In everyday life we are familiar with conversations that go really well and conversations in which problems occur. Sometimes we attribute the difference to the intentions of the people involved, but often even well-intentioned conversants experience misunderstandings. Deborah Tannen is a sociolinguist who has spent decades studying how people use language in their everyday lives, and how gender, culture, and circumstances affect the use of language (1984, 1986, 1990, 1994a, 1994b). Some of Tannen’s concepts can be especially helpful in understanding the intricacies of conversation.

Information and Politeness

When they talk, people are concerned not only with passing information but also with the effect ...

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