Will Ms ever be as frequent as Mr?

A corpus-based comparison of gendered terms across four diachronic corpora of British English


  • Paul Baker Lancaster University




corpus, gender, representation, diachronic, variation


In order to investigate frequency and context of usage of gender marked language, four equal sized and equivalently sampled corpora of British English in a range of written genres (press, fi ction, general prose, learned writing), from 1931, 1961, 1991 and 2006 were compared. Terms that were investigated included male and female pronouns, man, woman, boy and girl, gender-related profession and role nouns such as chairman, spokesperson and policewoman, and terms of address such as Mr and Ms. Some reductions in frequencies of male terms were found over time, particularly in terms of decreases of male pronouns and Mr. However, equal frequencies did not necessarily equate with equal representation. A qualitative analysis of man and woman found that while there had been some reductions in gender stereotypes, others were being maintained (such as a lack of adjectives like successful or powerful being applied to words like woman). Additionally, the term girl was still more likely than the term boy to refer to adults, and it was oft en used in a disparaging or sexual way. The article concludes with a discussion of the sort of linguistic strategies that appear to have been successful in terms of equalising gender representation.

Author Biography

Paul Baker, Lancaster University

Senior lecturer


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How to Cite

Baker, P. (2010). Will Ms ever be as frequent as Mr? A corpus-based comparison of gendered terms across four diachronic corpora of British English. Gender and Language, 4(1), 125–149. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.v4i1.125