Blog #2

Over the course of the last several weeks, my faculty advisor (Dr. Kristen Di Gennaro) and I have been working on creating a survey in Qualtrics. Currently, we are waiting on IRB to get back to us on account of the quality of our survey.

Our survey is designed to discover some of the consequences of the linguistic reforms and determine whether they have been successful. One of our questions is if participants have an awareness of the prescriptive grammar rules. After the surveys approved and completed, the next step would be to determine the reasons why some might be more inclined to change their speech patterns, while others remain more conservative when it comes to speech. The purpose is to find out if the adaptability to new rules is related to age, gender, educational level or even political views.

The survey has four parts, that is not counting the disclaimer for voluntary participation. Each section has four parts. The first block is focused on finding out what kinds of pronouns would a participant use when they have a choice. That is, they are asked to rate a sentence on a scale from “I’m very likely to use this phrase” to “I’m not at all likely to use this phrase”, with two more possible answers in between. The purpose is to find out how particular participants might be when it comes to the prescriptive grammar of pronoun usage.

The second part of the survey is designed to see whether participants are more likely to use gender-neutral terms in relation to professions or not. The third section would appear somewhat ambiguous to some participants since unless one is intensely familiar with prescriptive grammar rules (for example, a sentence can’t end with a preposition), the sentences would appear correct. This section is specifically aimed at getting the information on how much of a hold the prescriptivism has on the minds of participants.  The fourth section is fill-the-blank type, and is also aimed at the pronoun usage; however, unlike the first section, it is letting the participant input their own response in order to see if they would naturally put “they” instead of “he” or “she”. The questions are purposefully ambiguous for that reason.

Overall, we anticipate the survey to reveal thinking patterns that relate to prescriptive grammar usage. We are curious if people of older generations are less prone to adopting linguistics reforms. Yet, it must be mentioned, that one of the articles (Mucchi-Faina, Gender identity, and power inequality) that we used to preliminary research states otherwise.

Blog #1: Gender and Linguistic Reform

The purpose of my academic research project “Gender and linguistic reform: finding the formula for success” is to gather the information on the linguistics reforms of the past in American English, analyze it in relation to gender in the hope to determine which aspects of proposals are associated with favorable results.

We (myself and my research advisor, Dr. Kristen Di Gennaro) started with the gathering of information from several related sources. We have reviewed several publications in order to establish their relevance to our research. A book by A. Curzan “Gender Shifts in the History of English” provided a valuable context for how did the understanding of gender change over the centuries. Later, we focused on contemporary articles focusing not just on a broad development of English, but on artificial linguistic reforms related to gender. One of the most useful sources was “Visible or influential? Language reforms and gender (in)equality” by A. Mucchi-Faina, who provides detailed analyses of almost 20+ research studies all over the English-speaking world and their outcomes, along with the author’s conclusions. Gathering information allowed us to begin the development of our own research questions for surveys we will be conducting in the near future. We’ve drawn on methods discussed in “Personality, prescriptivism, and pronouns” by E.D. Bradley, in which he provides examples of sentence types rated by respondents in relation to whether or not the correct pronoun was used.  Our survey will contain a test on grammaticality. There will be sentences like “If someone calls me, tell them to call me back”, and the participant will be asked to determine whether or not the usage of a pronoun “they” is correct. Another type of research questions we are developing will be “fill the blank”, in which participants would be asked to put in either “he/she” or “they”.

The goal is to find out which conditions would make a linguistic reform accepted by the general population.  We hope to find out whether increasing visibility has been a more effective strategy utilized in the past by linguistic reformers, or if a concept of inclusivity (substituting he/she with they, for example, or replacing words like “the stewardess” with “the flight attendant” to make them more gender-neutral) worked better in the long run.