This study is an analysis of small-group talk among three different groups of women in the United States. Building upon Coates' (1996) study of female talk in a British speech community, we investigate how women build close personal relationships through their discourse. The data consist of three hours of videotaped interactions among the three all-female groups in different locations in the US and among interlocutors of differing social distance. We demonstrate here how variation in speech event norms coupled with differences in social distance relationships lead to distinct communicative enactments of friendship. The participants in the three groups are as follows: four close friends from northeastern New Jersey engaging in ordinary social conversation; four members of a Jewish Sisterhood organization in Long Island, New York, having a casual get-together; and three mothers of young children in Tampa, Florida, meeting for a playgroup date. The interlocutors in the three groups are all originally from their respective geographical areas and have lived in these areas most of their lives. All are native speakers of American English.
Our analysis focuses on small group talk among women in groups in which the relationships vary according to shared history, interests, and norms for interaction in social conversation and group meeting. From an ‘etic’ perspective, the three groups represent a continuum ranging from social, interactional talk to transactional talk that ‘gets down to business.’ However, the features of disclosures through personal narratives and the structural elements of overlap are shown here to function toward ‘women talk’ (Coates 1996). It will become clear that regardless of the social distance relationship, the all women's groups share elements of relational, or rapport talk (Tannen 1990) that are pervasive even in transactional, or information sharing encounters (Brown and Yule 1983). In all three groups we find structural elements that lend themselves to personal disclosures, accomplished via narratives (the New Jersey Group), overlaps (the Long Island Group), and Relational Identity Display and Development or RID (Boxer and Cortes-Conde 1997) (the Tampa Group).