Baker Scholar Projects

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In this project on language ideology, I designed a sociolinguistic study to investigate the relationship between language perception (what one thinks they know about language usage) and language production (how one actually uses language) via writing and speaking tasks designed to assess general pronoun usage given specific referents in both formal and informal contexts. The qualitative responses are categorized and descriptively analyzed across queer status based off participants’ background information.

Participants included 61 college students who were native English speakers and between the ages of 18 and 26. Based off a question collected on the background information sheet, 18 participants were categorized as queer, and the remaining 43 participations were categorized as non-queer. The tasks for the study were presented in a way so that participants had no explicit knowledge that the study was designed to assess general pronoun usage. Predictions were that

(1) queer participants will use gender-neutral pronouns (particularly singular ‘they’) more than non-queer participants, but that (2) both queer and non-queer participants will use gender-neutral pronouns with varying degrees, dependent upon specific referents; moreover, (3) gender-neutral pronouns will be more apparent in the speaking task than the writing task since participants are unable to monitor and revise their language usage as clearly in such an informal context.

In this study, it was found that both queer and non-queer participants used gender-neutral pronouns depending upon the referent. Non-queer participants tended to use gender-neutral pronouns with typically gender-neutral referents as opposed to typically gendered referents.

Furthermore, no introduced pronouns such as ‘xe’ were used; the only gender-neutral pronoun used was singular ‘they’. Given the results that both queer and non-queer students use a form of gender-neutral pronouns, I provide recommendations for gender inclusivity on college campuses.

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