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An analysis of gender on Twitter

posted by Sarah Pavis   Feb 13, 2013

A study of 14,000 Twitter users was published recently (pdf) by a trio of linguists and computer scientists (Bamman, Eisenstein, Schnoebelen) that looks at the gendered expression of language online.

Female markers include a relatively large number of emotion-related terms like sad, love, glad, sick, proud, happy, scared, annoyed, excited, and jealous. All of the emoticons that appear as gender markers are associated with female authors, including some that the prior literature found to be neutral or male: :) :D and ;). […] Computer mediated communication (CMC) terms like lol and omg appear as female markers, as do ellipses, expressive lengthening (e.g., coooooool), exclamation marks, question marks, and backchannel sounds like ah, hmmm, ugh, and grr.

Swears and other taboo words are more often associated with male authors: bullshit, damn, dick, fuck, fucked, fucking, hell, pussy, shit, shitty are male markers; the anti-swear darn appears in the list as a female marker. This gendered distinction between strong swear words and mild swear words follows that seen by McEnry 2006 in the BNC. Thelwall 2008, a study of the social networking site MySpace produced more mixed results: among American young adults, men used more swears than women, but in Britain there was no gender difference

I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from a single study especially one that, in my opinion, makes some questionable methodology choices (people who follow or are followed by more than 100 people are excluded from the study?) but the results point to an interesting evolution in conversational, public speech.

Update 2: Tyler Schnoebelen, one of the study’s authors reached out to clarify. The study says “we selected only those users with between four and 100 friends”, with friends being defined not as people you follow, people who follow you, or even mutual follow backs. They poll accounts and if you and someone else mention each other with a separation of at least two weeks (to eliminate one-off convos with strangers), then for the purposes of the study you and the other person are defined as friends. And they’re looking to isolate people who have between 4 and 100 of those friend connections.

Now that that’s clarified, that seems a really reasonable way to try to determine friendships on Twitter.

Update 1: David Friedman reminded me of a post he did on telegraph operators in 1890 and how female operators have a different and identifiable transmission style.

It is a peculiar fact also that an experienced operator can almost invariably distinguish a woman’s sending from a man’s. There is nearly always some peculiarity about a woman’s style of transmission. it is not necessarily a fault. Many women send very clearly and make their dots and dashes precisely as they were intended to be made. It is impossible to describe the peculiarity, but there is no doubt of its existence. Nearly all women have a habit of rattling off a lot of meaningless dots before they say anything. But some men do that too. A woman’s touch is lighter than a man’s, and her dots and dashes will not carry so well on a very long circuit. That is presumably the reason why in all large offices the women are usually assigned to work the wires running to various parts of the cities.

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