For the last few months, professor di Gennaro and I were gathering data by the means of a survey distribution. Total response count was 93 competed surveys, and we are currently analyzing the data collected.
In early December, we began creating a four-part survey with total number of 40 questions. It was aimed to find how do people use language in regards to prescriptive vs descriptive rules of grammar, as well as participants’ knowledge of them.
Part 1 consisted of 10 questions, which were complete with the pronouns that may or may not appear correct to a participant. For example, Q10 was “If Jane calls, tell them to call me back”. There were four possible responses: “I would never use this phrase”, “I’m not likely to use this phrase”, “I’m somewhat likely to use this phrase” and “I’m very likely to use this phrase”. The aim was to find out if the linguistic reform of swithcing from a masculine pronoun “he” to ‘they” was succesfull.
Part 2 also consisted of 10 questions, in which out aim was to use the gender neutral words in a sentence (like “server”, “congressperson”, etc) in order to find out whether participants would use it in every day life. A possible issue became apparent after the initial data analysis: since our goal was to get raw data without participants being influenced by presuppositions or knowledge what exactly are we looking for, it may have not been clear in certain questions what exactly should one pay attention to. That is, a question ‘Do you know how to contact your congressperson?” may have been interpreted by participants as a question aiming at understanding of their daily lives (meaning, not everyone would ask that) rather than at finding out if people use gender neutral terms in relation to traditionally gendered nouns.
Part 3 was aimed at knowledge of prescriptive rules, and also consisted of 10 questions. A good example would be Q25 “Who were you talking to?”, which is not constructed according to the prescriptive rules of grammar which state that it’s incorrect to end a sentense with a preposition. A preliminary data analysis revealed that there might be a possible correlation between participant’s age usage of this rule, as well as having learned English as a second language. This would, however, have to be confirmed by further analysis.
Finally, part 4 was aimed at participants’ intuitive usage of pronouns, this time without suggestions like in part 1. Here, participants had an opportunity to type in their own answers. We provided questions like Q34 “I waved at the barista but___ didn’t see me”. Here, we were trying to find out whether a participant would use “he”, “she” or “they” in order to describe somebody whose gender they don’t know.
We decided it would create a larger margin of error if we were to include a section in which participants could explain their reasoning behind their responces. Therefore, most of the data collected is quantitative.
After all the sections were completed, the participants were given a choice if they would like to complete a demographics information. The majority (67.50%) were native English speakers, however and 32.50% being non-native. It must be noted that 85% of participants were university students (83.75% in the age group of 18-25), with only 15% not, which may have skewed our data toward a possible future conclusion that young people are more susceptible to linguistic reforms.
We have closed our survey two weeks ago (Feb 28), and began conducting the preliminary analysis. The data is still raw, and we are currently working on going through all the responses before we can begin looking for patterns.