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Men Tweet Like This, Women Tweet Like Thiiiiiiis

A new study looks at differences in the language we use on Twitter, based on gender.

Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique turns 50 this year, and the anniversary has offered an occasion to reflect on just how far (or not) gender equality has come. A new study, however, locates one particular arena in which distinct differences between the genders are plain to see. Men and women tweet differently.

The study, by a trio of researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Stanford University, looked at the tweets of some 14,000 users and came away with two key findings. One, there is language that’s more commonly tweeted by men and some that’s more commonly tweeted by women. And two, in cases where those patterns don’t hold, the individual in question is likely to follow less members of their own gender than is average. That is, you write what you know—or at least you tweet who you follow.

The gender-specific language isn’t entirely surprising:

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 ;). Of the family terms that are gender markers, most are associated with female authors: mom, mommy, moms, mom’s, mama, sister, sisters, sis, daughter, aunt, auntie, grandma, kids, child, children, dad, husband, hubby, hubs. However, wife, wife’s, bro, bruh, bros, and brotha are all male markers. 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.

Several of the male-associated terms are associated with either technology or sports—including several numeric "tokens" like 1-0, which will often indicate the score of a sporting event. 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.

Making broader categorizations based on these words is, however, more difficult. The authors explain:

The argument that female language is more expressive is supported by lengthenings like yesss and nooo, but swear words should also be seen as expressive, and they are generally preferred by men. The rejection of swear words by female authors may seem to indicate a greater tendency towards standard or prestige language, but this is contradicted by the CMC terms like omg and lol. These results point to the need for a more nuanced analysis, allowing for different types of expressiveness and multiple standards, and for multiple ways of expressing gendered identity.

In all, the variety here is a good thing. A little expressive lengthening here and a little expressive swearing there is probably an easier read than a timeline filled up with one or the other.

Read the full study here.

[Hat tip: Kottke]

[Illustration: Shutterstock]

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  • Rachel

    Based on the excerpts and the abstract of the study, it sounds like it
    supports the notion that there are more differences within gender than
    between... This notion is generally more supported by research than the
    claims that there is a sharp gender-binary, which tends to be hyped in
    the media (and books of the Mars/Venus variety). 

  • BB

    The way people communicate reflects the way they want to represent themselves to the world. 

    The way they want to represent themselves to the work reflects ideas of what is socially acceptable; ethical values; gender roles; different social pressures; and motivations about the sort of people they want to be seen as, etc. 
    So it matters to those who are interested in / care about how people communicate in a social setting, and what influences differences in communication. 

  • MehWhatever

    Am I the only one who thinks this is an absolutely obscene waste of three universities' time and resources? Studying how people tweet? And how to link language to gender and how "individuals position themselves relative to audiences" in this one specific channel which has arguably the most restrictive format of any popular written media? Come on.

  • Julie

    "The rejection of swear words by female authors may seem to indicate a greater tendency towards standard or prestige language" - isnt it true in spoken language as well? It would be interesting to compare the gender language difference on twitter with the one in real life? Are they stronger or weaker? 
    By the wayyyyyy bros, can you guess my gender based on the style of this comment? 

  • Carl

    Justin, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    Unless your name is Julius, I'd bet my mortgage that you are female.

  • Justin Gibbins

    In addition to your name, you also show a gender bias towards women by only quoting the first half of that statement, commenting on that alone, and completely omitting the second part that states "but this is contradicted by the CMC terms like omg and lol."

    This would suggest that you may be female. or at the very least you put 'dat pussy on a pedestal, bruh.