I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. For part of my life, I was living in Detroit, and I remember a friend of mine commenting she could always tell when I had been speaking to my mother because my New York accent had come back.
I would say 'woman' used to be a noun, and now it is a noun and also an adjective. And words change their functions in that way. It's one of the most common phenomena about words. They start as one thing, and they end up as something else.
Many mothers and daughters are as close as any two people can be, but closeness always carries with it the need - indeed, the desire - to consider how your actions will affect the other person, and this can make you feel that you are no longer in control of your own life.
One of the nice things about the United States is that, wherever you go, people speak the same language. So native New Yorkers can move to San Francisco, Houston, or Milwaukee and still understand and be understood by everyone they meet. Right? Well, not exactly. Or, as a native New Yorker might put it, 'Wrong!'
Everything we say has metamessages indicating how our words are to be interpreted: Is this a serious statement or a joke? Does it show annoyance or goodwill? Most of the time, metamessages are communicated and interpreted without notice because, as far as anyone can tell, the speaker and the hearer agree on their meaning.
In the past, great communicators were great orators, but great communicators today sound conversational, and interrupting is common in conversation. And public discourse is now more about entertainment than enlightenment.
There's the bond of a connection and the bond of bondage... When you are connected to somebody, everything each one does affects the other, and it's a kind of bondage. You're not as free as you would be if that person wasn't in your life.
A sister is the one person you can call in the middle of the night when you can't sleep or the one who doesn't want to hear about your problems unless you're ready to do something about them. She's the one who is there when you need her or the one whose absence when you need her hurts the most.
A double bind is far worse than a straightforward damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't dilemma. It requires you to obey two mutually exclusive commands: Anything you do to fulfill one violates the other.
Everything you say in a family carries meaning from all that was said before. So with friends, there is less likelihood of a few words triggering associations from childhood, where our deepest emotions often are rooted.
It is easy to understand why conflict is so often highlighted: Writers of headlines or promotional copy want to catch attention and attract an audience. They are usually under time pressure, which lures them to established, conventionalized ways of expressing ideas in the absence of leisure to think up entirely new ones.
We tend to assume that we have a baseline of speech that's going to be normal in all contexts, but the truth is, we all change our ways of speaking depending on who we're talking to. And so I think it's kind of a gesture of politeness to the people you're speaking to to try to say something in their own idiom.
The culture of critique undermines the spirit not only of people in public roles but of those who read about them, afraid to believe in anyone or anything because the next story... will tell them why they shouldn't.
For girls and women, talk is the glue that holds a relationship together - and the explosive that can blow it apart. That's why you can think you're having a perfectly amiable chat, then suddenly find yourself wounded by the shrapnel from an exploded conversation.
In a world of status, independence is key, because a primary means of establishing status is to tell others what to do, and taking orders is a marker of low status. Though all humans need both intimacy and independence, women tend to focus on the first and men on the second. It is as if their lifeblood ran in different directions.
In this world, conversations are negotiations for closeness in which people try to seek and give confirmation and support, and to reach consensus. They try to protect themselves from others' attempts to push them away.
My mother cared a lot about clothes. It was a point of friction because when I was a teenager, and I only wanted to wear my father's shirts, and I never wanted to wear makeup, she would say: 'Put on lipstick.' That was her thing.
I interviewed more than 100 women about their sisters, but if they also had brothers, I asked them to compare. Most said they talked to their sisters more often, at greater length and, yes, about more personal topics. This often meant that they felt closer to their sisters, but not always.
Communication is a continual balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy and independence. To survive in the world, we have to act in concert with others, but to survive as ourselves, rather than simply as cogs in a wheel, we have to act alone.
As a sociolinguist, I want to know how cultural differences affect the ways people talk and listen. My research method, inspired by the work of Robin Lakoff and John Gumperz of the University of California at Berkeley, is sociolinguistic microanalysis. I tape-record and transcribe naturally occurring conversations.