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Gender, culture and language: Evidence from language corpora about the development of cultural differences between English-speaking countries

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Chapter Summary

This article takes as its starting point the impression reported by Leech and Fallon (1992) of a marked cultural difference between the US and Britain emerging from their examination of lexical frequencies in the Brown and LOB corpora from 1961. In what they term ‘one wild generalization’ they propose a picture of the US in 1961 as more masculine, militaristic and dynamic, set against a Britain more given to benefitting from wealth rather than creating it, and to family and emotional life. Here I investigate a number of the electronic corpora which are now available to see if this impression was still valid towards the end of the 20th century, in some cases even into the 21st. Some of these corpora also make it possible to bring authentic spoken language into the comparison, and to differentiate between male and female language. Besides Brown and LOB, the following corpora are examined: Frown, FLOB, BNC, COCA, TIME and the various ICE corpora, as well as the Australian Corpus of English and the Wellington Written Corpus of New Zealand English. The comparison comprises the following: (i) frequencies of HE and SHE (with inflections), (ii) proportions of HE and SHE made up of the respective subject forms, seen as a general involvement measure, (iii) the most frequent lexical verbs occurring after he and she, and (iv) frequencies of a set of general cultural terms found to be overrepresented in AmE vs. BrE in the material from 1961. Results show a clear tendency towards greater gender equality, both in overall frequencies and in the proportion of subject forms, although Britain is still ahead of the US, as are Australia and New Zealand. The lexical verbs reveal a greater proportion of cognitive verbs after she, and more verbs denoting motion and other activity after he. The general cultural terms from 1961 show that even here the gap has narrowed. The overall impression is one of a widespread cultural convergence.



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