Gender/sex discrepancies in pronominal references to animals: a statistical analysis

Abstract : Although the English gender system is a semantic system largely based on sex, it is well known that in references to animals there is widespread discrepancy between pronominal gender and sex, and that gender selection is dependent on speaker's point of view (degree of interest in the animal, projection of personality and so on). What is yet to be established, however, is whether point of view still prevails in references to animals when the antecedent noun specifies the sex of the referent (e.g. stallion, ewe). In that case the neuter is known to occur but there is no quantitative assessment of the phenomenon, although it is crucial to understanding the influence of sex on gender selection. This paper therefore proposes a statistical analysis of gender use in personal pronouns focusing exclusively on cases in which the antecedent noun specifies the sex of the animal. The analysis is carried out at the scale of the multi-million word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), using Pearson's chi square test complemented by the odds ratio estimate. Three questions are considered: how common is the neuter? Is its relative frequency the same with female animals as with males? Finally, do the proportions vary according to the position of the anaphor relative to its antecedent?
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Contributor : Laure Gardelle <>
Submitted on : Sunday, January 20, 2013 - 3:33:07 PM
Last modification on : Friday, June 21, 2019 - 11:30:07 AM

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Laure Gardelle. Gender/sex discrepancies in pronominal references to animals: a statistical analysis. English Language and Linguistics, Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2013, 17 (1), pp.181-194. ⟨ensl-00778467⟩

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