Revered and reviled: A sentiment analysis of female and male referents in three languages

Levshina, N., Koptjevskaja-Tamm, M., & Östling, R. (2024). Revered and reviled: A sentiment analysis of female and male referents in three languages. Frontiers in Communication, 9: 1266407. doi:10.3389/fcomm.2024.1266407.
Our study contributes to the less explored domain of lexical typology, focusing on semantic prosody and connotation. Semantic derogation, or pejoration of nouns referring to women, whereby such words acquire connotations and further denotations of social pejoration, immorality and/or loose sexuality, has been a very prominent question in studies on gender and language (change). It has been argued that pejoration emerges due to the general derogatory attitudes toward female referents. However, the evidence for systematic differences in connotations of female- vs. male-related words is fragmentary and often fairly impressionistic; moreover, many researchers argue that expressed sentiments toward women (as well as men) often are ambivalent. One should also expect gender differences in connotations to have decreased in the recent years, thanks to the advances of feminism and social progress. We test these ideas in a study of positive and negative connotations of feminine and masculine term pairs such as woman - man, girl - boy, wife - husband, etc. Sentences containing these words were sampled from diachronic corpora of English, Chinese and Russian, and sentiment scores for every word were obtained using two systems for Aspect-Based Sentiment Analysis: PyABSA, and OpenAI’s large language model GPT-3.5. The Generalized Linear Mixed Models of our data provide no indications of significantly more negative sentiment toward female referents in comparison with their male counterparts. However, some of the models suggest that female referents are more infrequently associated with neutral sentiment than male ones. Neither do our data support the hypothesis of the diachronic convergence between the genders. In sum, results suggest that pejoration is unlikely to be explained simply by negative attitudes to female referents in general.
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