The Numbers Game

19 07 2009

This is a very interesting article, isn’t it? It was written in 2004 and it concerns the frequency of various types of “tag questions”, which are defined as interrogative clauses appended to the ends of declarative statements. Mark’s two examples are:

1. You were missing last week, weren’t you?
2. Thorpe’s away, is he?

The specific issue that Mark is investigating is whether men and women are more likely to favour these terms of speech and he comes to the conclusion that, rather than being necessarily gender-based, certain types of tag questions are favoured by people in positions of power (doctors, teachers, etc), while being virtually eschewed – in fact, in the data that Mark presents, completely eschewed by the corresponding powerless: patients, students and so forth.

Mark’s most recent post (which can be found here) concerns the prevalence of first-person pronouns in different texts, and he likewise asks whether or not such usage may be based around issues of gender or power. I found this latest article to be of especial interest, given one point in particular that he makes:

To learn more about these questions requires counting how pronouns are used, not just how many of which are where. [My emphasis]

In a world in which data is so often tabulated based on frequency alone, there are many scholars out there who should be taking Mark’s advice.




One response

10 08 2009

I’m not sure what you mean by “Mark’s advice”. Do you mean to look at frequences as conditioned by gender and genre? There have been some recent statements of similar effect in the Computational Linguistics world: Bonnie Webber’s Genre distinctions for discourse in the Penn TreeBank.

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