Thursday, October 27, 2005
This thesis describes a linguistic investigation of individual differences in online personal diaries, or `blogs.' There is substantial evidence of gender differences in language (Lakoff, 1975), and to a lesser extent linguistic projection of personality (Pennebaker & King, 1999). Recent work has investigated these latter differences in the area of computer-mediated communication (CMC), specifically e-mail (Gill, 2004).
This thesis employs a number of analytic techniques, both top-down (dictionary-based) and bottom-up (data-driven), in order to explore personality and gender differences in the language of blogs. A corpus was constructed by asking authors to submit a month of text and complete a sociobiographic questionnaire. The corpus consists of over 400,000 words and five-factor personality data (Buchanan, 2001) for 71 subjects.
The thesis begins by framing blogs in the context of other genres, both CMC and traditional, in order to show the distinctiveness of the genre. Top-down content analysis techniques are then employed to investigate the relationship between personality and linguistic features. A number of features correlate with each trait, but upon regression, very little variance is explained.
Bottom-up techniques are more successful. The corpus was stratified into high, low and neutral personality groups to identify distinctive collocations for each. Returning to the raw personality scores, it becomes clear that even a small amount of n-gram context helps account for much more variance in personality. A measure of contextuality/formality (Heylighen & Dewaele, 2002) shows that authors considered high in Agreeableness pay more attention to differences between their extra-linguistic context and that of their audience.
Attention then turns to gender, where the same methods are applied to investigate gender differences in language. A number of previous findings are confirmed in the blog corpus. In addition, women are found to write more in their blogs than men. More generally, using the British National Corpus, it is shown that men are more formal, except in the most formal of genres (academic writing) where there is no difference.
The study concludes by confirming that both gender and personality are projected by language in blogs; furthermore, approaches which take the context of language features into account can be used to detect more variation than those which do not.