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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

July 31, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

GENDER & DISCOURSE by Deborah Tannen. (Oxford: $19.95; 203 pp.) Deborah Tannen is the archangel of clarity. Her best-selling book, "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation," has become part of the way we think about relationships, and has saved countless thousands from the horrors and joys and expenses of marital therapy ("Now Bob, tell Susie that you love her."). She makes the art of listening less scary and more fascinating than any other sociolinguist or therapist writing today, and as a reward she is cited and leaned on in almost every book on how to live with other people. "Gender & Discourse" is a funny little book, essentially the background material for "You Just Don't Understand," all the footnotes and references and methodology that Tannen couldn't sneak into a bestseller. And still, still it is free of all but the most pleasing, common-sensical jargon (phrases such as "discourse analysis" and "topical cohesion"--keeping a conversation meaningful by paying attention). This book also gives Tannen a chance to address the accusation that by exploring the style differences in communication between men and women as "cultural differences," she implied that "men do not dominate women, but only misunderstand them." In fact, one of her central points was that "women's and men's characteristic styles often put women in a subordinate position in interactions with men." But these claims are not made defensively or at any great length. Tannen doesn't need to ramble on. She just says what she means.

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