For the sake of clarity and organisation, the results for each corpus are presented separately and are followed by a discussion section that includes general interpretative comments on the findings for both corpora.
a) Social Sciences
From a total count of 996 tokens, the corpus analysed shows that he is the preferred variant (37%-370 tokens), followed by he or she (33%-328 tokens) and they (30%-298 tokens). As regards the frequency of occurrence of the three different types of antecedents, the analysis reveals that definite antecedents are the most frequently used (50%) followed by indefinite antecedents (34%) and quantifiers (16%).
However, as can be seen in Figure 9-1, the graph shows a relatively even distribution of the variants. Although the number of he occurrences is slightly larger, allowing for mathematical error in calculating the percentages, we can see that there does not seem to be a clear-cut preference for any of the pronominal forms.
Figure 9-1: Frequencies of epicene pronouns in the Social Sciences corpus
Figure 9-2 below shows the frequency of use of each variant according to the type of antecedent. Values for he are 42 per cent with definite antecedents, followed by 41 per cent with indefinite antecedents, and 14 per cent with quantifiers. He or she shows almost the same values (35% and 34% respectively) with both definite and indefinite antecedents, and 20 per cent with quantifiers. Epicene they occurs mostly with quantifiers (66%), followed by indefinite antecedents (24%) and definite antecedents (23%).
This clearly shows a preference for they with quantifiers, which confirms the close relation between singular they and expressions such as everybody, somebody, no one, etc., a relationship that is acknowledged by most usage guides suggesting that epicene they is the only reasonable pronominal form to be used with an antecedent specified by every, some, any, each and no. In contrast, indefinite and definite antecedents in this corpus mostly anaphorise in he or she and he. This relationship shows statistically significant values (p .005).
Figure 9-2: Distribution of epicene variants by type of antecedent in the Social Sciences corpus
The relatively strong presence of he as a generic form may be due to the fact that in the academic community innovation in the form of nonsexist expressions may not yet have taken root. In the academic publications analysed, the authors seem to adhere to a conservative, slow changing style typical of this type of communication whose main objective is to share and standardise knowledge (Swales 2004). Secondary aspects, such as language appropriateness in matters of gender, are thus diluted. The exception, of course, seems to be in linguistics where authors are expected to be more aware of language issues.
The overall results for the newspaper corpus can be seen in Figure 9-3.
The data show that they is the preferred variant (65%) in this type of genre followed by he or she (21%) and he (14%). As regards the type of antecedent, quantifiers account for 51 per cent of all the occurrences followed by indefinite antecedents (30%) and definite antecedents (19%).
Figure 9-3: Frequencies of epicene pronouns in the Newspaper corpus
As can be seen in Figure 9-4, quantifier-specified antecedents were referred to almost exclusively by they (82%). Although they is much less frequently used with indefinite and definite antecedents, it is still the preferred pronominal choice. This distribution proves to be statistically significant (p .005).
Figure 9-4: Distribution of epicene variants by type of antecedent in the Newspaper corpus
Definite antecedents seem to anaphorise in they more often than in he or she or he. However, the percentages for they and for he or she are very similar (38% and 36% respectively).
Indefinite antecedents constitute the second largest group and show a strong preference for they (57%), followed by he or she (25%) and he (18%).
These findings seem to agree with Newman’s (1992) findings that they is likely to occur frequently with indefinite antecedents. However, our data support the claim that they is favoured most by notionally plural expressions and less by singular ones, and that he is no longer the overall preferred pronominal form. This tendency is also documented by Cooper (1984) in a study of American newspapers.
Unlike quantifiers, definite and indefinite antecedents constitute a more fuzzy category, which Huddleston and Pullum (2002) regard as examples of “multiple-situation-bound” interpretations. Thus, certain noun phrases that, regardless of the type of genre in which they appear, are traditionally imputed a high degree of masculinity are likely to be interpreted in a masculine manner and therefore assigned an androcentric pronominal form as can be seen in the example below:
A doctor should always make sure his patient is well looked after while in
(The Independent, March 2007)
Situations in which women rather than men are stereotypically involved are likely to be co-referent with she but these are infrequent in both corpora.