Talking Time in Children’s Adventure Fiction: Which Gender Controls the Discourse?

Elizabeth Poynter


It is nowadays widely agreed that gender identity is socially and culturally constructed. This construction is enabled by parental and other adult models, parental treatment, peer pressure and the media. Today television has a powerful impact, but in the mid-twentieth century books were more influential for many children. Did popular children’s fiction of this period merely reflect society’s bipolar gender constructs, or did it in any way challenge these? Whereas folklinguistics would suggest that females are more verbose than males, sociolinguists have found the opposite to be true in many contexts; public discourse such as meetings and the classroom tends to be dominated by males. There have been a number of studies of verbosity in real-life contexts; this cross-disciplinary study of four children’s adventure books examines the discourse to see who is given the most ‘talking time’. It was hypothesised that the authors would be influenced either by the folklinguistic view and give their girls long speech turns, or by the actual discourse they themselves experienced and give the boys the lion’s share. The actual picture that emerges is far more complex, suggesting that while some writers did indeed reflect and support the accepted gender roles of the society in which they wrote, others created discourse which interwove gender, age and personality, with personality the most powerful factor in determining dominance.


Gender Roles, Children’s Fiction, Dominance, Verbosity, Talking Time

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