Gendered language

Jean pointed to The Gender Genie, where you enter some text and it applies the Koppel-Argamon algorithm (or perhaps that should be "Koppel's and Argamon's algorithm") to determine whether the author is male or female. (This is the same software that I pointed to an article about last month, when Meredith noted in a comment that their claimed 80% accuracy isn't really all that impressive.)

I'd heard the algorithm was simple, but I hadn't realized it was quite as simple as it is. (The Nature article kind of explained it, but I thought there was a lot more to it than there turns out to be.) As far as I can tell, what it mostly comes down to is that men (it claims) use the words the and a and some frequently, while women use with and possessives frequently. (There are adjustments to that for various factors, but that seems to me to be the main thrust of the algorithm.) I suspect the the part is intended to apply largely to noun modifiers—if I'm right, the idea (their idea?) is that men are more likely to simply refer to "the boat" or "a boat" or "some boats," while women are more likely to specify whose boat it is, or refer to it as belonging to someone or something. Does this suggest that women are more likely to be propertarians than men?

(Note that in the Genie's numerical breakdown/analysis, it says "personal pronoun" where I think it should say "possessive pronoun," though the Nature and New York Times articles describing the algorithm appear to disagree on this point.)

And the other half of the equation is that with is a female word, perhaps suggesting (I'm speculating wildly here) that women are nurturing and cooperating types, while men are rugged solo individualists.

As you may perhaps have figured out from the above, I'm mighty dubious about the whole endeavor. (Their whole endeavor?) But it's true that one of my journal entries came out as solidly male, while one of Mary Anne's came out solidly female. On the other hand, the test thinks Jean's male. Given that the odds of success when choosing randomly would be 50/50, so far it's not instilling a lot of confidence in me. But this is much too small a sample space to be useful, so you shouldn't take these numbers seriously. (Besides, citing specific numbers is apparently a male trait.)

21 Responses to “Gendered language”

  1. Jay Lake

    Well, I popped in today’s Storyword (“Sclerotic Exiguity”) and it said I was male. A quick pants check confirmed this.

    I wonder if this whole pronoun thing has anything to do with why more male writers are published in our field. Is there some “maleness” of prose that’s important?

  2. naomi_traveller

    today’s journal entry: male!
    current fiction doing the rounds: female!

    but the fiction’s in first person, with a female narrator. does that mean that a male author writing a female first person story ought to come out female?

    this is a silly toy… thanks for posting ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. marydell

    You’re absolutely right about the pronouns bit. It’s now been changed from “personal” to “possessive.” Good catch and thanks.

  4. Tim Pratt

    Well, it says my most recent journal entry was written by a female. Guess I should stop trying to fool myself.

  5. Greg van Eekhout

    I just entered four of my short stories and scored female all four times. For some reason, this pleases me.

  6. Jay Lake

    It’s because you’re really Gregva Neekhout, and you’ve finally been outied, chickie!

    Anybody remember Silverberg explaining why Tiptree couldn’t possibly be a woman?

  7. Jennifer Pelland

    Well, the two stories of mine that you’ve published came out male. It’s your editing! I know it! You’ve made me a transgendered writer!

  8. David Moles

    I’m pleased to see that at least my most recent SH sale rates as clearly male, considering that the narrator is supposed to be a captain in the German Army in WW2.

    Fetch” on the other hand, is apparently female, even though the narrator is supposed to be a male NASA primatologist. Still, I guess a good primatologist has to have some of what our culture traditionally considers “feminine” qualities. . . . or maybe there’s just something fishy about primatologists.

    You know, it’s too bad this doesn’t actually work. I bet, for instance, that if it did more or less work it still wouldn’t be able to distinguish between gay and straight, despite the prevailing stereotypes about “effeminate” gay men and “mannish” lesbians. But then we’d be getting into “Riverbed of the World” territory, wouldn’t we . . .

  9. Shmuel

    I gave it my page of current journal entries (omitting those that were only links, or that answered questions found on other sites), and was judged male. I then gave it a much longer entry from March (on the subject of going to a strip club, so the content was about as male as my journal’s ever gotten), which was judged to have been written by a female.

  10. naomi_traveller

    Shmuel: sort of like the sorting hat, eh? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Shmuel

    I don’t care what anybody says; I do not belong in Hufflepuff. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. irilyth

    I write like a girl. :^) My home page, and four of the five pages linked from there that aren’t just lists of things, all get identified as female; the male one is my biographical page, which has a lot more numbers and facts.

  13. Heather Shaw

    Heh. Famishing comes up male. But my story in the upcoming Polyphony 3, Restoration, comes up female. Funny thing is, their protagonists are vice-versa.

  14. Dan

    Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See”: Female

  15. Wendy Shaffer

    A random selection of journal entries all come up as female. I fed it the opening pages of a couple of short stories and one came up male and one female. A chunk of my technical writing came up very solidly male (as it would pretty much have to, the way the algorithm works).

    Hmmm, maybe next time someone asks me what I do for a living, instead of saying I’m a tech writer, I’ll say “I’m a verbal transvestite.”

  16. Leah Bobet

    A few of my journal entries, randomly selected, came up female to a tee. So did an excerpt from my current WiP. The interesting thing, though, is I also plugged in some text from the last story I wrote with a male protagonist. Male.

    This is me so gloating. I have defeated the girl-cooties. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. Chelsea

    totally weird. all of my erotica comes out female, and all of my fantasy and SF comes out male. I suppose the erotica comes out female because you’ve got to keep track of whose whatsits goes where and with whom…

  18. Dan

    This thread so far: Female. ๐Ÿ™‚ Even with all the dates and message numbers.

    (okay, possibly pushing the silly barrier. backing off now.)

  19. David Moles

    Now I’m imagining some bizarre Ballardian erotica where all the relevant whatsits are referred to clinically and impersonally.

  20. Shannon

    Well so far at least everything I put into it has been incorrectly identified as “female” – not sure what this says about my writing style?

  21. Beth Bernobich

    I tried a few stories — all but one came back as “female.”

    Hmmmm. Time for an experiment.


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