Authored Scholarly Books

Conversational Style: Analyzing Talk Among Friends

Revised edition

Oxford University Press, 2005.

This revised edition of Deborah Tannen's first discourse analysis book, Conversational Style - originally published in 1984‑‑presents an approach to analyzing conversation that later became the hallmark and foundation of her extensive body of work in discourse analysis, including the monograph Talking Voices and her many general-audience books.

Analyzing the discourse of six speakers over the course of a two‑and‑a‑half hour Thanksgiving dinner conversation, Tannen identifies the linguistic features that make up the speakers' conversational styles.  In particular, she shows that the three speakers of New York Jewish background use linguistic strategies that make up what she calls a 'high‑involvement style' that have a positive effect when used with others who share the style, but a negative effect with those whose styles differ.  (For example, talking-along to show enthusiasm is misinterpreted as interruption.)  This revised edition includes a new preface and an afterword in which Tannen discusses the book's place in the evolution of her work.

Written in accessible, non‑technical language, this book will appeal to scholars and students in a range of fields including linguistics, anthropology, communication, sociology, and psychology, as well as general readers fascinated by Tannen's popular work. This book is an ideal text for use in introductory classes in linguistics and discourse analysis. 

Click here for audio clips corresponding with excerpts analyzed in the book


"By far the most interesting and accessible‑‑and fun!‑‑introduction to conversational style that I know of. Students love it, and I use it as a required textbook whenever I teach sociolinguistics."
‑‑Doug Biber, Northern Arizona University

"Interesting and valuable for both laypersons and students."‑‑Language

"A contribution not only for the general reader but for any researcher or student interested in conversation."‑‑Language and Society


Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse

Second Edition

Cambridge University Press, 2007

Written in readable, non‑technical prose, this book presents the scholarly research that forms the foundation for Deborah Tannen's books, both general-audience and scholarly, about how language works in everyday conversation, and the role of language in human interaction.  It proposes a framework for understanding how conversation creates meaning and negotiates relationships. A significant theoretical and methodological contribution to both linguistic and literary analysis, it uses transcripts of tape‑recorded conversation to demonstrate that everyday conversation is made up of features that are associated with literary discourse: repetition, dialogue dialogue (often called 'reported speech'), and details that create imagery.  Put another way, literary discourse builds on and elaborates linguistic strategies that are fundamental to everyday conversation.  Through analysis of spoken and written discourse, both conversational and literary, Tannen explores the scenic and musical basis of both textual meaning and interpersonal involvement in discourse.  She shows that repetition establishes rhythm and meaning by patterns of constants and contrasts, while dialogue and details create scenes peopled by characters in relation to each other, doing things that are culturally and personally recognizable and meaningful.

This second edition features a new introduction in which the author shows the relationship between the work presented here and research that has appeared since its original publication in 1989.  In particular, she shows its relevance to the contemporary topic "intertextuality," and provides an invaluable summary of research on that topic.



Gender and Discourse

Oxford University Press, 1996

Gender and Discourse gathers together six of Tannen's scholarly articles, including her last and previously unpublished essay in which language and gender are seen as "sex‑class linked" (that is, specific ways of speaking are associated with the class of women and the class of men rather than necessarily with individual men and women).  For those unfamiliar with her scholarly work, these essays provide a theoretical backdrop to her general-audience books.  In an introduction, Tannen discusses her field of linguistics, describes her research methods, and addresses the controversies surrounding her field as well as her own work on gender and language. 

The essays cover a wide range of topics.  In one, Tannen analyzes selected conversational strategies, such as interruption, topic raising, indirectness, and silence‑‑and shows that, contrary to much work on language and gender, no strategy can be categorically interpreted to express dominance in conversation; all are ambiguous and polysemous with regard to power and connection.  In other words, the same way of speaking can signal either dominance or connection (hence ambiguity) or both (hence polysemy).  For example, speaking along with another can be supportive (showing connection) or interruptive (expressing dominance) or both (if speakers agree that a lively conversation includes mutual interruption).  The outcome of an interaction always results from the interactional context, the participants' individual styles, and the interaction of their styles.  Also included is an early article co‑authored with Robin Lakoff that presents a theory of conversational strategy, illustrated by analysis of dialogue in Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage .


Foreign Editions:
Germany, Goldmann
Spain and Argentina, Ediciones Paidos Iberica

Lilika Nakos

Twayne World Authors Series. G. K. Hall, 1983

(Excerpts reprinted in Contemporary Literary Criticism 1984).

A critical analysis of the work of modern Greek novelist Lilika Nakos.  (The Greek form of her name is Nakou).   Nakou (1899‑1988) was one of the first women writers of modern Greek prose and for many years the only woman in Greek journalism. She was a member of the Generation of the Thirties, a group of writers who forged a modern novel in Greek.  The first chapter introduces Nakos as Deborah Tannen knew her and sketches her life, including the circumstances of the writing of her major works and the themes that pervade them. The second chapter surveys her short stories. The remaining chapters discuss her major books in the order in which they were published, with a final chapter giving an overview of her work and its development over half a century.

This book is out of print but used copies are available at