Gender, status and ‘powerless’ speech: Interactions of students and lecturers

Authors

  • Ruth G. McFadyen

    Corresponding author
    1. Psychology Department, Aberdeen University, Kings College, Aberdeen
      Applied Psychology Department, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK
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Applied Psychology Department, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK

Abstract

The present study investigated whether the use of ‘powerless' speech was affected by role status, speaker's gender and gender of another participant. Fifty-two university lecturers and 156 students participated. Students were paired with a lecturer or student of the same or opposite sex. The findings placed a question mark over the link between powerless speech and individuals of low role status. Moreover, against hypothesis, speaker's gender and gender of partner did not affect the use of qualifiers or fillers, although they affected the use of tag questions and some types of hesitation. A qualitative analysis was also conducted which suggested that the powerless features were, in fact, multi-functional with respect to power. In addition, the importance of a variety of interactional techniques, such as credibility techniques, in the creation or negotiation of relational power was documented. As a whole, these findings highlight problems with the concept of ‘powerless' speech, at least with respect to relational power.

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