Gerry Philipsen, who is commonly referred to as the father of The Speech Codes Theory, did an ethnographic analysis to establish the different meanings that are shared in a culture and he published his findings in the Quarterly Journal of Speech in an article entitled “Speaking ‘Like a Man’ in Teamsterville: Culture Patterns of Role Enactment in an Urban Neighborhood.”
For about three years, Philipsen interviewed the people of this community so that he could get the definition of speech codes. And after the successful research, he defined speech codes as forms of speech patterns that adhere to given rules and structures within a community of speakers.
Therefore, Speech Codes Theory strives to elucidate on the ethnography of communication since there are several cultures in the world, which have distinguishable set of communication patterns. In every special culture, speech codes, or rather the conversation itself, are stressed in different ways as illustrated by the study Philipsen performed in south Chicago involving the white males.
Philipsen study indicates that speech codes are found in every culture and they serve different purposes. The culture of a particular community states how its members can engage in a conversation. Philipsen notes that “cultures are not only varied but are also internally diverse in the emphasis they place on the value of talk” (13).
For developing a better understanding of individuals in a particular culture, knowing how their speech code is interpreted is of essence. Some cultures maintain the value of communication through conversation while others maintain that silence is more beneficial. “Each community has its own cultural values about speaking and these are linked to judgments of situational appropriateness” (Philipsen, 13).
In the study, which was based on a community he nicknamed the “Teamsterville,” Philipsen notes that “One manifestation of cultural outlook is the local view of the appropriateness of speaking versus other actional (such as silence, violence or non-verbal threats) strategies in male role enactment or self-presentation” (13).
The symbolic interaction in Teamsterville is valued most by the male figure since it is of essence for men in the community to assume the major responsibilities and cover certain boundaries so as to show that they are the dominant beings.
The understanding of this cultural pattern is that the men assume dominant status within the community. At Teamsterville, the importance of the reputation of men concerning their attributes is rated through their interaction with one another.
In addition to having a clear understanding of individuals, a strong cultural pattern in communication ought to maintain clarification of its values. The findings concerning the behavior of the inhabitants of Teamsterville reveal that its values were determined by the male sex.
“Whether and how well a man performs in a manly way is a principal criterion in Teamsterville for judging whether his behavior is appropriate and proper to the social identity ‘male’” (Philipsen, 13). The people held the belief that men were dominant in almost every way.
As illustrated in the article, a speech code is intended for a particular kind of people to understand. For the success of a conversation in Teamsterville, the participants should have similar identity characteristics such as “age, sex, ethnicity, occupational status, and location of residence” (Philipsen, 15).
In addition, they should have formed cordial relationship with one another for sometime. In the study, Philipsen noted that speaking is a dominant focus for all male social interaction in which the boys sat at the corner of the street while the men sat at the corner of the bar so as to engage themselves in a conversation.
Normally, the boys and the men have strategic places for sitting whereby speaking forms the dominant activity and outsiders are not invited or welcomed in such informal meetings. “Speech is the currency of social interaction when participants have similar social identities, including membership in a close-knit friendship group; speech purchases an expression of solidarity or assertion of status symmetry” (18).
“Speaking like a man in Teamsterville” provides a couple of instances in which speech patterns can be either appropriate or inappropriate. Essentially, the study found out that speaking is appropriate for expressing male dominance. However, it is not appropriate and it is not effective when it is used as a method of demonstrating power in interpersonal circumstances.
Philipsen came to understand and observed that the use of speech depends on a number of circumstances. In the eyes of Teamsterville residents, the use of speech is appropriate when a man is engaging in a conversation with another man who is seen as his peer. Typically, the participants have to have similar attributes mentioned above. In this type of a situation, the participants usually engage themselves in heavy talks among them.
Talking is effective for the Teamsterville male when it is employed within the framework of an already thriving or a continuing association founded on personal ties. The conversation is encouraged by the strength of the already existing relationship. This is what functions as a reinforcement of that relationship.
For example, in a situation in which a member of the town’s group goes to visit another member of the group in his home and it happens that the guest abuses the mother of the boy whom he came to see. In such a circumstance, since the two boys normally hang out on the same corner in the street, the offended boy would talk to the guest to avoid such offensive statements and admit for the guilt, instead of beating him. In this type of a circumstance, talking is considered more appropriate.
Speaking is less appropriate for the Teamstervillers when the relationship is seen to be “asymmetrical’’ such as interactions between husband and wife, father and kid, and an employer and a worker. The least speech is employed when a man wants to exert dominance over another. For instance, in a situation in which a Teamsterville man was walking with his wife in the streets and another man knowingly abused the wife.
Because of the need to assert power over another person, the man would resort to physical violence and beat the man who had abused his wife. A man attempting to “sweet” talk the other in order to be forgiven is regarded as a “homosexual.” In Teamsterville speech code, such an attempt to persuade the other for favours was considered immoral. Therefore, in this “power” situation, the use of talking is the least suitable.
Other similar instances include when a man wants to exert influence over another with a lower status and when a man maintains his position concerning issues such as politics or economics. In these ways, the speech code was designed in such a way that it could include some people and exclude other members of the town.
The use of the code created various problems for users. Some users misinterpreted the code and misused it. For example, a number of boys in the town refused to give Philipsen audience simply because he was not talking in a manly manner.
In another instance, a settlement group worker took a group of boys on a trip and when he did not give them a convincing answer concerning a question they asked him on how he would treat a person who has insulted his wife, the boys suddenly made a decision to go back home and forfeit the trip. These instances show that the residents of Teamsterville misused the code without any clear logical reason.
However, despite the problems of the code, it was especially good in a number of ways. The implementation of the code in Teamsterville tied together the ideas of the people, clarified their values, and resulted in commonality of the lifestyle in the town. Engaging in a conversation through either verbal or non-verbal means is an important aspect of life.
Speech code was an essential aspect of the culture of the residents of Teamsterville since it bound them together in a unique way that other cultures or societies were not able to relate to comfortably. Communication establishes a guide for
interpretation of thoughts as well as the free will that an individual requires so as to communicate freely with the rest of the world. This implies that the uniqueness of the society at Teamsterville could probably be non-existent if speech codes were not present. In conclusion, the study, as a descriptive datum, illustrates that talking can carry different functional loads within the communicative economies of different societies and that communication aspects in these societies are culturally diverse.
Philipsen, Gerry. “Speaking “like a man” in Teamsterville: Culture patterns of role enactment in an urban neighborhood.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 61.2 (1975). 13-21. Print.
Boy 1: (hanging out with the other boys at the corner of a street) My mum is not feeling
well, she has been sick since last month, could you guys come so that you can see her, perhaps this will boost her health.
Boy 2: (After an extended period of time in which no one seems to take interest of the
invitation) I will come after taking care of some errands in the home.
Boy 1: (Leaves the meeting place and rushes home) Bye everyone, I hope to see you at
home, my mum will be very jubilant to my friend coming to see her.
Boy2: I promise to come. (He then shows up later at the home of his friend).
Boy 1: Welcome home, friend, I am pleased to have you here.
Boy 2: It is my pleasure to be here, so where is your ever-sick mum, I wonder why these
old people always get sick!
Boy 1: (Assuming the negative remarks) She is at the bedroom, she has been sleeping
Boy 2: Still sleeping? I thought she was awake now, that is why the disease has never
left her. You should tell your mum to stop behaving like that.
Boy 1: (Infuriated) Stop it! She is my mother; refer to her with some respect.
Boy 2: I am sorry for offending you, I though we were having another street talk.
Boy 1: It is okay. Let me now call her so that you can see her.