Old creatures and poor children. The use of non-gendered words for gendered individuals in historical speech-related material

Sara Lilja Visén

Abstract


Previous research has shown that non-gendered (epicene) words, such as creature, person and child are often used with a gender-bias, both today and in historical material. The present study, which is based on sections of my dissertation (Lilja 2007) looks into the use of these three words in historical texts, with a focus on speech-related material from the courtroom setting (examinations and depositions) in England and New England 1670–1720. The findings are contrasted with those from previous research, which has used fictional material (novels and plays) from the same period. With regard to creature and child, the present study finds that they are primarily used with female reference, which confirms the findings of previous research. However, with regard to person, which in previous research has been found to be used with primarily male reference, the results indicate a difference between the material from England and that from New England: in the English material person is mainly used with male reference, whereas it is mainly used with female reference in the American material. This might be due to the specific nature of the New England material, most of which comes from the Salem witch trials.


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ISSN: 2000-3560