Masculine and Feminine Linguistic Responses

    ENGL 2281: Introduction to Linguistics
Idaho State University

     Our textbook, The Study of Language (2014) defines semantics as, “the study of the meaning of words, phrases and sentences” (p. 109). In semantic analysis, Yule states, “there is always an attempt to focus on what the words conventionally mean, rather than on what an individual speaker might think they mean, or want them to mean, on a particular occasion” (p. 109). More specifically, the term lexical relations are the relationships of meaning between words (p. 293).
    Words have both a denotative and connotative meaning. The dictionary, for example, provides us with the denotative meaning of a word; the literal or primary meaning. The connotative meaning, the emotions and associations attached to a word, is the one that derives from personal experience, education, background, environment, etc. The connotative meaning is one that is derived within a word association test. Linguists use the term collocation; the likelihood of two words occurring together.
     A word association test requires a subject to respond to each of a series of words with the first word that comes to mind or with a word of a specified class of words (Merriam-Webster). According to, word association was first developed as a research instrument by Francis Galton and then later by Carl Jung as a clinical diagnostic tool. Galton presented the first word association test to psychology; he used a list of 75 stimulus words with which he read and noted his responses. Galton thought there might be a connection between a person’s intelligence quotient (I.Q) and word associations.
     In the past, a variety of studies have been done using word associations, to find the collocations based on age, demographics, generation, and more. Language historian Anne Curzan, completed a study regarding the change of meanings of words over time. In a Ted Talk (2014), Curzan explains what it is that makes a word real. In Psychology: Research and Review, authors Zortea and Menegola provide their work toward the idea, how age differences modify the structure of semantic word association networks of children and adults (2014). Authors Goliath, Farrington, and Saunders (2014) used word associations to identify the image or perceptions that students have of an entrepreneur, which was published in Acta Commercii.
     The essential question of this research project is, do men and women linguistically respond in semantically different ways? My hypothesis, is that there is a linguistic difference between masculine and feminine semantical response.

 Methods and Materials 

    For this research project, the sample was made up of 20 participants. Participants were those collected in a random manner based on convenience. There was one participant restriction; as every person needed to be 18 years or older. At the time of inquiry, everyone was required to provide both their gender and age. Research project participants included ten males and ten females, in between the ages of 19 and 54.
    For this research project, I created a list of 15 prompt words to perform a word association test. The following are the list of words/phrase used: fine, success, balance, okay, manly, relationship, love, dating, pin, bet, pitcher, dressing, child, magazine, and friend. Each word was specifically chosen based on those with a variety of connotative meanings.
     First, I created a list of 15 prompt words. Second, I began my selection of random participants to complete the word association test. Participants were found on the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) campus, Lighthouse Christian Church, Albertsons, Idaho Education Association (IEA) Delegate Assembly, Jackpot (gas station), Starbucks, and IEA Twin Falls Region 4 gathering. When a participant was found, I asked them if they had a moment to assist me with my research project I was completing for my English 2281, Introduction to Linguistics class at Idaho State University (ISU). If they agreed, I provided them with the ISU Human Subjects Committee Informed Consent Form so they could participate in research for linguistic analyses. After participant read the form, I asked for verbal consent. Upon consent, I provided the word association test (See Appendix) for them to complete, along with a writing utensil. There were three verbal instructions given to each participant, write legibly, write the first word that they thought of when they read each of the individual words listed, and do so as quickly as possible to avoid overthinking. Once the participant completed the word association test, I thanked him or her for their time and gathered their materials.
     The following information, retrieved from my participants are in support of my hypothesis. The materials were first analyzed for completion; of the 20 participants, 17 completed all 15 word associations on the test. The materials were then analyzed by male and female participants; remaining seven males and ten females. Overall, I found the responses in both Table 1 and 2 to support my hypothesis; varying semantic differences between males and females.

     In analysis of the responses received between males and females over the age of 18 years; I found my hypothesis to be supported. There is a varying, linguistically masculine and feminine semantical response. The most significant semantic differences between the male and female responses were within the words balance, pin, and pitcher. When given the word balance, male participants focused on the word as an action (being able to stand on one foot); however, female participants described the roles in their life that they had to balance. The responses to the word pin, led most male participants toward bowling and gold; whereas, female participants chose the social media platform, Pinterest. When responding to the word pitcher, male participants used the term for baseball or a baseball player; while female participants associated this word with the container you hold beverages in, specifically tea.
     In giving a second thought, I found myself wondering if the results were just because they were male and female? I began to look at age and noticed differences in responses from those participants who were older. When reading specific answers that gave more detail about his or her life; I discovered that some were married, single, and had children. These responses led me to believe that there is more to just a semantical gender difference between men and women. Male or Female respond alongside their age, marital status, and whether they were a parent or not. Ultimately, age and personal experience are additional factors to our production of collocation of words.
      In addition, I also wonder if there are differences within the gender roles outside of the male and female majority. The study was completed, solely with participants that were heterosexual men and women. Would the different roles of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and those questioning (LGBTQ)? I would assume that these roles differ the typical personal experiences. Therefore, I believe sexual orientation is an additional factor to how words are associated.
     The research project is not without error. One method of improvement would to have a more specific participant test group. A consideration of specifically selecting participants by age, education, marital status; rather than a random collection based only on convenience. This choice may have led to a more organized process of comparative results. For example, providing a list of responses from married males and females between the ages of 18 and 30, rather than a list of responses from single and married males and females between the ages of 19 and 54.


     In conclusion, the research project is not conclusive to whether there is a linguistic difference between semantic responses in males and females; however, it suggests gender roles are a large factor in how words are collocated. The research project provided restrictive results, based on the fact that the participants and organization for the study was extremely limiting. If given the opportunity to complete further research on this subject matter, I would include additional factors into my research. Questioning participants of their age, marital status, sexual orientation, and family size in addition to age and gender.  


Curzan, A. (March 2014). What makes a word "real"? [Video file]. Retrieved from Francis Galton as Differential Psychologist. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Goliath, J. E., Farrington, S. M., & Saunders, S. B. (2014). Establishing student perceptions of an entrepreneur using word associations. Acta Commercii, 14(2), 1-9. Retrieved from doi:10.4102/ac.v14i2.239

Word–association test. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Retrieved from https://www.merriam–association test

Yule, G. (2014). The Study of Language. Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Zortea, M., Menegola, B., Villavicencio, A., & de Salles, J. (2014). Graph analysis of semantic word association among children, adults, and the elderly. Psychology: Research and Review, 27(1), 90-99.  

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