The girls in this discussion are co-operative, but selectively so. One identifying factor of co-operative talk as defined by Coates is the discomfort speakers feel if there are unequal contributions to a conversation. The girls however tolerate the total non-contribution of a group member (B2), without attempting to draw him into the discussion, or apparently feeling inhibited in their own talk. The lack of discomfort exhibited by the girls is one piece of evidence which suggests that speakers are selective in their use of co-operativeness, that it is not an invariant characteristic of the speaker, but a response to the context - the gender of the other group members, or the relative degrees of friendship between them.
A second aspect of the discussion where the girls are not co-operative is in their behaviour towards B1. As the S.E.B. comments in its assessment, B1 does appear ready to contribute. He follows the discussion, making eye contact with the speaker, and laughs when the three girls laugh. The three girls who hold the floor for almost the entire discussion do not invite him to speak, nor do they look to him for a response. His two attempts to speak are not supportively received by the three girls, nor does B2 respond. B1 does attempt to pull the discussion round to areas on which he can contribute twice; when these fail, it is not surprising that B1 makes no further attempt to speak. His oral skills are unassessable from this discussion; he is unable to impose himself in a discussion in which the others make no attempt to include him. This is further evidence that speakers select with whom they co-operate, that it need not be a characteristic of an entire discussion.
The interaction between the three girls, while predominantly co-operative, is also not entirely so. The greatest number of co-operative linguistic features occur in the exchanges of G2 and G3. G1 uses fewer co-operative features towards G2 and G3 than the latter do towards each other, and they use fewer to G1 than they do to each other, and G1 is often non-co-operative towards G2 and G3, who are non-co- operative towards G1. This suggests a hierarchy does exist among the three girls, contradicting the common assumption in literature of girls' groups that they are non- hierarchical.
B1's profile is co-operative regarding his use of hedging and questions, competitive with regard to topic development, and non-co-operative with regard to back channelling, lexical repetition, and simultaneous speech.
The discussion demonstrates girls using a mixture of co-operative and non-co- operative features amongst themselves, and competitive linguistic features in their treatment of boys, and a boy using the 'powerless' strategies which have been associated with women in mixed sex conversation by Fishman (1978) and Lakoff (1975).
Back to Chapter 4 Main Page