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August 31, 2022

Blog Update: Quick Book Reviews

This month (and likely the next) has been very busy, but I did find the time to finish reading up some language-related books, and I will provide some quick reviews for you here.

Millennials Talking Media: Creating Intertextual Identities in Everyday Conversation by Sylvia Sierra. This book works from the perspective of discourse analysis, looking at how millenials use references to pop culture for different purposes - to smooth other difficult conversations; to create an in-group identity; to allow people who don't know about an event to participate anyway by reminding everyone of a shared pop-cultural heritage; to have fun; to reference stereotypes. The book is academically-focused, so it may be a difficult read if you're not familiar with discourse analysis.

One concept I found interesting was the idea of 'play frames' - that is, 'framing' a conversation in a playful way to focus on fun. Sierra references how the subjects of the study, her roommates, have different levels of willingness to engage in 'play frames.' The book also tackles the meaning of 'intertextuality', including a very funny conversation where Sierra discusses with her roommates, in a very casual matter, how intertextuality is different from mere 'references'. Overall, I found the book informative - I was not familiar with discourse analysis beforehand, so many of the concepts were new to me. If you're interested in how conversation works between millenials, and the ways in which pop culture can reinforce group identities, this book may be of interest to you.

Women, Men and Language: A Sociolinguistic Account of Gender Differences in Language by Jennifer Coates. This book focuses on gendered differences in conversation, and specifically on examining certain well-known claims in sociolinguistics about how men and women differ in language. If you've ever heard that women are more likely to use hedges, that women are more likely to use standard forms than men, and that female conversational style is more 'collaborative' than male conversational style, which is 'competitive', then this book will be relevant to you - and likely challenge many of these preconceptions.

The book is a collection of studies. The one I found most interesting was one on the difference between teenage girls' social networks and teenage boys'. Coates is critical of the Labovian notion that women speak a more standard version of languages due to seeking 'upward prestige', and instead she suggests that a social network-based explanation does a better job of accounting for these differences. The social network study found that teenage girls had more diffuse social networks than teenage boys, who had dense social networks, and that denser social networks were correlated with having more 'regional' features. This means that women speaking a more standard version is not because they want to be seen as more middle class, but because they have less exposure to people who speak these variants, and less identification with them.