In You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships, acclaimed author and linguist Deborah Tannen recounts a misunderstanding she experienced when a friend who had come to her home as a dinner guest insisted on helping with serving, cleaning and hostessing despite Ms. Tannen telling her not to do so.

“I absolutely could not understand why she kept doing it,” Ms. Tannen recalled with laughter recently in an interview. “It never crossed my mind that she might think I didn’t mean it. Just as it never occurred to her that I might mean it. I’ve written books about this! But in the moment I couldn’t figure it out.”

Ms. Tannen came to realize that they’d both just been following behaviors proscribed by family experiences. “We’re still good friends,” she said with relief. “When we talked about it, she told me it has been life changing for her to realize that she doesn’t have to do all of that work.”

This story is one of many recounted by Ms. Tannen in her illuminating new book, which examines how female friends communicate and how different conversational styles can bring friends together or break them apart. Just as she broke new ground in 1990 with the publication of New York Times bestseller You Just Don’t Understand, which explored the differences in conversational styles between men and women, You’re the Only One I Can Tell prompts reflection and dialogue.

Grouped by subject headings such as “Give Me Connection, Not Competition” “Why Didn’t You Tell Me?” and “Troubles Talk: Please Tell Me What to Do” Ms. Tannen’s interviews-as-case-studies yield a generous and humorous book that reads like a collection of short stories featuring memorable, compelling characters.

The author also openly shares her own experiences. Her story of being cut off inexplicably by a high school friend will feel familiar to many readers. Later, she recounts reconnecting with that friend and finding out why she was cut off. One of the most beautiful and deeply moving stories is that of how she and her sisters marked the 12th anniversary of their mother’s death by staying in touch throughout the day by texting photos and sharing a three-way conversation that enabled them to observe traditional Jewish rituals together.

During her research for You’re the Only One I Can Tell, Ms. Tannen interviewed more than 80 women aged seven to 97. They ranged from children she encountered at a family party, to friends of her mother in law living in a senior community in Palo Alto, to her own friends and colleagues. She also listened to the observations of her students at Georgetown University, where she has taught for 37 years.

In an unexpected twist of fate, she was able to interview family psychologist Eleanor Maccoby, whom she had known as an academic colleague and who now lived in the same community as her in laws.

Only one set of interviews was conducted by someone other than the author, and those were led by a graduate student returning to her home in Khazakhstan for the summer.

“I start with people I know,” she said of how she identifies who to interview. “For each book, people tell me about someone that they have a reason for suggesting, such as a friend with eight sisters, or a friend who has been having a problem with another friend and might talk about it. I want a range of people to talk to so I have a range of experiences to write about.”

She cautioned against readers suspicious that she might have an agenda. “I don’t present or offer these examples for any kind of proof,” she explains. “I don’t go into anything with a hypothesis. I listen to the data and offer the examples as illustrations and then I analyze them. If that rings true for you, then that’s where the usefulness comes in.”

Some of the most fascinating material offered in You’re the Only One I Can Tell comes in the chapters on social media. She is concerned about the “ratcheting-up” of competition and emphasis on physical looks that has always existed as a pressure.

“Girls are presenting themselves in ways that have to be sexy,” Ms. Tannen observed. “They’re completely wrapped up in how they look. They have to put new pictures up all the time and they hope to get as many likes as possible because it’s a popularity contest, especially in middle and high school.”

Another conversational style that is changing is in transactional behavior. “I got an insight recently when talking to some college students, not my own, who approached me after a talk,” the author recalled. “They were telling me they feel they’ve lost the ability to have casual conversations with people they don’t know well. Whenever they can, they conduct business on a screen. If they need to talk to somebody, they don’t really know how to have those kinds of instrumental conversations where you’re calling somebody up to do business.”

Yet far from lamenting the impact of technology and social media on conversational style, Ms. Tannen sees herself as a defender of young people. “All of this ‘the sky is falling, they’re losing this, they’re losing that’ just isn’t true,” she notes. “I usually try to say don’t worry, it’s just more of the same. It’s just another take on what we always did.”

She debunks the idea that long-form conversation is a thing of the past. “Most young people are in constant touch with their friends,” she observes. “When they have a phone under the table and you think they’re being rude because they’re not engaged in the current interaction, it’s often that they’re texting with their friends. To not answer your friend right away is rude; they expect very quick answers.”

Ms. Tannen noted that those texts don’t replace a voice-to-voice or face-to-face conversation for something that needs to be long or deep.

Asked about what we might anticipate changing in years ahead, she cited the creative uses of social media and cites the fascinating changes she has seen since she began including the topic in her Georgetown curriculum.

“It’s a revelation every time I teach it,” she marvelled. “When I first started out, it was almost all words. Then I saw more images and emoticons, and then memes. I see the creativity that my students, their friends and their families are exhibiting in communicating in these ways.”

Deborah Tannen will speak on Saturday at 3 p.m. the Harbor View Hotel, and on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center.