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Introduction

The impact of gender As Greenberg and Baron (1993) propose


and its interaction with “It is a fact of life on the job that everyone
engages in communication”. Communication
role and status on the has a central role in one’s working day and
use of tag questions in perhaps this is why most managers and organ-
isational theorists view communication as
meetings extremely important (Eisenberg and Phillips,
1991). Organisations could gain a great deal
Alison C.T. Calnan and from improving their communication systems
Marilyn J. Davidson and tackling problems that have been attrib-
uted to the “quality of communication” or
“communication breakdown” among individ-
uals and groups (Coupland et al., 1991).
Research in the area of sex differences in
language and oral communication has its
The authors
roots in the investigation of traditionally held
Alison C.T. Calnan is a Personnel Officer with Visteon, stereotypes about how women and men
Basildon, Essex. speak. Empirical research has found some
Marilyn Davidson is Senior Lecturer in Organisational support for these stereotypes but there are
Psychology, Manchester School of Management, UMIST, also findings which actually invert traditional
Manchester. stereotypes or find no differences at all
between the sexes. There are however enough
Abstract consistently found differences between men
The use of tag questions in speech has been hypothesised and women to be able to describe two distinct
to make speech sound uncertain and tentative although speech styles, one used mainly by men, the
Holmes (1984) suggests that there are three different other used mainly by women (Case, 1988,
types of tag questions and only one type is linked to 1993; Tannen, 1990).
uncertainty. Research on the issue of gender differences in Explanations of the differences between
tag question usage has produced confusing findings with the speech of men and women have included
some research indicating women use more tag questions, cultural differences between the two sexes
other research revealing men use more and some research about what a conversation is (Maltz and
finding no difference. The research on tag question use has Borker, 1982). Explanations based on male
identified role and power as important factors not just dominance in society have also been offered
gender. The effects of the presence of the opposite sex on where female speech is a reaction to the domi-
speech is a controversial area of study. Past research nant group of men (Henley and Kramarae,
suggests that the use of tag questions is affected by 1991). Male dominance in society means that
whether the conversation is between members of the male speech is seen as the norm and female
same sex or members of both sexes. The current study speech is evaluated as deficient when com-
aimed to clarify the controversy of whether men or women pared (Henley and Kramarae, 1991). Male
use more tag questions, any possible effects of group dominance means that men control the lin-
composition and sought to extend research on the rela- guistic system and this in turn means that
tionship of tag question use to role (chairperson or not) women are denied adequate means to express
and power (highest status or not). The study was conduct- themselves. Researchers are now beginning to
ed at a power station in England. Ten business meetings recognise the fact that each of the theories has
which were all male, all female or mixed were tape something to offer and that a more compre-
recorded. From these tape recordings the tag questions hensive approach to the explanation of gender
were identified, transcribed and classified as modal, differences in speech is called for.
affective facilitative or affective softener according to the Fishman (1978) concluded that women
classification provided by Holmes (1984). use questions as a way of maintaining conver-
sation and gaining a response from a man. A
question is a powerful tool because it
demands a response. Fishman believes that
Women in Management Review
Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · pp. 19–36 this is a manifestation of the male/female
© MCB University Press · ISSN 0964-9425 hierarchy, which reflects the unequal status of
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The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

women in society and demonstrates the take among participants following presenta-
powerlessness of women. Women have tions at a professional conference and found
become the shift workers of ordinary inter- that all examples of tag questions recorded
action, i.e. they spend time asking questions were spoken by men. Lapadat and Seesahai
to keep the conversation going and doing the (1977) studying informal conversations
work to maintain interaction (Fishman, revealed that men asked more tag questions
1978). Johnson (1980) in a study of profes- than women. However, other studies have
sional meetings in a large industrial corpora- shown no difference in the usage of tag
tion revealed that women did ask more ques- questions between men and women. For
tions. On the other hand, Johnson (1980) example Baumann (1976) in a study of
concludes that the use of questions is not conversations in three different settings – an
based on sex and nor does it demonstrate office staff meeting (mixed men and women),
powerlessness but instead it is linked to a graduate linguistic class (mixed men and
purpose and the intent of the speaker, for women), and a women’s discussion group (all
example, using it to check someone else’s women) revealed that men used tag questions
utterance. at least as much as women, no tag questions at
all being recorded in the all female 2.5 hour
interaction. Baumann argues that tag ques-
Sex differences in speech and tag
tions may not express uncertainty but that
questions
simply they are used to be more polite. Indeed
The aim of this paper is to present the find- Case (1993) demonstrated in the analysis of a
ings of a study which investigates gender group of managers working together at a
differences and the impact of role and status, management school that the women used tag
and the use of specific types of questions questions which made their speech sound
known as tag questions. more socially facilitative.
A tag question is in between an outright Kollock et al. (1985) suggest that the use of
statement and a yes/no question, e.g. “It’s hot tag questions is not to do so much with gender
outside, isn’t it?”. They may either be formal, but with power. In a study of intimate couples
e.g. “Weren’t you?” “Does he?” “Hasn’t it?” both heterosexual and homosexual Kollock et
or informal e.g. “Right?” “OK?”. Lakoff al. revealed that the less powerful partner in
(1975) maintained that tag questions make all female and mixed sex (whether male or
speech less assertive and more tentative and female) couples asked more tag questions.
according to Lakoff women use more tag Although interestingly in male gay couples the
questions in their speech. Empirical investiga- less powerful partner had lower rates of tag
tions have revealed mixed findings as to questions, Kollock et al. maintained that in all
whether women do in fact use tag questions. male couples the position of the less powerful
Some researchers agree that women use couple is especially difficult and it is often the
more tag questions, e.g. Case (1988) in a less powerful partner who will want to end the
study of a group of managers at a manage- relationship. Kollock et al. maintained that
ment school found that women used tag because of this the more powerful partner will
questions more abundantly than men. Fish- use more tag questions to encourage the less
man (1980) demonstrated that in 52 hours of powerful partner and try to create the appear-
natural conversation between heterosexual ance of equality. Kollock et al. concluded that
couples, at home, women asked three times as it is power differences that may create the
many tag questions as men. McMillan et al. appearance of sex differences in conversation.
(1977) assigned male and female psychology Johnson (1980) has also linked the use of the
students to mixed, all male and all female tag question to power. In her study of four,
groups. On average they found that the female one-hour professional meetings she linked the
students used tag questions twice as often as use of tag questions to the most powerful
their male counterparts. Furthermore in person, since she found that it was actually the
mixed groups women used three times as male leader of the group who asked the most
many tag questions as the men. tag questions (over half). He used them to
Other researchers have demonstrated that interject, clarify and elaborate when others
in some situations men use more tag ques- had the floor as well as when he himself was
tions than women, e.g. Dubois and Crouch talking. Indeed Johnson (1980) comments
(1975) studied the conversational give and that her findings contradict Lakoff ’s assertion
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The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

that tag questions represent weakness or organised players, it is team performance


uncertainty and in fact the tag question is a which has often become the crucial factor in
powerful “checking” device. success rather than individual performance.
Indeed Cameron et al. (1989) examined The effect of the composition of groups on
the use of modal and affective tag questions in speech behaviour of men and women is far
groups where there were asymmetries in from clear. Bodine (1975) hypothesised that
power held by the participants. Tags with the speech used in situations where both sexes
modal meaning request the addressee to are present may be quite different from the
confirm the speaker’s proposition, e.g. “She’s speech of single sex groups. Studies demon-
coming around noon, isn’t she?” and are strate that in mixed groups men’s behaviour
usually spoken with rising intonation. An approaches females’, since men will increase
affective tag is one that expresses the speaker’s the frequency of supportive, personal interac-
attitude to the addressee either by supporting/ tion and decrease competitiveness (Bohn and
facilitating the addressee, e.g. “The hen’s Stutman, 1983). Furthermore, men will also
brown, isn’t she?” (spoken by a father to a swear less when women are present (Gomm,
son), or by softening a negatively affective 1981). McMillan et al. (1977) found that in a
speech act, e.g. “That was pretty silly, wasn’t mixed sex group men used more tag ques-
it?” and are usually spoken with falling tone tions, modal construction and intensifiers
(Coates, 1993). Cameron et al. (1989) discov- which are all characteristics of female speech.
ered that affective tags were used only by Interestingly women used more when they
powerful speakers; powerless speakers never were in mixed sex groups as well. They
used affective tags. The use of affective tags hypothesise that men use more female
was also related to role in the conversation. characteristics in the presence of women
Those taking on a facilitating role regardless since they will recognise the female values of
of sex used more facilitating tags, although it interpersonal closeness and emotional
could be argued that women more often take involvement. They offer another explanation
on the role of facilitator in conversation (Fish- of why women increase the frequency of these
man, 1980). Modal tags were used by both speech characteristics in terms of a power
powerful and powerless speakers although differential where unaggressive language
both powerless men and women used them would be more appropriate when talking to
slightly more. Furthermore in another study, people with more power. What happens to the
Holmes (1984) found that women used mainly speech of women in same sex groups is less
affective tags while the majority of tags used clear (Case, 1994), although Hirschman
by men were modal. Coates (1988) suggests (1973, 1974) tentatively suggests that women
that women use more affective tags than men may talk more easily to each other than to
because of the nature of their conversations, men, since speech between women has fewer
since the topics that women talk about i.e. hesitations, more minimal responses and
people and feelings, are more face threatening more elaboration of the other’s speech. Tannen
than the topics men talk about, i.e. things. (1990) comments that at an all female meet-
Holmes (1984) argues that affective tags are ing which she observed and taped there were
not associated with uncertainty and it is in more “multiple floors”, more laughing, teas-
fact modal tags that reflect uncertainty and ing and overlapped speech than at meetings
notably these are used mostly by men or by where all or most of the participants were
powerless people. In conclusion, it would male. Researchers have called for more
appear from the research findings to date that research into the effect of the composition of
the issue of who uses tag questions most, in groups on speech (Maltz and Borker, 1982).
what situations, and the relationship of tag
questions with power is still far from resolved.
The study
This study attempts to resolve the controversy
Speech behaviour in groups
surrounding the issue of tag question usage,
Nowadays, the nature of the goals and objec- particularly the issue of gender differences
tives of organisations necessitate that people and the impact of role and status. The investi-
act as a group rather than as individuals. gation was conducted using meetings held at a
McCowan (1989) suggests that with sharpen- power station in the north of England. Unlike
ing competition between increasingly well- many previous studies a variety of meetings
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The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

were tape recorded, all of which were part of solidarity with the addressee; affective soften-
the normal working day at the power station er, i.e. tag questions which soften a face threat-
and hence conducted in natural conditions. ening act; or finally modal, i.e. tag questions
The study was designed to investigate the requesting information or confirmation of
following hypotheses drawn from the litera- information. The speaker of the tag question
ture: was noted and labelled appropriately as either
(1) Women will use more affective (facilita- male or female. It was also recorded whether
tive and softener) tag questions than men. they were the chairperson or not and the
(2) Men will use more modal tag questions highest person with regards to status in the
than women. group or not.
(3) Women in mixed groups will use more tag The independent variables therefore in this
questions than women in all female study were:
groups. (1) the sex composition of the groups, either
(4) Men in mixed groups will use more all male, all female or mixed male and
affective (facilitative and softener) tag female;
questions than men in all male groups. (2) the sex of the subjects, either male or
female;
A further set of hypotheses were associated (3) the role of the person in the group, i.e.
with the number of tag questions spoken by whether they were the chairperson or not;
people acting as chairperson and the people of (4) whether the person was highest in status
highest status (grade): (grade) in the group or not. The depen-
(5) People acting as chairperson will use dent variable was the frequency of occur-
more affective, particularly facilitative, rence of tag questions both modal and
tag questions than those people not acting affective (facilitative and softener).
as chairperson.
(6) People with the highest status (grade) will Subjects
use more affective tag questions. The subjects were all, apart from two,
employees at an electricity generating power
Method station in the north of England. The remain-
ing subjects were currently working at the site
General Design as contractors. In total 72 subjects took part,
Ten business meetings (all of which were a mean age = 37.97: 48 males, mean age =
naturally occurring part of the working day) 38.77, and 24 females, mean age = 36.44. All
were tape recorded at a power station in the but one of the subjects described their ethnic
north of England over a period of one week. Of origin as white (UK and Northern Ireland),
the meetings studied, four were all male, one the remaining subject was classified as other
was all female and five were mixed male and white (European). All subjects stated that
female. Each meeting had different people English was their first language.
attending and was made up of between three A Sony M-425 micro-cassette recorder was
and 16 people. The purpose of the ten meet- used to tape all of the meetings. Each person
ings taped varied but can be divided into three attending a meeting was informed that the
main categories, the first category being sec- experimenter wished to tape record the meet-
tion/department review meetings which were ing as part of her study on how groups interact.
regular meetings (meetings one, two, four, The experimenter, at this point, did not
eight and nine). The second category included explain the exact nature of the study. Everyone
meetings discussing specific projects (meet- attending was asked permission to allow tape
ings three, five and ten), and committee meet- recording and was guaranteed confidentiality
ings (meeting six) made up the third category. and that no one would be identified by the
Typed transcripts were taken from the tape study. Where possible a letter was sent to all
from each meeting. Tag questions occurring in participants before the meeting took place. It
the first 30 minutes of the meeting were identi- was made clear by the experimenter that if any
fied and classified. The classification of tag one person objected tape recording would not
questions was based on the description provid- take place so the study was entirely voluntary.
ed by Holmes (1984) and involved dividing On arrival at the meeting room each
them into: affective facilitative, i.e. tag ques- subject was asked to complete a short
tions indicating a positive interest in or biographical questionnaire; one member of
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The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

the group was asked to also complete a short The style of the meeting was to go around
questionnaire providing information about each person in turn for an update. One hour’s
the meeting itself. Both these questionnaires worth of tape was recorded and the meeting
were completed before the meeting began. was not concluded in this time.
The micro-cassette tape recorder was then
Meeting 3
left in the room and one person was asked to
This was the first meeting of a group dis-
turn over the tape if the meeting lasted longer
cussing a project. Four people attended, all
than half an hour. All participants were
were female (mean age = 39). All the women
instructed to try to forget that the tape
worked in the same section at a similar grade,
recorder was there and continue as they
one of the women acted as team leader. The
normally would. At this point confidentiality
meeting lasted 30 minutes.
of the study was assured once more. The
experimenter then left the room. The experi- Meeting 4
menter returned at the end of the meeting to This was a meeting of representatives of
collect the tape and tape recorder. A letter was sections within the commercial department
given to the chairperson which explained in and the department manager who was female.
more detail what the study was about and The meeting was held each morning for
expressed thanks to all those participating. briefing purposes. Six people attended (mean
age = 38), three male (mean age = 39) and
Meetings three female (mean age = 37). All those
The study was conducted during one week at attending were at supervisory grades. The
the power station. Meetings scheduled for this meeting lasted 30 minutes and involved each
week were identified with the assistance of person in turn describing their day ahead.
secretaries. From the identified meetings, all
the meetings that were suitable in terms of size, Meeting 5
(preferred size between 4-12 people), length This was a meeting to discuss an engineering
(at least half an hour) and where the subject process and was the fourth occasion that the
matter was not thought to be especially confi- group had met. Twelve people attended, all of
dential, were approached to be taped. On this whom were male (mean age = 40.16 years).
basis ten meetings were selected and agree- All those attending were engineers or similar
ment was given to tape record all these meet- in status. The meeting lasted 32.08 minutes
ings. and the agenda was led by the highest ranking
man who summarised a number of issues and
Meeting 1 then went round the table asking for updates
This was a meeting of a section in the human from each person.
resources department. It was a regular meet-
ing taking place each week and its purpose Meeting 6
was for the team members to communicate to This was a meeting of a cross department
each other their week ahead. Five people group reviewing training activities on site.
attended all of whom were male (mean age = The group met every two months and had
34.4). There was a mixture of grades from a been meeting for six years. Six people were
section head to an industrial placement stu- present at the meeting (mean age = 41.166),
dent. The industrial placement student had four were male (mean age = 41.75) and two
provided the agenda. The meeting lasted were female (mean age = 40). The group was
38.49 minutes and was quite informal in style. a mixture of grades but the women were the
lowest grades present. One of the men acted
Meeting 2
as chairperson and he had prepared an agenda
This was a meeting taking place in a section of
which involved a high degree of input from
the engineering maintenance department.
the training manager (male) and another
The purpose of the meeting was to review the
representative of the training department
section’s progress and the meeting takes place
(female). The meeting lasted one hour.
regularly every month. Nine people attended,
seven male (mean age = 37.85) and two Meeting 7
female (mean age = 30.5), the mean age of the This was a meeting to discuss the installation
group was 36.2 years. All the men were at of a monitoring system by a contractor. It was
engineer grades and one was head of the a weekly meeting and they had met ten times
section, both women were on clerical grades. previously. There were four group members,
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The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

all of whom were male and their mean age was An independent experimenter was asked to
45.5 years. All attendees were of similar repeat the process of coding the tag questions.
grade. The meeting lasted 30 minutes and The coder was briefed on what a tag question
was chaired by one of the men. was and the different types – modal, affective
facilitative, affective softener. Due to time
Meeting 8
constraints of the coder only five of the
This was a weekly meeting of the commercial
meetings were selected. These five meetings
department and was an opportunity to pass
included, however, 72 per cent of identified
on information about both work and social
tag questions. A Pearson product moment
events. The meeting had been taking place for
correlation was calculated of 0.7180, indicat-
one year. Sixteen people attended in total,
ing good inter-rates reliability.
(mean age = 36.33), nine of whom were
female (mean age = 36.125) and seven of
whom were male (mean age = 36.57). The Results
group was made up of a mixture of grades The analysis is divided into three main
from clerical staff to a junior manager. The sections. Each section looks at differences
meeting lasted 36.06 minutes and was chaired between two groups on the following tag
by a woman. On the agenda were two infor- question categories: total mean number of tag
mal presentations. questions (all types), total mean number of
Meeting 9 affective tag questions (both facilitative and
This was a weekly team meeting of a section softener), mean number of affective facilita-
in the human resources department. The tive tag questions, mean number of affective
meeting was aimed at updating each team softener tag questions and mean number of
member on current issues. Seven people modal tag questions.
attended (mean age = 35.14), four females The first section examines differences
and three males. The meeting lasted 34.21 between males and females, in all the meet-
minutes and involved a summary of some ings. Therefore the mean numbers of tag
current issues by the department manager questions of each category is compared
(male) as well as an opportunity for the rest of between males and females. This is achieved
the team to share current concerns. The by presenting the data in graphical form and
meeting was informal but chaired by the then comparing means using independent
second highest ranking person (female). samples t-tests. The next section is concerned
with differences in tag question usage between
Meeting 10 same sex groups compared to mixed sex
This was a meeting to discuss performance groups. Therefore, in this section the mean
indicators for a project. Three males attended numbers of tag questions (all categories) used
(mean age = 39.66). It was the second time by women in same sex groups will be com-
that the group had met. The meeting was an pared to the mean number of tag questions
open floor and all were at engineering grades. used by women in mixed groups; and the
The meeting lasted 50.36 minutes. mean number of tag questions (all categories)
used by men in same sex groups will be com-
Transcripts pared to the mean number of tag questions
The first half-hour of each tape was listened to. used by men in mixed sex groups. This analy-
In every case where a tag question occurred sis will be achieved by presenting the data
the tape was transcribed in the exact words of graphically and testing for any differences
the speaker and the intonation was noted. The using independent samples t-tests. The final
speaker of the tag question was also noted and section investigates the effects of role (chair-
a label was attached indicating whether they person or not) and status (person of highest
were male or female, acting as chairperson or status in the meeting or not) on all categories
not and whether they were the person in the of tag question use in all meetings. In this
group of the highest status or not. In this study section the mean numbers of tag questions
the person of highest status was the person asked by people in the role of chairperson will
with the highest job grade. Tag questions were be compared to the mean number of tag
counted and classified as either modal or questions asked by people not in the role of
affective (facilitative and softener) using the chairperson. The mean number of tag ques-
description provided by Holmes (1984). tions is also compared between people of
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The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

highest status in each meeting and people not between the mean number of affective facilita-
of highest status. Again the data will be pre- tive tag questions used by men and women,
sented graphically and independent t-tests are with the mean for women being 1.17 and the
used. An analysis of variance is also reported mean for men being 0.813. A significant
in this section which investigates the interac- difference (t = 2.96, p < 0.05) was demon-
tion of sex with role and status. strated, however, between the mean number
of affective softeners used by men and
Gender differences in tag question use women. Women were found never to use
Figure 1 shows the mean number of tag affective softeners while men used a mean of
questions used by men and women in all the 0.292. No difference was found in the use of
meetings studied, i.e. both mixed sex and modal tags with women using a mean of 1.13
same sex. It reveals that there is a difference and men using a mean of 1.46.
between the total mean number of tag ques- These results mean that neither H1 or H2
tions asked by women compared to that of are supported. H1 stated that women will use
men. Looking at the different types of tag more affective tag questions than men. How-
questions, the graph demonstrates that men ever these results indicate that there is no
and women ask exactly the same mean number difference between the mean numbers of
of affective questions. However, women ask affective tag questions used by men and
more affective facilitative tag questions while women. When considering facilitative and
men ask more affective softener tag questions. softener tags, no difference was found between
Men also ask more modal tag questions. men and women in their use of facilitative tags,
To test the significance of these differences but it was found that, in fact, men use signifi-
t-tests were carried out between the two cantly more softener tags (t = 2.96, p < 0.05).
groups (men and women) on each type of tag H2 stated that men will use more modal tags
question. The means and results of the t-tests that women, but these results indicate that
for tag questions (modal, affective, affective there is no significant difference between the
facilitative and affective softeners) are pre- mean number of modal tags used by men and
sented in Table I. These data are used to test the mean number of modal tags used by
H1 that women will use more affective (facili- women.
tative and softener) tag questions than men, Figure 2 shows the mean number of tag
and to test H2 that men will use more modal questions used by women in same sex groups
tag questions than women. compared to women in mixed groups. The
No significant difference was found graph reveals that women in same sex groups
between how often men and women use tag used a greater total number of tag questions.
questions, women using a mean of 2.21 while When considering the different types of tag
men used a mean of 2.63 tag questions. When questions, women in all female groups used
looking at the different types of tag questions, more modal and affective facilitative tag
men and women were shown to use exactly questions. No women, no matter if they were
the same mean total number of affective tags, in all female groups or mixed groups, ever
both men and women having a mean of 1.17. used affective softener tag questions.
Considering the different types of affective tag Table II presents means for the number of
questions, no significant difference was found tag questions (affective, facilitative, softener
and modal) for women in mixed and same sex
groups. It also shows t-test results for these
Figure 1 The mean number of tag questions used by men two groups (mixed and same sex) comparing
and women in all meetings (i.e. both same and mixed sex) the numbers of tag questions asked by women
in same sex groups to women in mixed
Mean number of tag questions groups. These data are used to test the signifi-
3 Key
2.5 Male (n = 48) cance of the differences presented in the
Female (n = 24) graphs and thus H3 that women in mixed
2
1.5 groups will use more tag questions than
1 women in all female groups.
0.5
No significant difference was found in the
0
Total tags Total Facilitative Softener Modal total mean use of tag questions between
affective
women in same sex groups and women in
Type of tag question
mixed groups, with women using a mean of
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The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

Table I Mean number of occurrences of tag questions and standard deviations by sex of subject

Women Men
(n = 24) (n = 48)
Standard Standard Degrees of
Tag questions Mean deviation Mean deviation freedom t value
All tag questions 2.21 4.40 2.63 3.38 70 0.45
Affective 1.17 2.84 1.17 1.87 70 0.00
Affective facilitative 1.17 2.84 0.813 1.39 70 –0.70
Affective softener 0.00 0.00 0.292 0.683 47a 2.96*
Modal 1.13 1.83 1.46 2.10 70 0.66
Notes:
* = p < 0.05
a = Degrees of freedom calculated using formulae for unequal variances

9.25 in same sex groups and women using a questions are the same as the results for total
mean of 0.80 in mixed groups. There was no affective tag questions. Furthermore no t-test
significant difference shown between the could be calculated for affective softener tag
mean total number of affective tags that questions since there were no examples. A
women use in mixed groups compared to the significant difference (t = 3.47, p < 0.05)
mean number used in same sex groups, with between the use of modal tag questions was
women using a mean of 5.75 in same sex demonstrated, however, between women in
groups and a mean of 0.25 in mixed groups. mixed groups and women in same sex groups,
Since women did not use any affective soften- women in mixed groups using a mean of 0.65
er tag questions the results for facilitative tag while women in same sex groups using a mean
of 3.50.
These results do not support H3 that
Figure 2 The mean number of tag questions used by women in mixed groups will use more tag
women in all female and mixed groups questions than women in all female groups,
Mean number of tag questions since no significant difference was found
10 Key
9
All female (n = 4)
between the mean number of tags used by
8
7 Mixed (n = 20) women in mixed and women in same sex
6
5 groups. In fact, Figure 2 indicates that women
4
3 in same sex groups ask the most tag questions.
2
1 This is supported by the fact that women in
0
Total tags Total Facilitative Modal same sex groups used significantly more
affective
modal tag questions (t = 3.47, p < 0.05) than
Type of tag question
women in mixed groups.

Table II Mean number of occurrences of tag questions by women and standard deviations in mixed and same sex group

All female Mixed


(n = 4) (n = 20)
Standard Standard Degrees of
Tag questions Mean deviation Mean deviation freedom t value
All tag questions 9.25 7.41 0.80 1.47 3.05 2.27
Affective 5.75 5.12 0.25 0.55 3.01 2.14
Affective facilitative 5.75 5.12 0.25 0.55 3.01 2.14
Affective softener 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Modal 3.50 2.52 0.65 1.27 22 3.47*
Notes:
* = p < 0.05
NB: All degrees of freedom calculated using formulae for unequal variances
26
The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

Figure 3 shows the mean number of tag ques- mixed groups using a mean of 1.96. No differ-
tions asked by men in same sex groups com- ence was revealed in the mean use of affective
pared to men in mixed groups. The graph tag questions between men in mixed groups
reveals that men in same sex groups ask a and men in same sex groups either, with men
greater total number of tag questions. In fact in same sex groups asking a mean of 1.54
they ask a greater number of every type of tag affective tag questions and men in mixed
question. groups asking a mean of 0.792. When
Table III presents means for the number of examining the different types of affective tag
tag questions (affective, facilitative, softener questions used by men, no difference was
and modal) for men in mixed and same sex found in the use of facilitative tag questions,
groups. It also shows t-test results for these with men in same sex groups using a mean of
two groups (mixed and same sex) comparing 0.875 and men in mixed groups using a mean
the numbers of tag questions asked by men in of 0.750. There was, however, a significant
same sex groups to the numbers asked by men difference (t = 2.70, p < 0.05) between the
in mixed groups. This data is used to test the mean use of softener tag questions, since a
significance of the differences presented in the mean of 0.542 was found for men in same sex
graphs and thus H4 that men in mixed groups groups while a mean of 0.042 was found for
will use more affective tag questions (facilita- men in mixed groups. No significant differ-
tive and softener) than men in all male groups ence was found for the mean use of modal tag
When considering differences in mean questions between men in mixed groups and
number of tag questions used by men in men in same sex groups, since men in same
mixed groups and men in same sex groups no sex groups were demonstrated to use a mean
significant difference was found in the total of 1.75 while men in mixed groups were found
mean use of tag questions, with men in same to use a mean of 1.17 modal tag questions.
sex groups using a mean of 3.29 while men in These data do not provide support for H4
which states that men in mixed groups will
use more affective tag questions than men in
Figure 3 The mean number of tag questions in mixed
same sex groups. In fact, Figure 3 shows that
meetings compared to men in same sex meetings
men in same sex groups use more affective
Mean number of tag questions tags. Furthermore the t-test results also sug-
4
gest the opposite to the hypothesis, as the only
Key
3 All male (n = 24) significant difference between the use of tag
Mixed (n = 24) questions by men in same sex groups com-
2
pared to men in mixed groups is for the use of
1 affective softener tag questions (t = 2.70, p <
0.05). This difference indicates that men in
0
Total tags Total Facilitative Softener Modal same sex groups use significantly more of
affective
these tag questions than men in mixed
Type of tag question
groups.

Table III Mean number of occurrences of tag questions by men and standard deviations in mixed and same sex groups

All male Mixed


(n = 24) (n = 24)
Standard Standard Degrees of
Tag questions Mean deviation Mean deviation freedom t value
All tag questions 3.29 4.11 1.96 2.33 36.4a 1.38
Affective 1.54 2.24 0.792 1.35 46 1.40
Affective facilitative 0.875 1.51 0.750 1.29 46 0.31
Affective softener 0.542 0.884 0.042 0.204 25.5a 2.70*
Modal 1.75 2.66 1.17 1.34 34.0a 0.96
Notes:
* = p < 0.05
a Degrees of freedom calculated using formulae for unequal variances

27
The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

Figure 4 shows the mean number of tag ques- chairpersons and non-chairpersons on total
tions asked by people in the role of chairper- affective tag questions (3.22 versus 0.873),
son compared to people not in this role. The affective facilitative tag questions (2.67 versus
graph shows that people in the role of chair- 0.683), affective softener tag questions (0.556
person ask more total tag question and more versus 0.143) and modal tag questions (2.11
of every type of tag question compared to versus 1.24).
people not in the role of chairperson. Although these data show a significant
Table IV highlights the means for number of difference between chairpersons and non-
tag questions (affective, facilitative, softener chairpersons on the total use of tag questions
and modal) for people acting as chairperson (t = 2.55, p < 0.05), they do not provide
compared to people not acting as chairperson support for H5, since this hypothesis states
and t-test results. These data are used to test to
that people acting as chairperson will use more
see if the differences shown in the graph are
affective tag questions, particularly facilitative,
statistically significant, and test H5 that people
and there is no statistical difference found on
acting as chairperson will use more affective,
this type of tag question between chairpersons
particularly facilitative tag, questions than
and non-chairpersons. Figure 4 does show,
those people not acting as chairperson.
however, a trend for chairpersons to ask more
The data show that there is a significant
difference (t = 2.55, p <0.05) between the affective tag questions.
total number of tag questions used by people Figure 5 indicates that people of highest
acting as chairperson compared to those not status ask a greater total mean number of tag
acting as chairperson, since people acting as questions and this difference reflects a greater
chairperson use a mean of 5.33 compared to a usage of modal tag questions particularly. The
mean of 2.08 for those people not acting as graph also reveals that people of highest status
chairperson. There are, however, no signifi- do not use more affective tag questions of any
cant differences revealed when tag questions type compared to people not of highest status.
are subdivided into their different types, since
there are no significant differences between
Figure 5 The mean number of tag questions used by
people of the highest status in the group compared to
Figure 4 The mean number of tag questions used by people other members
acting as chairperson compared to non-chairpersons
Mean number of tag questions
Mean number of tag questions Key Key
3.5
6 Chair person (n = 9) Highest status (n = 8)
3
5 Not chair person (n = 63) Not highest status (n = 64)
2.5
4 2
3 1.5
2 1
1 0.5
0 0
Total Tags Total Facilitative Softener Modal Total tags Total Facilitative Softener Modal
affective tags affective
Type of tag question Type of tag question

Table IV Mean number of occurrences of tag questions by men and standard deviations by role in group

Chairperson Not chairperson


(n = 9) (n = 63)
Standard Standard Degrees of
Tag questions Mean deviation Mean deviation freedom t value
All tag questions 5.33 4.42 2.08 3.46 70 2.55*
Affective 3.22 3.07 0.873 1.93 8.92a 2.23
Affective facilitative 2.67 2.96 0.683 1.69 8.76a 1.97
Affective softener 0.556 1.01 0.143 0.47 8.50a 1.20
Modal 2.11 1.54 1.24 2.05 70 1.22
Notes:
* = p < 0.05
a Degrees of freedom calculated using formulae for unequal variances

28
The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

An examination of Table V shows the mean Table VI ANOVA showing the two-way interaction of sex and role on total
number of occurrences of tag questions number
(affective, facilitative, softener and modal)
Sum of Degrees of Mean
and t-test results for people in the group of
Source of variation squares freedom square F
highest status compared to those people who
are not highest in status. These data are used Main effects 91.07 2 45.53 3.48*
to see if the differences suggested by the graph Sex 7.51 1 7.51 0.574
are statistically significant and to test H6 that Role 81.18 1 81.18 6.20*
people with the highest status (grade) will use 2-way interactions sex role 1.978 1 1.98 0.151
more affective tag questions. Explained 91.56 3 30.52 2.33
No significant difference was found for the Error 890.40 68 13.09
mean total number of tag questions used by Total 981.99 71 13.83
the people of highest status compared to Note: * = p < 0.05
people not of highest status (3.13 versus
2.07). In fact, no differences between these
two groups were revealed for any of the sub- Table VII ANOVA showing the two-way interaction of sex and role on total of
divisions of tag questions. affective tag questions
These data do not provide support for H6
Sum of Degrees of Mean
which states that people of highest status will
Source of variation squares freedom square F
use more affective tag questions compared to
people not of highest status. In fact, if the Main effects 43.07 2 21.54 4.79*
trends in the graphs are noted people of highest Sex 0.491 1 0.491 0.109
status ask fewer affective tag questions, Role 42.09 1 42.09 9.35*
although they do ask more modal tag questions 2-way interactions sex role 0.164 1 0.164 0.036
compared to people not of highest status. Explained 43.97 3 14.66 3.26*
Error 3.60 68 4.500
Total 350.00 71 4.930
Analysis of variance
An analysis of variance was carried out inves- Note: * = p < 0.05
tigating the two-way interactions of sex (male
or female) with the variables role (chairperson Table VIII shows that there is no two-way
or not chairperson) and status (highest rank- interaction of sex and role on the number of
ing or not highest ranking). affective facilitative tag questions asked.
Table VI shows that there is no two-way There is, however, again a main effect of role
interaction between role and sex on the (F = 8.32, p < 0.05) on the number of affec-
number of tag questions used, although there tive facilitative tag questions used.
is a main effect of role (F = 6.20, p < 0.05) on Considering affective facilitative tag ques-
the total number of tag questions asked. tions Table IX demonstrates that there are
Table VII shows that again there is no two- main effects of both sex (F = 9.94, p < 0.05)
way interaction between sex and role on the and role (F = 4.25, p < 0.05) and that there is
total number of affective tag questions used, also a significant interaction between these
although again there is a main effect of role variables (F = 4.25, p < 0.05).
(F = 9.35, p < 0.05) on the total number of To investigate this interaction in more
affective questions used. detail Table X reveals the means for softener

Table V Mean number of occurrences of tag questions and standard deviations by status of subject

Highest status in Not highest status


group (n = 8) in group (n = 64)
Standard Standard Degrees of
Tag questions Mean deviation Mean deviation freedom t value
All tag questions 3.13 2.75 2.41 3.83 70 0.51
Affective 1.00 1.07 1.19 2.33 70 –0.22
Affective facilitative 0.75 1.17 0.953 2.07 70 –0.27
Affective softener 0.125 0.354 0.203 0.596 70 –0.36
Modal 2.13 2.75 1.25 1.90 70 1.16
29
The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

Table VIII ANOVA showing the two-way interaction of sex and role on (male or female) with status (highest status or
affective facilitative tag questions not). No significant results were found for
total number of tag questions, total affective,
Sum of Degrees of Mean
affective facilitative, affective softener and
Source of variation squares freedom square F
modal.
Main effects 30.83 2 15.42 4.25*
Sex 1.139 1 1.14 0.314 Summary of results
Role 30.15 1 30.15 8.32* The results indicated that there were no
2-way interactions sex role 0.350 1 0.350 0.97 statistical gender differences in the use of tag
Explained 32.21 3 10.74 2.96 questions except that men used more affective
Error 246.45 68 3.624 facilitative tag questions (t = 2.96, p < 0.05).
Total 278.65 71 3.925 Few differences were also found between the
Note: * = p < 0.05 tag question use of men and women in same
sex compared to mixed sex groups, since
women were only found to use significantly
tag questions asked by men in the role of
more modal tag questions (t = 3.47, p < 0.05)
chairperson and not in the role of chairper-
in same sex groups compared to mixed sex
son. No affective softener tag questions were
groups and men were only found to use more
asked by any women whether in the role of
affective softener tag questions (t = 2.70,
chairperson or not so there is no need to
p < 0.05) in same sex groups compared to
include women in this table.
mixed groups. All these findings are contrary
Table X indicates that the mean number of
to the hypotheses. People acting in the role of
affective softener tag questions asked by men
chairperson were found to use more tag ques-
not in the role of chairperson is 0.209 but this
increases to 1.00 when a man takes on the role tions (t = 2.55, p < 0.05) but no effects of
of chairperson. status were found. An analysis of variance
An analysis of variance examining the two- investigating the two-way interaction of
way interaction of sex and role on the number gender with role and status found that there
of modal tags asked showed no significant was an interaction only between gender and
main effects and no two-way interaction. role on affective softener tag questions
An analysis of variance was carried out (F = 4.25, p < 0.05).
examining the two-way interaction of sex
Discussion
Table IX ANOVA showing the two-way interaction of sex and role on
affective softener questions
The present study was designed to extend the
area of research into tag question usage and
Sum of Degrees of Mean had three main aims. First, to clarify the
Source of variation squares freedom square F controversy surrounding whether men or
Main effects 4.160 2 2.080 7.40* women use more tag questions and if so what
Sex 2.80 1 2.80 9.94* type of tag questions (H1 and H2). Second, to
Role 1.20 1 1.20 4.25* examine the differences in the use of tag
2-way interactions sex role 1.20 1 1.20 4.25* questions between people in same sex and
Explained 4.161 3 1.387 4.93* mixed sex groups (H3 and H4). Third, the
Error 19.12 68 0.281 study also investigated the relationship of
Total 23.28 71 0.328 gender with role and status (H5 and H6).
Note: * = p < 0.05
Gender differences in tag question use
(H1 and H2)
Table X Mean number of affective softener tag questions asked by men in Research on tag questions really began after
the role of chairperson compared to those asked by men not in the role of Lakoff (1975) made her assertion that women
chairperson use more tag questions and that this makes
their speech sound less assertive and more
Mean number of
tentative. Further research on the issue of
affective softener Standard
whether men or women do use more tag
Role N tag questions deviation
questions has, however, produced inconsis-
Chairman 5 1.00 1.23 tent results, with some researchers finding
Not chairperson 43 0.209 0.559 that women use more tag questions (Case,
30
The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

1988; Fishman, 1980; McMillan et al., 1977), with some research finding women use more
other researchers finding that men use more and other research finding that men use more
tag questions (Dubois and Crouch, 1975; tag questions. The current study was carried
Lapadat and Seesahai, 1977), and others out in a natural setting – office meetings, a
finding that there is, in fact, no difference setting that was also used in Baumann’s study.
between the sexes on how many tag questions This contrasts with much of previous research
they ask (Baumann, 1976). which has been carried out in artificial
Some researchers have suggested that not settings, e.g. McMillan et al. (1977) and
all tag questions indicate uncertainty as Fishman (1980) who found women use more
Lakoff (1975) had earlier suggested. Holmes tag questions. However, it should be noted
(1984) suggests that there are two major types that Case (1988) reported that women used
of tag question: affective and modal. Affective more tag questions, in her study carried out on
tag questions can be further divided into a group which met at a management school.
facilitative and softeners. Facilitative tag Conversely, research which has found men
questions support the addressee and offer a use more tag questions has tended to have
way into a conversation, while softener tag been carried out through monitoring male
questions soften a negative statement. Neither informal conversations (Lapadat and Seesa-
of these categories of tag questions have been hai, (1977)) and in natural settings (other
suggested to indicate uncertainty. Modal tag than in the office), e.g. at a professional con-
questions on the other hand have been inter- ference (Dubois and Crouch, 1975). Perhaps
preted as indicating uncertainty since they the use of tag questions is linked more closely
request confirmation of information or addi- to the situation providing the opportunities
tional information. Research using this classi- for using tag questions than gender per se.
fication has found that women use more Interestingly, however, the current study
affective tag questions while men use more found one type of tag questions that the
modal tag questions (Cameron et al., 1989; author expected to be used more by women
Holmes, 1984). was in fact used more by men – the affective
H1 stated that women use more affective softener tag question. On examination of the
(facilitative and softener) tag questions than use of this type of tag question, it was found
men. The present study revealed that there that eight of the 14 recorded examples of
was no significant difference between the total affective softener tag questions were in one all
number of affective tag questions or the male meeting. This meeting was noticeable
number of affective facilitative tag questions for having an argument between the men.
asked by men compared to women. Contrary Holmes (1984) characterised the function of
to the hypothesis men were actually found to affective softener tag questions as providing a
use significantly more affective softener tag means of making negative statements less face
questions (t = 2.96, p < 0.05). threatening and indeed in the debate, this was
H2 stated that men use more modal tag how the affective softener tag questions were
questions than women. No significant being used, e.g. “That’s been neglected again,
difference was found between how many hasn’t it?”. It seems the situation that the men
modal tag questions men asked compared to were in required the use of this type of tag
the number women asked. question and again it suggests that the
The present research reveals that there is situation has an important effect on the type
little difference in the usage of tag questions of language used.
between men and women. No significant The current research reveals few
differences were found in the numbers of tag differences, apart from the affective softener,
questions that men ask compared to women, between men and women in their use of tag
apart from affective softener tag questions questions. Perhaps there are simply no
which men were shown to use more(t = 2.96, differences between men and women in their
p < 0.05). use of tag questions and that the differences
The suggestion proposed by Baumann found in past research are simply the product
(1976) that there are very few differences of the situation studied. However, theories
between men and women in tag question and explanations of gender differences can be
usage contradicts much of previous research helpful in explaining why, in the particular
which has found differences, although the situation of work, there are few gender
direction of these differences has been mixed, differences in tag usage.
31
The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
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One major explanation of gender affective facilitative tag questions. However,


differences in language and speech has been women in all female groups did use signifi-
that of cultural differences as proposed by cantly more modal tag questions (t = 3.47,
Maltz and Borker (1982). They believed that p < 0.05).
men and women have cultural differences H4 stated that men in mixed groups will
about what conversation is. It could be at use more affective (facilitative and softener)
work the male/female culture is overpowered tag questions than men in all male groups. No
by the culture specific to the organisation. differences were found, however, except that
Thus, differences in speech and language men in same sex groups actually used signifi-
relating to gender are diminished. Alternative- cantly more affective softener tag questions
ly, using the explanations based on male (t = 2.70, p < 0.05).
dominance in society, it could be that women This study provides contrary evidence to
have learnt to adopt male styles of expression H3, since women in same sex groups were
at work. Certainly, many authors have sug- actually found to use more of one type of tag
gested that in order for women to succeed, question – modal. This contradicts the
they need to talk like men (e.g. Eakins and original hypothesis which had predicted that
Eakins, 1978; Kramarae, 1982). Explanations women in same sex groups would use fewer
of gender differences in language provided by tag questions because they would not be
authors such as Henley and Kramarae needed in conversation, since women talk
(1991), have proposed that male dominance more easily to each other than to men
in our society results in the norms of our (Hirschman, 1973; 1974). The fact that
culture being male. This may mean that in
women used more modal tag questions in
situations where women and men are interact-
same sex groups may, however, mean that
ing together, particularly in the male domi-
they do speak more easily to each other
nated work situation, women will try to
because they are less concerned about appear-
adhere to male norms so as not to be labelled
ance, e.g. appearing uncertain. In mixed
deficient and thus again differences will disap-
groups women used fewer modal tag ques-
pear. The past popularity of assertiveness
tions and this could be because, in the pres-
training for women has meant that women
ence of men, they are more concerned with
have been encouraged to aspire to male norms
appearance and do not want to seem uncer-
of speech. However, if women are attempting
tain or tentative, as well as wanting to adhere
to emulate male speech this may bring prob-
to male norms.
lems. Some research, for instance, has com-
The results of the study relating to tag
mented on how women and men are evaluat-
usage by men in same sex and mixed groups
ed negatively if they use behaviour which does
not fit with sex role expectations (Case, also found contrary findings to the hypothesis,
1993). i.e. men were found to use more affective
softener tag questions. However, as already
Tag question usage in mixed and same discussed, these results could be largely due to
sex groups (H3 and H4) the argument in one of the all male meetings.
A number of studies have indicated that the This argument resulted in a large number of
behaviour of men and women alters depend- affective softener tag questions being used
ing on whether they are in same sex groups or which could have skewed the findings. There-
mixed sex groups (Bodine, 1975). McMillan fore, unlike McMillan et al. (1977) there was
et al. (1977) revealed that in mix sex groups no evidence that when in the presence of
both men and women use more tag questions women, men recognised female values of
than they do in single sex groups. Here, to test interpersonal closeness and emotional
this premise further the current study involvement and subsequently increased their
employed a design where the speech use of tag questions. The lack of any
behaviour of men and women in same sex and difference between men in mixed and same
mixed sex groups could be investigated. sex groups on affective tag questions may be
H3 proposed that women in mixed sex due to other explanations. Perhaps, at work,
groups will use more tag questions than men speak easily in front of both men and
women in all female groups. The current women because they do not have the pressure
study revealed no differences in the total to conform to norms which are not their
numbers of tag questions and total number of own.
32
The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

The effect of role and status on tag predicted in the hypothesis. Cameron et al.
question usage and their interaction with (1989) found in their study that the use of
gender (H5 and H6) affective tags was related to a facilitating role
Past research on tag questions has indicated in a conversation where people used affective
that they have a relationship with conversa- facilitative tag questions to maintain an inter-
tional role and power. Cameron et al. (1989) action. The current research indicated that
in their study suggested that the use of people in the role of chairperson used tag
facilitative tag questions may be related to questions to check information, e.g. “That’s
conversational role, particularly a facilitating actually happening, is it?” or to check for
role rather than with gender per se. Many agreement amongst the group, e.g. “We might
researchers have linked the use of tag ques- as well get on and have the presentation,
tions with power (e.g. Johnson, 1980; Kollock yeah?” and also to maintain interaction and
et al., 1985). In fact Cameron et al. (1989) invite others to participate, e.g. “Provide an
revealed that affective tag questions were used overall service, don’t we?”. No specific differ-
only by powerful speakers, powerless speakers ences were found, however, in the use of
never using them. Modal tags, on the other facilitative tag questions between chairper-
hand, were used by both powerful and power- sons and non-chairpersons. This may be a
less speakers, but powerless speakers used function of the difficulty of classifying these
them slightly more. The final purpose of the types of tag questions. This issue will be
present study was to further investigate the discussed later.
relationship of tag question use with role The analysis of variance results provide
(chairperson or not chairperson) and power interesting information which suggests that
(highest status or not highest status) and to role may be a more important factor in the use
examine how these two variables interact with of tag questions than gender. In fact,
gender. Cameron et al. (1989) have suggested that
H5 proposed that people acting as chair- facilitative tags correlate with conversational
person will use more affective, particularly role more than with gender per se. This study
facilitative, tag questions than those people provides some support for that premiss, as the
not acting as chairperson. The results indicat- role of chairperson requires checking for
ed that chairpersons did use significantly agreement, and giving others the opportunity
more tag questions (t = 2.55, p < 0.05); how- to speak. Tag questions serve a purpose and
ever, no significant differences were found it is therefore not surprising that there is a
between chairpersons and non-chairpersons higher incidence of usage in this role.
relating to affective tag questions. Status was not found to be related to tag
H6 stated that people with the highest question usage. In the current study only a
status in a group which was measured in crude measure of status was taken, i.e. the
terms of grade, would use more affective tag highest ranking person at the meeting. This
questions. No significant differences were measure does not take into account the rele-
demonstrated between people of highest vant expertise and experience of other group
status compared to people not of highest members and the topic of discussion.
status on any of the types of tag questions or In summary, the results of the current
total tag question usage. study suggest that the role which people are
Analysis of variance findings indicate that playing in the conversation, and the function
role not sex has a main effect on total number of the conversation in the work setting, are
of tag questions, total number of affective more predictive of tag question usage than
questions, affective facilitative questions and gender per se.
affective softener questions. Sex was only
found to have a main effect with affective
Limitations and methodological
softener tag questions and this was found to
weaknesses of current research
interact with role.
The present study indicates that role has an As with all research, there are a number of
important effect on tag question usage. limitations and methodological weaknesses
People in the role of chairperson were found associated with the current study, which
to use significantly more tag questions, warrant discussion.
although they were not found to use more One of the main weaknesses of the present
affective tag questions which had been study was the coding of the tag questions. A
33
The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

Pearson product moment correlation was in the all female meeting “It’s just a subtle way
calculated at 0.718; squaring this value gave a to advertise to start off with, isn’t it?” was
coder reliability of two independent coders of classified by one coder as affective and by the
only 51.5 per cent. This value does not com- other as modal. It can be argued that this
pare particularly favourably to past research. question is asking for confirmation which
McMillan et al. (1977) achieved a coder would mean it is modal but it is also offering
reliability of two independent coders of 98 per an opening into the conversation for other
cent. However, in their study they were identi- speakers which would mean it was affective.
fying and classifying syntactic categories one The same argument applies for this example
of which was tag questions, and so no attempt from an all male meeting, e.g. “Because we
was made at classifying tag questions into did change something there, didn’t we?”.
different types. Cameron et al. (1989) who did Once again, it is unclear whether the primary
use the classification system proposed by motivation for the speaker is to receive confir-
Holmes (1984) did find difficulties in the mation or to open the conversation up to
classification of some tag questions. They other speakers. An example by a male speaker
believed the problem was part of the wider in a mixed meeting shows a similar pattern:
issue of the “form and function” problem. “They’re like balloon tyres, aren’t they?” –
The “form and function” problem relates again the speaker could be seeking confir-
to the fact that a particular form of speech, mation or could be offering a way into the
e.g. the tag question, may not always serve the conversation for another speaker.
same purpose in conversation. Holmes’ Conversations between people include
(1984) classification actually tackles this much more than the spoken aspect since
problem since it recognises that different communication also takes place non-verbally.
types of tag questions have a different mean- Understanding, therefore, the true intent of a
ing in conversation, i.e. either affective or speaker is difficult to gauge, with 100 per cent
modal. Even so, the problem that Cameron et certainty, from a tape recording. This means
al. (1989) and this study had is that some tag that the classification of tag questions into
questions appear to have both modal and affective and modal is very difficult. The
affective meaning and that classifying some author was struck by one example in the all
tag questions is virtually arbitrary. However, it female meeting which seemed to indicate that
should be noted that Cameron et al. (1989) people taking part in the conversation them-
and the present study used intonation as a selves may mistake an affective tag question
tool to help classification of tag questions. for a modal tag question. In this example one
Cameron et al. state that, if all other things are woman said to another with a giggle, “Com-
equal, rising intonation may be taken as an prehensive rather covers it, doesn’t it?”. This
indication of a modal tag question and falling tag question was classified by both coders as
intonation as an indication of an affective tag affective facilitative since it was felt that this
question. Cameron et al. (1989) also note that question did not reflect genuine uncertainty
this is not a rule set in stone. In their study, 25 but was rather encouraging other group mem-
per cent of women’s tag questions were modal bers to take part in the conversation. The
and 40 per cent of men’s, but only 11 per cent response this woman was given, however, was
of women’s tag questions and 18 per cent of “Well it’s everything, isn’t it?”, which seemed
men’s were spoken with rising tone. In the to suggest that the response was aimed at
current study a higher percentage of tag providing clarification and a request for addi-
question classifications were found to agree tional information. This would mean that the
with the intonation rule – 78 per cent of first tag question had been interpreted as a
modal tag questions were spoken with rising modal tag question.
tone and 71 per cent of affective tags were Classification of affective softener tag
spoken with falling tone. questions did not create as many problems
Examining the tag questions that created since only one disagreement was recorded
problems in classification, it was found that in between the coders concerning an affective
the current study, tag questions that were softener tag question. This occurred in an
classified differently by the coders, for all but all male discussion and was “I’m conscious
one, the disagreement was regarding whether that’s about six weeks old, isn’t it?”. One
a tag question was affective facilitative or coder felt that this was a genuine request for
modal. For example, a tag question identified confirmation. The other coder felt that it
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The impact of gender and its interaction with role and status Women in Management Review
Alison C.T. Calnan and Marilyn J. Davidson Volume 13 · Number 1 · 1998 · 19–36

represented the speaker trying to soften the another interesting direction for future
face threatening act of telling a colleague that research would be to investigate individual
their work was six weeks old and therefore out differences in tag question use.
of date. The lack of disagreement regarding
affective softener tag questions may, however,
have been due to the fact that only 11
Summary and conclusion
examples were identified and not that this is a The results of the study suggest that there are
clearer category to recognise. few differences in tag question usage between
The examples cited in this discussion have, men and women at work. This finding
without doubt, both an affective and modal disagrees with much of previous research
component to them. Perhaps in future which has found differences. The lack of
research that uses the classification by Holmes significant differences found in this study may
(1984) an additional category of modal tag be a result of the situation studied. It could be
questions with an affective component should at work gender differences disappear because
be added. It could be that tag questions are they are overpowered by the cultural norms of
not separate categories but rather are on a the organisation, or it could be that women
continuum with some being truly affective
try to adhere to male norms. Alternatively it
and some being truly modal.
could be that individual differences are
Some authors have criticised past research
stronger than gender differences and that
for simply counting occurrences of tag ques-
previous research has demonstrated differ-
tions and comparing totals for men and
ences but these are a result of the individuals
women (e.g. Cameron et al., 1989; Holmes,
studied. The study also found few significant
1984). These authors believed that tag
differences between the use of tag questions
questions have more than one function in
between women and men in same sex and
conversation other than the function of
mixed sex groups. Those differences which
expressing uncertainty, as suggested by Lakoff
(1975). The problems in classifying tag were found were contrary to the hypotheses.
questions, according to their function in However, this section of the research was
conversation, means that tag questions do limited by the fact only one all female group
appear to have more than one function in was studied and an unusual number of affec-
conversation and do not always express tive softener tag questions was used in one of
uncertainty. It is therefore important that the all male meetings due to an argument.
future research takes into account the variety The third section of the study revealed that
of functions that any given linguistic category role may be a more important variable than
may have. gender, since whether a person was acting as
chairperson or not affected the number of tag
questions that they used. Status was not
Directions for future research
found to have any significant affects. Although
It seems from the current research that the the current study is not conclusive, it does
situation people are in affects their speech suggest that differences in speech behaviour
behaviour. Perhaps an interesting area for are more complex than just gender, since the
future research would be to investigate this role and situation seem to have an important
hypothesis further, by studying an individual impact. The area of gender differences in
in different situations and seeing if their use of speech and language however is a fruitful
tag questions varies depending on the situa- topic of study since it develops our under-
tion that they are in. standing of the behaviour of both men and
The current research was primarily women at work. However, gender differences
concerned with gender differences in the use should always be seen in the wider context of
of tag questions. Even so, it was noted that the role people are in and the situation.
some individuals tended to use tag questions
more than others. For example, in the current
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