Zimmerman & West – Sex Roles

Zimmerman and West’s paper “Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversation” looks at sex/gender differences within language and conversation. They were investigating the presence of uncooperative interactive features, such as interruptions, in conversation. They wanted to find out whether the sex of conversation participants affected the use of these features.

Conclusions made from the study supported the dominance model, a perspective proposed by linguists who believe men and women speak differently. However, there has been further research into language and gender which challenges both Zimmerman and West’s research and the dominance model.

The video below describes the methodology and results of this key sociolinguistic study and explains more about how their conclusions contributed to the debate surrounding language and sex/gender.

Find out more here



Key Terms

Overlap: When a new speaker starts to speak at the point the current speaker is about to finish speaking. Seen as an accidental error.
Interruption: When a new speaker starts to speak over the current speaker when there is no indication that they were going to stop speaking. Seen as a purposeful violation.
Minimal Response: A timely interruption by a speaking partner that aims to show you are listening e.g. ‘Uh huh’ ‘Yeah’ ‘Mm’
Delayed Minimal Response: A minimal response used out of sync with the current speaker. May indicate to the current speaker that you are disinterested in the topic




Zimmerman, D. H., and West, C., (1975) Sex roles, interruptions and silences in conversation Language and sex: Difference and dominance. pp: 105- 129. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Cameron, D., (2007). The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do men and women really speak different languages?. New York Oxford University Press Inc.

Hyde, J., (2005). The Gender Similarities Hypothesis. American Psychologist, pp: 581-592.


Picture credit

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/2573762303/ Ed Yourdon, 2008.