Using LIWC and Coh-Metrix to Investigate Gender Differences in Linguistic Styles

Using LIWC and Coh-Metrix to Investigate Gender Differences in Linguistic Styles

Courtney M. Bell (Northwest Community College, USA), Philip M. McCarthy (The University of Memphis, USA) and Danielle S. McNamara (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-741-8.ch032


We use computational linguistic tools to investigate gender differences in language use within the context of marital conflict. Using the Language Inquiry and Word Count tool (LIWC), differences between genders were significant for the use of self references, but not for the use of social words and positive and negative emotion words. Using Coh-Metrix, differences were significant for the use of syntactic complexity, global argument overlap, and density of logical connectors but not for the use of word frequency, frequency of causal verbs and particles, global Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA), local argument overlap, and local LSA. These results confirmed some expectations but failed to confirm the majority of the expectations based on the biological theory of gender, which defines gender in terms of biological sex resulting in polarized and static language differences based on the speaker’s gender.
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Men and women have long been in dispute over issues such as spending, emotions, division of labor, and male withdrawal during conflict. One of the factors that may contribute to the continuation of such disputes is language differences between the two genders. The biological theory and the sociological theory are the two competing theories that have evolved to explain linguistic differences between males and females. Language and gender research tend to provide little empirical evidence in support of the sociological theory (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2003; Goodwin, 1990) because social psychologists have traditionally studied the decontextualized and mechanical features of language while isolating the individual from the social context (Coates & Johnson, 2001). Therefore, the biological theory is the most cited and accepted theory by default.

Currently, results from gender and language research are inconsistent. This is exemplified by the research on gender and interruptions. Evidence suggests that men are more likely to interrupt women (Aries, 1987; West & Zimmerman, 1983; Zimmerman & West, 1975) and overlap women’s speech (Rosenblum, 1986) during conversations than the reverse. On the other hand, other research indicates either no gender differences in interruptions (Aries, 1996; James & Clarke, 1993) or insignificant differences (Anderson & Leaper, 1998). However, positing possible explanations for why these linguistic variations might exist is potentially more important than merely citing them. We approach that problem here by examining various expectations of language differences between genders based on the biological theory (Bergvall, 1999; Coates & Johnson, 2001; Leaper & Smith, 2004), the most dominant theory by which researchers define the construct of gender (see Sheldon, 1990, for a review). We do so using two computational tools, the Language Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC; Pennebaker, Francis, & Booth, 2001) and Coh-Metrix (Graesser, McNamara, Louwerse, & Cai, 2004), to perform corpus analyses of emotionally laden marital disputes.

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