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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Shriek or yell, giggle or cry?

Date Released: Wed, 13 May 2015 14:54 +0200

Dr Sally Hunt investigated the ways in which gender is expressed in verbs of speech in children’s fiction at a linguistics departmental research seminar on Tuesday 13 May.  She has found that in these books, female characters tend to giggle and shriek, while male characters bellow and guffaw.  In her talk she showed what implications this has for the ways in which gender roles are portrayed in these books.

Theorists say that dialogue is particularly important for showing how characters develop in fiction, and this is particularly true of children’s fiction.  The ways in which fictional characters’ speech is described show us the authors assumptions about how males and females should speak or do speak in real life.  Because children pick up many social norms from the books they read, these books can have a significant impact on their views of gender.  Dr Hunt looked at the verbs of speech in a range of commercially successful series of children’s books published in English over the past 70 years.  She analysed them using a combination of two methods: Corpus Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis.

The series that Dr Hunt investigated include Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (published from 1942 to 1963), The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (1950 – 1956), Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High (1984 – 1998) and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (2001 – 2011).  She built a corpus, or electronic database, out of selected books from each series, adding up to a total of about 2 million words of data.  Then she used concordance software to search for trends in the ways in which verbs of speech such as shriek, yell, giggle or cry were used.  Two groups of verbs of speech proved to show the strongest trends according to gender: metapropositional verbs (such as explain, agree, grumble, complain) and descriptive verbs (such as cry, shout, whisper, sigh).  In her talk, Sally showed how the ways in which these verbs are used reinforces traditional gender roles in the context of Western society.

Source:Ian Siebörge