In linguistics, markedness refers to the way words are changed or added to give a special meaning. The unmarked choice is just the normal meaning. For example, the present tense is unmarked for English verbs. If I just say "walk" that refers to the present tense. But if I add something to "walk" (marking it), such as adding ‘ed’ to the end, I can indicate the past: "walked".

Similarly, male things are unmarked, while female things are marked with special endings like "ess" and "ette". For example: "actress", "poetess". In dog breeding, the male is known as the "dog" while the female is known as the "bitch". In man (humanity), the male is known as the "man", while the female is known as the "woman". In a discussion about some random persons, "he" is often used to refer to one of them. The ending ‘ette" by the way is also used for the diminutive or non-serious, as in "dinette". In general, femaleness in language is associated with small size and non-seriousness. (as in, 'an actor worries about interpretation, an actress worries about cellulite').

Outside of linguistics, markedness refers more generally to a choice that has meaning. If I meet you on campus and say "Hi, how are you?" you may or may not even answer the question. But if I say "Hi, how’s your dad?" this is special. You are likely to think of the question as actually asking how your dad is. It carries the implication that your Dad is not well. In general, when you choose the marked choice (the non-normal choice), you are making a statement. There is meaning.

When a man wears a suit to work, it doesn’t normally have much meaning: its just normal. That doesn’t mean we can’t interpret the action. If we bothered to think about it, we might say the person is a team-player, they conform to customs, they are not rebels. But the clothing is not interpreted as intentionally making a statement. In contrast, if they show up in shorts one day, it makes a statement. It will be seen as a deliberate choice. As having intentional meaning.

Tannen says that most of what women do is marked, just as femaleness is marked in the language itself. They don’t seem to have as many neutral choices that say nothing special about them.

Women’s clothing and footwear is extremely varied, brightly colored, unique. In fact, it's considered an embarrassment for two women at a party to be wearing exactly the same dress. But you could have 100 men in identical gray suits and no one would even notice.

On the color issue, there is that great 1992 article quoted in Tannen on women in congress (pg 113).

Similarly, men don’t wear makeup, but women do. Make-up is just like adding ‘ette’ or ‘ed’ to a verb to create a special meaning. It is an extra thing you do to the face (and nails) to communicate a look. My cousing has ankle bracelets, a ring in her belly button, another in her eyebrow, and a stud in her tongue. She is distinguishing herself from the pack.

Hairstyle is the same way. There are far more styles available for women than for men.

Very small nuances in how clothes are worn communicate volumes in women, but not in men. If I unbutton one more button on my shirt, do you start forming opinions about me? What about for a woman?

Even forms of address are very telling. In survey forms, there are usually 4 choices: one for men, three for women: Mrs vs Ms vs Miss cf Mr.


Occupational Expectations

The word "doctor" can technically refer to either men or women, but if you want to indicate a female doctor you say woman doctor. Tannen notes how people react to women using the title doctor.

  1. "excuse ME!"
  2. good for you!

Female congressmen, doctors, professors and other important people are often confused with staff. (e.g., Tannen was confused with a secretary).

Children are really clear about using gender as a clue to professions, like the 5-year old who told her doctor mother that she wasn’t a doctor but a nurse. When the mother said she really was a doctor and that she taught other people to be doctors, the child said ‘but you only teach women doctors’.

There is the great story about Tannen’s colleague who made a plane reservation for herself and was asked whether it was Mrs. Or Miss. To avoid that, she said it was "Dr." and so the person said "Will the doctor be needing a rental car when he arrives? Her attempt to reframe her answer to avoid revealing marital status resulting in being reframed as secretary.

Recall the example I gave in class about the car dealer addressing the answers to my wife's questions to me. But waitresses addressing only to my wife.


Harrassment of Men and Women by the Opposite Sex

At a family gathering, have you ever heard a woman shooing men out of the kitchen? Or a wife complaining about her husband putting things away in the wrong place in the kitchen?

In traditional families, a woman’s place is in the home, and her stronghold is the kitchen. The men belong at work, or in the yard. And women will continually let men know that they are out of place or need to fit in better or a screwing up in those domains. (Example of doing laundry for the first time.) (Example of the dish washer)

Where do women get harrassed? At work. And on the street. Especially in "male" areas, like construction sites.

Tannen says that women cannot look powerful by taking off their clothes: as in the picture of the military woman who was a body builder and posed for a picture in a bikini. It was seen as sexual rather than strong.



Women are more likely than men to switch to the other sex’s conversational style. In the male-defined work environment, the language changes to more military and sports terminology.

In addressing women, both men and women are "nicer", but women are especially nice to other women, as in the study of peer-evaluations by Johnson and Roen.

Should women adopt men’s styles? What are the advantages and disadvantages of those styles?

One advantage is given on pg128: a less powerful presence allows other people (shy people) to expand a bit more, makes it easier for them to breathe.

In linguistics, markedness refers to Visit, versus visited. If you want anything besides the default meaning, you have do something extra

When you do do that something extra you meta communicate. You signal something.

  1. If its normal for women to wear a dress a the office, wearing pants is a statement. Its a marked choice.
  2. Tannen suggests that society defines almost everything that adult women do as a marked choice, so that few things that they do are neutral. They always say somethign about the woman.
  3. One consequence is that women's ways of doing things can be seen as special, not normal. Why is she acting that way?
  4. Just speaking in public (to an audience) was once scandalous for a woman. Only singers and show girls did that
  5. Boasting, bragging, showing one's own competence