I ONLY SAY THIS BECAUSE I LOVE YOU: How the Way We Talk Can Make or Break Family Relationships Throughout Our Lives
Tannen's You Just Don't Understand set tongues wagging across the country in the early 1990s with its analysis of gender differences in speaking styles. Now the linguist and author of numerous other books turns her attention to patterns of speech within families. Though the subject is not as sexy as in her mega-bestseller, most readers are apt to hear themselves in these pages. For example, Tannen asserts, in many situations the mother serves as "Communications Chief" as well as chief critic. Drawing on sample conversations from an ongoing study at Georgetown University, from memoirs and from TV documentaries (including An American Family, which examined the Loud family of Santa Barbara in 1973 and reveals how little family interactions have changed in the past 30 years), she convincingly shows how threads of family history and emotion add weight and complexity to everyday exchanges. Each conversation, she argues, carries meaning both in its actual words and in the underlying relationship and attitudes it expresses (e.g., "I didn't criticize you. I just asked a question"). She also shows how speakers may use language for connection and control, influencing shifts in family alignment. Like its predecessor, this book is neither scholarly nor overtly self-help–oriented. Its advice is embedded in its examples, though occasionally Tannen offers explicit guidelines, such as rules for fair fighting: stick to the facts; avoid insults, sarcasm and exaggeration. Parents of teenagers may also find some good insights in Tannen's clear-sighted analysis of how clashing frames of reference undermine communication. Agent, Suzanne Gluck; first serial to Good Housekeeping and Modern Maturity. (May 10)
Forecast: Tannen's 13-city author tour (including a May 14 appearance on the Today Show) will help ensure this book's visibility, but it's more likely to match the respectable (but not stellar) numbers for Talking 9 to 5, her book on workplace speaking styles, than those for You Just Don't Understand.