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Trajectories of Hesitant Language Use Among Black, Latina, Chinese, and White Adolescent Girls

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Scholars from multiple methodological traditions have documented changes in girls’ language use beginning at early adolescence (e.g., Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Leaper & Smith, 2004; Tolman, Impett, Tracy, & Michael, 2006). These developmental changes are expressed in girls’ increased use of “hesitant” language, or patterns of speech that distance the speaker from her statements and express interpersonal sensitivity toward the listener (Leaper & Robnett, 2011). Developmental feminist perspectives attuned to the meanings of girls’ hesitant language theorize that its use may be indicative of girls’ struggle to retain their knowledge in a patriarchal structure that does not value their thoughts and opinions (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Tolman & Porche, 2002). However, the degree to which hesitance is incorporated into language socialization processes differs across ethnic communities. Communities of color, particularly Black and Latinx communities, are more likely to encourage outspokenness rather than hesitance in girls (Jones, Buque, & Miville, 2018; Way, 1995). To date, no research has investigated the inter-, and intra-individual variation in hesitant language use among racially diverse girls longitudinally, as well as how such variation may be linked to social and emotional wellbeing.

We sampled 102 adolescent girls from six New York City middle schools selected because of their racial and socio-economic diversity. Participants were 24.5% African-American, 24.5% Chinese-American, 25.5% Hispanic or Latinx, and 23.5% White. Semi-structured interviews and surveys were administered over a six-year period and transcribed verbatim. Protocol topics included questions about daily routines, school and home life, friendships, social identities, and future aspirations. Trained research assistants analyzed interview transcripts for frequencies of words and phrases identified as hesitant language by previous theorists (“I don’t know,” “I guess,” “I mean,” ”kind of,” and “you know”). The context in which the phrase occurs (i.e., school, friendships, etc.) was coded. Phrases that did not qualify as hesitant language (i.e., “I don’t know, I feel like everyone ignores me” as opposed to “I don’t know when I got home from school.”) were removed. Participants also completed standard social and emotional well-being scales at each time point.

Latent class modeling will be used to identify trajectories of hesitant language use across 6th, 8th, and 11th grades, and identify the degree to which hesitant language use predicts social and emotional wellbeing over time. The degree to which participant race and conversational context affect these growth trajectories will be examined. Specifically, the poster will (1) identify trajectories of girls’ hesitant language use across early, middle, and late adolescence and how these trajectories differ by conversational context and ethnicity (2) examine the relation between hesitant language and social and emotional wellbeing and (3) present a cohesive developmental theory of change regarding girls’ hesitant language use that is grounded in developmental feminist theory. The ways in which hesitant language may be both an accommodation to gender stereotypes and a strategy of resistance (e.g., still finding a way to express thoughts and opinions even if they are softened) will be discussed in depth.


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