters' appearance, they are often doing it because they feel obligated to tell their daughter something that no one else will.

The mother feels she's caring. The daughter feels criticized. They are both right.

What I try to do is point out each side to each other. So, the mother needs to acknowledge the criticism part, and the daughter needs to acknowledge the caring part. It's tough because each sees only one.

From this NYTimes interview of Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, and best selling author of several books, including the fantastic You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. She is out with a new book You're Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, which apparently has already hit the bestseller lists.

Let me give you a link to an article adapted from You just don't understand, with some excerpts:

In my own research, complaints from women about their husbands most often focused not on tangible inequities such as having given up the chance for a career to accompany a husband to his, or doing far more than their share of daily life-support work like cleaning, cooking, social arrangements and errands. Instead, they focused on communication: "He doesn't listen to me," "He doesn't talk to me." I found, as Hacker observed years before, that most wives want their husbands to be, first and foremost, conversational partners, but few husbands share this expectation of their wives.

This is so like ... me and my wife! I better stop and go home, now. Enough blogging for the day ...


  1. Anonymous said...

    Dear Abinandan,

    You might be interested in this audio clip of Deborah's interview on NPR.

    Morning Edition

    With Regards

  2. Anonymous said...

  3. Abi said...

    Hi Narasimhan,

    Thanks for the link!

  4. Anonymous said...

    Yes,expectation of the wives are justified.In the words of JK..

    "So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”