Degree Name

BA

Department

Linguistics and English Language

College

Humanities

Defense Date

2022-03-11

Publication Date

2022-03-18

First Faculty Advisor

Dr. Jacob D. Rawlins

First Faculty Reader

Dr. Matt J. Baker

Honors Coordinator

Dr. Alan D. Manning

Keywords

prescriptivism, corpus linguistics, gender-fair language, news media, editing

Abstract

Contrary to traditional thought in linguistics and editing, recent studies using corpus-based evidence suggest that historical English usage patterns influenced prescriptive usage manuals’ guidelines more than the other way around. To investigate the modern relationship between English language prescriptions and usage, this study focuses on the wide-reaching genre of written online news and the topic of gender-fair language. It compares changes regarding gender-specific language in the Associated Press’s stylebooks to actual usage trends as documented in the News on the Web (NOW) corpus. Results from NOW show -man title variants as the dominant form in the early 2010s, consistent AP style at that time. However, many gender-neutral (including -person) variants saw rapid uptake in usage in the mid-2010s to become the most frequent forms by 2021, contrasting AP guidelines that only started listing -person and other neutral forms as “acceptable” in 2017 and as the prescribed more recently. These results indicate both an increased cultural consciousness for changing gender equity standards as well as a willingness of many news writers, editors, and publishers to defer to culturally significant language trends even when authoritative guides do not endorse them.

Share

COinS