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GENDER IDENTITY AND LANGUAGE BEHAVIOUR OF ENGLISH-SPEAKING INTERNET USERS (INTERNET CHAT ROOM AND BLOG USERS)

OLGA GUKOSYANTS,
PYATIGORSK STATE LINGUISTICS UNIVERCITY

Abstract: The present paper lists gender-specific speech markers employed by English-speaking Internet chat room and blog users, as observed in 2 500 contextualised situations. Masking one’s gender identity is found to be achieved by employing opposite gender-specific linguistic means.

Keywords: Internet-mediated communication, online linguistic identity, gender, gender-specific speech markers, gender identity masking.

GUKOSYANTS, OLGA (2015) "GENDER IDENTITY AND LANGUAGE BEHAVIOUR OF ENGLISH-SPEAKING INTERNET USERS". Journal of Russian Review (ISSN 2313-1578), VOL. 1(2), 8-12.


1. Introduction

Online interaction is a form of indirect communication distanced and mediated by a digital network that is itself creating a special kind of environment for speech generation and reception and text exchange. Devoid of eye contact, users participate in online communication (and chat room and blog communication in particular) only through constructed identities. It is possible to create this kind of Internet identity by self-presentation, but the only material means of self-presentation (or, rather, self-expression) available on the Internet is one’s name – username – and language behaviour.

Nevertheless, given the peculiar nature of the online environment, besides genuine self-presenting and creatively constructing one’s online image, the Internet offers a chance of adopting an entirely new social image distinct from the original one, including of one’s gender identity. This prompted the present paper to analyse the most efficient components of gender self-presentation employed by English-speaking chat room and blog users and to find the best way of masking the gender of online linguistic identities in English-language online chat rooms and blogs. The importance of studying the issue of potential reimagining of one’s identity and decoding their gender identity is backed by the acute need for ensuring that the Internet remains a space of stability and tolerance.

 

2. Prior studies

There are numerous works by linguists both in Russia and internationally on gender-marked language behaviour in English. However, the analysis of the papers reveals that there were no prior attempts at conducting a comprehensive study and classification of gender-marked features of online communication used in English-language chat rooms and blogs in particular.

Here are some of the more notable works in more detail.

The most comprehensive study of the differences between the masculine and the feminine style of social interaction is J. Holmes’ Women’s Talk: The Question of Sociolinguistic Universals (1993). Differentiating between the stylistic features, the study notes that men and women differ in their use of language: women pay more attention to emotional (interpersonal) aspects of communication, more often than men they employ linguistic forms that underline solidarity, communicate in a way that supports and bolsters solidarity; men, on the contrary, aim to support and bolster their own power and status (especially in official situations); women employ standard forms more often than men of the same social strata [Holmes, 1993].

Also dealing with male and female styles of communication are D. Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1990), and The relativity of linguistic strategies; rethinking power and solidarity in gender and dominance (1994). These works argue that women value sympathy and support and interact to share their concerns and to find assistance, while men prefer to be experts, problem-solvers [Tannen 1990, 1994].

The respective authors, therefore, draw general conclusions that male and female communication differs in aims (Holmes) and style (Tannen) without addressing the use of particular linguistic means or taking into account the specific nature of online discourse.

Analysing male and female language behaviour online is S.C. Herring’s Gender differences in CMC: Findings and implications (2000). The study finds no essential difference between gender manifestation in real-world and online communications, noting the identical use of empty phrases, swear words, expressions of gratitude or apologies, rudeness or politeness, and the possibility of expressing laughter in online interaction (Herring, 2000). Similar to the above, it does not find online communication to feature gender-specific speech markers.

The present paper believes that attempts to draw conclusions about the means, which an Internet communicant can use to construct their online gender identity and the ways one can be ascertained by merely analysing the aim of male and female communication or its stylistic features, while ignoring the inherent lexical and grammatical peculiarities, are essentially deficient.

Dealing with lexical, syntactical, stylistic, morphological, and semantic features or feminine and masculine speech behaviour are Differentiation in Male and Female Speech Styles (O. Goroshko, 1999), and Gender Differences in Language Use: An Analysis of 14,000 Text Samples (M.L. Newman, C.J. Groom, L.D. Handelman, J.W. Pennebaker, 2008). Both studies use experimental data (obtained though observing college students) to reveal features of male and female written and oral speech. However, neither analysed English-language online chat rooms or blogs as specific situations or took into account the peculiarities of online interaction.

 
3. The study

The data used in this study comprised a selection of 2 500 complete male and female linguistic situations taken from English-language online chat rooms and blogs. The aim was to determine characterological lexical, syntactical, stylistic, morphological, semantic, phonetic and graphic differences between feminine and masculine verbal behaviour in chat room and blog interactions.

Male and female blog and chat room situations were further analysed with regard to their vocabulary structure (use of ‘buzzwords’, neologisms, invectives, interjections, adjectives (evaluative, quantitative or parametric), adverbs, personal pronouns (especially the first person singular), parentheses, various types of questions, semantic hyperbolae, and semantically depleted words), syntactic structure (preference for co-ordination or subordination, active or passive voice, gerund, complex object, or ellipsis), graphical presentation (acronyms or other types of abbreviation, typeface highlighting, visual distortion or phoneticization of spelling).

The resulting peculiarities were matched into two major groups – male and female online speech peculiarities. These were further characterised by the nature of their use in chat rooms and blogs. Some were found not to be 100% transferrable from blog into chat room usage, as illustrated in Table 1 (See Appendices).

Incomplete correlation between male/female markers used in chat room and blog examples indicates that the nature of gender identity manifestation online is influenced by the specific situation and the environment of the communicative act itself.

To corroborate the findings and establish possible ways of masking one’s gender identity, a survey was conducted among English-language chat room and blog users. The aim of the survey was to confirm or to refute the findings, with a positive result meaning the latter are true, and that it is possible to mask one’s gender identity online by using opposite gender-specific speech markers.

The respondents were selected from among the frequenters of www.spinchat.com and chat.lycos.co.uk (native English speakers aged 18 to 57 with a university degree or undergratuote students). The number of individuals who duly filled out the questionnaire and answered the survey questions was 30: 12 men and 18 women. The data was continuously sampled from semantically complete linguistic situations taken from Internet chat rooms and blogs such as http://laughteriscatching.com, http://amptoons.com, http://sharideth.com, http://www.artofmanliness.com, http://number-thirty.livejournal.com, www.chatplace.org, http://mashable.com, http://www.spinchat.com, https://blogs.njit.edu, http://discussion.theguardian.com, http://4simpsons.wordpress.com, http://chat.lycos.co.uk, http://www.boscouk.blogspot.com, http://blog.jugglingfrogs.com, http://grownandflown.com, http://perezhilton.com, http://www.britishbeautyblogger.com, http://www.disputingblog.com, http://www.dirjournal.com, http://www.fourhourworkweek.com etc.

Selecting the samples, analysing them, generalising the findings, preparing the questionnaire, conducting the test survey and arranging its results took 8 months (September 2013 to April 2014).

The interviewees were tasked with establishing the gender identity of communicators within the given situations, while arguing their case by indicating the specific features they believed to be characteristic of feminine or masculine behaviour. The results are presented in Figure 1 (see Appendices).

The comparison the of the original findings with a test survey carried out among non-specialist English speakers confirmed the presence of male and female speech markers in online chat room and blog interactions found by the original study. Notably, female interviewees more easily and reliably detected male speech markers, while male respondents were more consistent in noticing female markers. The phenomenon was observable throughout the study and is itself a proof of marked difference between masculine and feminine speech behaviour.

 
4. Conclusions

  1. Gender identity of English-language chat room and blog users can indeed be established from their speech behaviour. In a particular situation, the specific lexical, syntactic, stylistic, morphological, semantic, phonetic and graphical features listed in Table 1 (see Appendices), as well as the general style of discourse, can act as markers that help interpret an individual’s gender identity.
  2. The analysis of the language characteristic of a particular gender revealed that blog situations feature more gender-specific markers than chat rooms ones. This led to the conclusion that gender manifestation by communicators, as well as their online gender identity itself, is situational. This is most striking in blogs featuring input from male and female users of equal educational level which subject matter creates a level playing field while offering more time for writing posts or comments than synchronous chats.
  3. Results of a text survey hint at possible ways of masking one’s gender identity by employing the aforementioned markers characteristic of opposite gender communicators.

 
5. References

  1. Goroshko, O. Differentiation in Male and Female Speech Styles. [Text] / O. Goroshko. Budapest: Open Society Institute, 1999. – 107 p.
  2. Holmes, J. Women’s Talk: The Question of Sociolinguistic Universals. [Text] / J. Holmes // Australian Journal of Communication. Vol. 20 (3). Brisbane: Communication Institute, Australian Communication Association, 1993. – P. 125-149.
    Tannen, D. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation [Text] / D. Tannen – New York: William Morrow, 1990. – 319 p.
  3. Tannen, D. The relativity of linguistic strategies; rethinking power and solidarity in gender and dominance. [Text] / D. Tannen // Gender and Discourse. – Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. – P. 19 – 52.
  4. Herring, S.C. Gender Differences in CMC: Findings and Implications. [Electronic resource] / S.C. Herring // CPSR Newsletter. – Vol. 18. – N 1. – 2000. Available at: http://cpsr.org/issues/womenintech/herring/
  5. Newman, M.L., Groom, C.J., Handelman, L.D., Pennebaker, J.W. Gender Differences in Language Use: An Analysis of 14,000 Text Samples. [Text] / M.L. Newman, C.J. Groom, L.D. Handelman, J.W. Pennebaker // Discourse Processes, 45 – Taylor & Francis Group, LLC: 2008, P. 211–236.

 
6. Appendices

Table 1. Peculiarities of speech characteristic of masculine and feminine language identities present in English-language chat room and blog use, as established by the study

   Peculiarities of speech in chat room usage Peculiarities of speech in blog usage Peculiarities of speech in blog usage
Feminine language identity - Expressions I mean, I think, Sort of, Well, Just, I suppose, You see, You know.
- Constructions I wonder if, It seems to me, My impression is, I wouldn’t mind.
- Gerund.
- Polite expressions, words of apology, requests (Excuse me, I do apologize, I’m sorry).
- Metaphors, fixed phrases.
- Intensifier words with partially lost meaning facilitating exaggeration: awfully pretty, awfully jolly, terribly nice, terribly tired.
- Semantic hyperbolae.
- Ellipsis.
- Graphical distortion of text (no1, 4ever, heLLooOooOoo, booooring). 
- Adverbs ending in –ly.
- Modal words (clearly, obviously, apparently, certainly, surely, well, only, simply).
- Evaluative adjectives.
- Metaphors, fixed phrases.
- Expressions I mean, I think, Sort of, Well, Just, I suppose, You see, You know.
- Gerund.
- Constructions I wonder if, It seems to me, My impression is, I wouldn’t mind.
- Intensifier words with partially lost meaning facilitating exaggeration: awfully pretty, awfully jolly, terribly nice, terribly tired.
- Passive voice.
- Semantic hyperbolae.
- Ellipsis.
- Tag questions, interrogatory constructions used to urge the interlocutor without actually using the imperative.
- Polite expressions, words of apology, requests (Excuse me, I do apologize, I’m sorry).
Masculine language identity - Appeal to other people’s views.
- Invectives, slang words.
- Rhetorical questions.
- Textual cohesion.
- Lack of figural expressions.
- Contractions (dunno, gotta, kinda, hafta).
- Active voice.
- Appeal to other people’s views.
- Quantitative or parametric adjectives (huge, big, low, quick).
- Invectives, slang words.
- Imperative.
- Rhetorical questions.
- Textual cohesion.
- Lack of figural expressions.

 

Figure 1. Basic criteria used by male and female interviewees to assess gender identity of communicators in given English-language chat room and blog situations

GENDER IDENTITY AND LANGUAGE BEHAVIOUR OF  INTERNET USERS

 


М1 – evaluative adjectives;
М2 – polite apologies;
М3 – graphical distortions, phonetisization;
М4 – quotes;
М5 – abbreviations;
М6 – description of one’s feelings and emotions;
М7 – propensity for unsolicited advice;
М8 – hyperbolae, metaphors as embellishment;
М9 – invectives, slang words;
М10 – orders.

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