Sexual Dimorphism in Language, and the Gender Shift Hypothesis of Homosexuality

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021)
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Abstract

Psychological sex differences have been studied scientifically for more than a century, yet linguists still debate about the existence, magnitude, and causes of such differences in language use. Advances in psychology and cognitive neuroscience have shown the importance of sex and sexual orientation for various psychobehavioural traits, but the extent to which such differences manifest in language use is largely unexplored. Using computerised text analysis, this study found substantial psycholinguistic sexual dimorphism in a large corpus of English-language novels by heterosexual authors. The psycholinguistic sex differences largely aligned with known psychological sex differences, such as empathising–systemising, people–things orientation, and men’s more pronounced spatial cognitive styles and abilities. Furthermore, consistent with predictions from cognitive neuroscience, novels by lesbian authors showed minor signs of psycholinguistic masculinisation, while novels by homosexual men had a female-typical psycholinguistic pattern, supporting the gender shift hypothesis of homosexuality. The findings on this large corpus of 66.9 million words indicate how psychological group differences based on sex and sexual orientation manifest in language use in two centuries of literary art.

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