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You're the Only One I Can Tell: The Language of Female Friendships

Vivian Chen

This conversation originally aired on June 19, 2017. 

The way women communicate with their friends can be subtle but powerful. Georgetown University professor of linguistics Deborah Tannen studies interpersonal relationships and communication patterns between women and the ways in which they differ from those of men. These differences can often be frustrating to those involved.

In her recently released book You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships, Tannen explores the ways that women communicate and how having shared experiences creates a deep, indirect understanding among women. For her latest book, she interviewed over 80 women ranging in age from 9-97.

Credit Deborah Tannen

Tannen explains that women find solace in being able to tell someone the details of their lives but that communication difficulties can arise if women have conversational style differences.

“Because girls and women tend to talk more, tend to talk about more about personal topics and maybe more frequently as well, we do have more opportunity to say the wrong thing and hurt others' feelings.”

Tannen advises that women not blame themselves when friendships fade because relationships tend to change over time due to other factors in their lives.

“Different stages of your life, different friends may be more important or less important. Sometimes it’s just a matter of how much time you have. When women have small children at home, often it’s the mothers of other kids that same age that become their close friends. Maybe they grow away from some friends from earlier in their lives, and when their kids are grown and out of the house they reunite with those friends. So, moving away now doesn’t mean you can’t find each other later.”

On this Talk of Iowa, Tannen joins Charity Nebbe to discuss the language women use to communicate with one another and take questions from listeners.

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa