1. Hey hi… I’m looking at this dish and it looks really good…can you tell me what it’s made of?
2. Excuse me, do you know what's in this one? no this one, in the front, yeah...no? huh, ok
3. What is in this dish?
4. What’s in it?

These are four answers to the same situation, “What would you say to find out what a delicious-looking but unknown dish is made of.” The first two answers were suggested by females, the last—by males.

Since the times of Labov’s researches on social differentiation of speech it’s been known that there is difference between people of different trades, socials statuses, sexes, etc. speak on various levels, phonetic, lexical, grammatical, stylistic. How does this tendency show itself on the level of speech stereotypes (pragmatic cliches), stable formulas that are repeatedly used in similar situations? (e.g What’s up? How are you doing? when meeting people, How much is it? How much does it cost? when asking the price in a supermarket; even some compliments like You look beautiful! that are nothing new from the point of view of their form).

There’s a way to show it: I propose a short survey—you answer a few questions, just the words you would say in this or that situation, and in a few days (say, 3 days from this post) I’ll post the results: which phrases were the most common, and what was the dependency of the statistics on the variables like sex, age, and the place of living. For the “purity of the experiment” I suggest that you send the answers to the email: Email Removed, but you may submit your post right here; I can also send you an email, when to return and see the results (mention it).

Well, here are the situations (first, the data for the statistical analysis):

Name (optional):


What is the nature (field/orientation) of your occupation/studies? (Humanities or Sciences?)

1. You are in another town for some business. There’s a cartoon you want to see on Cartoon Network and you return to your hotel 15 minutes before it is scheduled to begin. However, when you turn on the TV set, you cannot find any TV channels; there are just several films provided by the hotel TV network. You call the reception to find out if Cartoon Network is available at the hotel. You say to the receptionist:

2. You just bought two movie tickets for an evening show and you see the time on the tickets is wrong: you wanted the 9 p.m. show, but the tickets are for 8 p.m. You return to the ticket box to ask the seller to exchange the tickets. You say:

3. You are in a library, typing a long email. You have finally finished it, but when you press the ‘Send’ button an error box appears which reads “Attempt failed. SMTP server not found”. Behind a separate computer sits a guy playing a solitaire, whom you identify as the local network administrator. You want to ask him to help you send the email. You approach him and say:

4. You are in a Chinese fast food cafe. There’s a dish on display that looks particularly delicious, but you cannot identify the possible ingredients used to cook it. Neither does its Chinese name help you. You don’t feel like eating fried butterflies or something, not at this part of the day, at least. So before you decide to try it, you want to ask the guy taking orders what the dish is made of. You say:

5. You are in a bookstore. A week ago you came here to buy a book named China of the Ming Period. They didn’t have it in stock, but they expected it to be delivered in five days. You come to the salesman to ask him if the book has arrived. You say:

6. In a pharmacy you buy cough syrup. You read the label, it says that the medicine is to be taken five times a day, but the amount to be taken is not stated. You want to find out the intake dose. You ask the pharmacist:

7. At work your colleague brings a new MP3-player, very beautifully designed and having a lot of original features. It is one of your friend’s birthday soon and you think you could probably buy him a player like this as a gift, only you need to find out where you can get it. You come up to this colleague of yours to ask him where he got the player. You say:

8. Your friend, whom you haven’t seen for three years, comes to visit you tomorrow; he’s leaving the day after tomorrow. He told you his bus arrives at your town at 5 p.m., and your work day finishes at 8 p.m. You want to meet your friend at the terminal, and the only way to do that is to find somebody to substitute you at work. There’s a guy whom helped out a couple of times, his shift end at 4 p.m. tomorrow, so you think he could pay back this time. You want to ask him to substitute you tomorrow, so you come up to him and say:

9. Next weekend it is a special date for you and your friend which you celebrate each year. You want too cook something special for this day (well, irrational urges do haunt people Emotion: surprise), and you tasted something German at your aunt’s, called Hoenigkuchen or something. You call your aunt to learn the recipe and you say:

10. Yesterday you made an appointment with your dentist for the next Thursday. There is a tooth that has been bothering you for a month, and finally you decided to do something about it. This morning you woke up to see that half of your face swollen, and you’re feeling a terrible pain around the bad tooth. You are not going to leave it like this till Thursday, in fact, not even until tomorrow. You want to see your dentist as soon as possible, so you call him and say:

11. It’s Sunday evening and you are desperately trying to finish an article that you had been assigned; you see there is no way you can achieve this, because your nephew Alan, left to your care by his parents, is causing more trouble than he was meant to. You call your friend Laura at last to help you by taking care of the little devil. After the greetings and some preliminary talk you decide to pass on to the matter and ask her:

12. About a year ago a friend of yours Jake took from you a book to read, Umberto Eco’s The Name of Rose. You recently watched the movie on the novel and want to reread it. Jake probably doesn’t need the book now, so you call him to ask it back. You say:

13. Your car’s engine had long been showing signs of its near demise and it came today, when you wanted to go shopping; your car didn’t start. Mike, your acquaintance who works in a car service, promised to have a look at it almost two months ago (and didn’t). You think it is time to remind him of his promise. You call him. Ask him to see your car:

14. Next week you are going to another town by train and you need to be at the station at 6.30 a.m. Taxi drivers go on a timeless strike and the only person who can ride you there is Eloise, your friend. You are calling her on the phone. Ask her for help:

15. Your friend Lilah is crazy about Tolkien and you buy him the full ‘The Lord of the Rings’ DVD collection for $80 at the local store, where you specially ordered it. You are about to leave the shop when you meet another friend who tells you that Lilah already has the DVD set you just bought. You don’t want these DVDs for yourself, so you return to the sales assistant. Ask him if you can exchange them for something else (closer to your own interests):

16. You are having a lunch alone at a cafeteria. You leave your table for a minute to get some water, then you return, but your food is gone. Your bag is where you left it, but you see no trace of your cheeseburger and salad. A guy at the opposite table is meditatively chewing his hamburger, you think maybe he can tell you where your lunch has gone. You ask him:

17. After a successful visit to an official organization, you go to the parking lot to find your car blocked by a BMW. The driver is inside but he doesn’t see you. You come up to him to ask him to move his car. You say:

It is time before a holiday. You are at the checkout in a supermarket, ready to pay. You are paying by cash, because you left your credit card at home, but it turns out that you need 15 cents more than you have. You ask the man waiting in line behind you if he can give you 15 cents:

18. You came to a shop to buy a video camera. The model you want to buy costs $300, which is higher than you could get from an internet store; however the shop has announced a clearance sale with a 25% discount for all items sold there. Thus, the price is lower than in internet stores. You pay by card, then you take the receipt and see that you were charged $300. The sales assistant explains that certain items are not sold at discounted prices, and this camera is one of them. You were not told beforehand, and now you want your money back. You return the camera and ask for a refund:

19. It is summer, and you spent the whole day in an amusement park with your family. It was fun, you had about a thousand rides and decide this is enough for the day; it is getting dark, too. You want to take the train circling around the park to take you to the park entrance. However, the station is closed and there is just one guy in an engineer’s uniform at the station with a tired miserable expression on his face. You want to ask him whether the train is coming. You come up to him and say:
Hi Guenter,
I notice you have no takers yet. Have you considered whether some people might hesitate for various reasons to post on a public forum the personal info you are asking for?
Name (optional):

I tend to see it as one of the charms of cyber-space that you don't know any, or much, of this stuff about the people you meet here.
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
Hi Clive,

I agree with you that it is unwillingness to leave personal information
open for everyone that may be a deterring factor. It was with this in mind
that I suggested sending the filled questionnaire to my email (Email Removed)
instead of posting to the forum and left the field Name optional. And, replies did come,
(mostly from the US--Maryland, Ohio, California)
though not as many as those who have viewed the topic, and mainly from the people
who are working in the field of sociolinguistics or communicative linguistics.

I believe for many the reason is the lack of interest in the subject itself, or else the
perspective of reading through all this questions may scare people off, that is why I tried to
make the situations as "less boring" as I could, and many of them reflect my
experience in the US (the reality of the States and the UK and that of Russia, where I'm from,
are different in many aspects, and from replies I can already see the difference in speech
behaviour of a native speaker and one who acquired the language in a non-native environment).

Despite Internet's anonymity (or thanks to it) I believe it's a good place to do a research, especially
one that will reveal something about yourself and things you may not notice.
(And hugely help thousands of learners)

The survey is still open, I'm receiving replies and expect to analyse the data by Thursday and
send the results to those who participated, possibly post on the forum if someone's interested.

Guenter (a.k.a Ayrat)
Hi again,
Thanks for the reply. Even email is not totally anonymous, of course, in the sense that many people use their names in their email addresses. Perhaps everyone should have a lot of hotmail pseudonyms, might be useful for expressing different aspects of their character in different situations!
Anyway, I hope you post your results to this forum, sounds interesting.
Hi Clive,

It's not the topic for this discussion, of course, but why "hotmail pseudonyms"?
I mean, I never used hotmail. Is it just a standard name for any internet pseudonym
(say, the same for IRC)? If I ever use one, it's always my Doom or Quake

I'll post the results when they are finished. Thanks!

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