Personality traits, adjectives and gender

integrating corpus linguistic and psychological approaches


  • Heiko Motschenbacher Western Norway University of Applied Sciences
  • Eka Roivainen Oulu University Hospital



adjectives, personality traits, gendering mechanisms, corpus linguistics, psychology, trait desirability


There have been linguistic studies on the gendering mechanisms of adjectives and psychological studies on the relationship between personality traits and gender, but the two fields have never entered into a dialogue on these issues. This article seeks to address this gap by presenting an interdisciplinary study that explores the gendering mechanisms associated with personality traits and personality trait-denoting adjectives. The findings of earlier work in this area and basic gendering mechanisms relevant to adjectives and personality traits are outlined. This is followed by a linguistic and a psychological analysis of the usage patterns of a set of personality trait adjectives. The linguistic section draws on corpus linguistics to explore the distribution of these adjectives with female, male and gender-neutral personal nouns in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. The psychological analysis relates the usage frequencies of personality trait adjectives with the nouns man, woman and person in the Google Books corpus to desirability ratings of the adjectives.

Author Biographies

Heiko Motschenbacher, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences

Heiko Motschenbacher is Full Professor of English as a Second/Foreign Language at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Bergen, and General Editor of the Journal of Language and Sexuality. His research covers areas such as language, gender and sexuality, corpus linguistics, critical discourse analysis, English as a lingua franca, and inclusion in English language teaching.

Eka Roivainen, Oulu University Hospital

Eka Roivainen earned his PhD from the University of Oulu in 2015. He works as an assessment psychologist at Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, Finland. His research interests include the validity of psychological tests and the study of personality theory by corpus methods.


Allport, G. and Odbert, H. (1936) Trait names: a psycho-lexical study. Psychological Monographs 47(1): 1–171.

Arro, G. (2013) Peeking into personality test answers: inter- and intraindividual variety in item interpretations. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 47(1): 56–76.

Bäcklund, I. (2006) Modifiers describing women and men in nineteenth-century English. In M. Kytö, M. Rydén and E. Smitterberg (eds) Nineteenth-Century English: Stability and Change 17–55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bäckström, M. and Björklund, F. (2012) Social desirability in personality inventories: symptoms, diagnosis and prescribed cure. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 54(2): 152–9.

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): 125–49.

Baker, P. (2015) Two hundred years of the American man. In T. M. Milani (ed.) Language and Masculinities: Performances, Intersections, Dislocations 34–52. New York: Routledge.

Bian, L., Leslie, S.-J. and Cimpian, A. (2017) Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests. Science 355(6323): 389–91.

Boucher, J. and Osgood, C. E. (1969) The Pollyanna hypothesis. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 8(1): 1–8.

Braun, F. (1995) Making men out of people. The MAN principle in translating genderless forms. Working Papers on Language, Gender and Sexism 5(2): 5–38.

Broverman, I. K., Broverman, D. M., Clarkson, F. E., Rosenkrantz, P. S. and Vogel, S. R. (1970) Sex-role stereotypes and clinical judgments of mental health. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 34(1): 1–7.

Caldas-Coulthard, C. R. and Moon, R. (2010) ‘Curvy, hunky, kinky’: using corpora as tools for critical analysis. Discourse & Society 21(2): 99–133.

Carroll, D. and Kowitz, J. (1994) Using concordancing techniques to study gender stereotyping in ELT textbooks. In J. Sunderland (ed.) Exploring Gender: Questions and Implications for English Language Education 73–82. New York: Prentice Hall.

Costa, P. T. Jr., Terracciano, A. and McCrae, R. R. (2001) Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: robust and surprising findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81(2): 322–31.

Crawford, J. T., Leynes, P. A., Mayhorn, C. B. and Bink, M. L. (2004) Champagne, beer, or coffee? A corpus of gender-related and neutral words. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers 36(3): 444–58.

Davies, M. (2010) The Corpus of Contemporary American English as the first reliable monitor corpus of English. Literary and Linguistic Computing 25(4): 447–64.

Feingold A. (1994) Gender differences in personality: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 116(3): 429–56.

Gesuato, S. (2003) The company women and men keep: what collocations can reveal about culture. In D. Archer, P. Rayson, A. Wilson and T. McEnery (eds) Proceedings of the Corpus Linguistics 2003 Conference, Lancaster University (UK), 28–31 March 2003 253–62. Lancaster: Lancaster University.

Goldberg, L. R. (1990) An alternative ‘description of personality’: the Big-Five factor structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59(6): 1216–29.

Grimm, A. (2008) ‘Männersprache’ – ‘Frauensprache’? Eine korpusgestützte empirische Analyse des Sprachgebrauchs britischer und amerikanischer Frauen und Männer hinsichtlich Geschlechtsspezifika. Hamburg: Dr. Kovac.

Hamilton, M. C. (1991) Masculine bias in the attribution of personhood: people = male, male = people. Psychology of Women Quarterly 15(3): 393–402.

Hampson, S. E., Goldberg, L. R. and John, O. P. (1987) Category-breadth and socialdesirability values for 573 personality terms. European Journal of Personality 1(4): 241–58.

Hellinger, M. and Bußmann, H. (2001) Gender across languages: the linguistic representation of women and men. In M. Hellinger and H. Bußmann (eds) Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men.

Volume 1 1–25. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Herriman, J. (1998) Descriptions of woman and man in present-day English. Moderna Språk 92(2): 136–42.

Klages, L. (1929) The Science of Character. London: Allen and Unwin.

Lakoff, R. (1975) Language and Woman’s Place. New York: Harper and Row.

Lee, J. and Collins, P. (2015) Gender representation in Hong Kong primary Englishlanguage textbooks: a corpus study. In A. S. Mustapha and S. Mills (eds) Gender Representation in Learning Materials: International Perspectives 37–51. London: Routledge.

Leising, D., Scharloth, J., Lohse, O. and Wood, D. (2014) What types of terms do people use when describing an individual’s personality? Psychological Science 25(9): 1787–94.

Macalister, J. (2011) Flower-girl and bugler-boy no more: changing gender representation in writing for children. Corpora 6(1): 25–44.

Michel, J.-B., Shen, Y. K., Aiden, A. P., Veres, A., Gray, M. K., Google Books Team, Pickett, J. P., Hoiberg, D., Clancy, D., Norvig, P., Orwant, J., Pinker, S., Nowak, M. A. and Aiden, E. L. (2011) Quantitative analysis of culture using millions of digitized books. Science 331(6014): 176–82.

Moon, R. (2014) From gorgeous to grumpy: adjectives, age, and gender. Gender and Language 8(1): 5–41.

Motschenbacher, H. (2010) Female-as-norm (FAN): a typology of female and feminine generics. In M. Bieswanger, H. Motschenbacher and S. Mühleisen (eds) Language in its Socio-Cultural Context: New Explorations in Gendered, Global and Media Uses 35–67. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Motschenbacher, H. (2015) Some new perspectives on gendered language structures. In M. Hellinger and H. Motschenbacher (eds) Gender Across Languages, Volume 4 27–48. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Motschenbacher, H. (2020) Gay people and homosexual persons: a co-occurrence analysis of the usage patterns of adjectival sexual descriptors in COCA. (forthcoming)

Pearce, M. (2008) Investigating the collocational behaviour of MAN and WOMAN in the BNC using Sketch Engine. Corpora 3(1): 1–29.

Pechenick, E. A., Danforth, C. M. and Dodds, P. S. (2015) Characterizing the Google Books corpus: strong limits to inferences of socio-cultural and linguistic evolution. PLOS One 10(10): e0137041.

Piper, A. (2000) Some have credit cards and others have giro cheques: ‘individuals’ and ‘people’ as lifelong learners in late modernity. Discourse & Society 11(4): 515–42.

Roivainen, E. (2011) Gender differences in processing speed: a review of recent research. Learning and Individual Differences 21(2): 145–9.

Roivainen, E. (2013) Frequency of the use of English personality adjectives: implications for personality theory. Journal of Research in Personality 47(4): 417–20.

Roivainen, E. (2014) Personality adjectives in Twitter tweets and in the Google Books corpus. An analysis of the facet structure of the openness factor of personality. Current Psychology 34(4): 621–5.

Roivainen, E. (2015) The Big Five factor marker adjectives are not especially popular words: are they superior descriptors? Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science 49(4): 590–9.

Roivainen, E. (2016) A folk-psychological ranking of personality facets. Current Issues in Personality Psychology 4(4): 187–95.

Roivainen, E. (2020). Generational changes in personality: the evidence from corpus linguistics. Psychological Reports 123(2): 325–40.

Roivainen, E., Veijola, J. and Miettunen, J. (2015) Careless responses in survey data and the validity of a screening instrument. Nordic Psychology 68(2): 114–23.

Sankis, L. M., Corbitt, E. M. and Widiger, T. A. (1999) Gender bias in the English language? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77(6): 1289–95.

Saucier, G. and Goldberg, L. R. (1996) Evidence for the Big Five in analyses of familiar English personality adjectives. European Journal of Personality 10(1): 61–77.<61::AID-PER246>3.0.CO;2-D

Schmitt, D. P., Realo, A., Voracek, M. and Allik, J. (2008) Why can’t a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in Big Five personality traits across 55 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94(1): 168–82.

Sczesny, S., Formanowicz, M. and Moser, F. (2016) Can gender-fair language reduce gender stereotyping and discrimination? Frontiers in Psychology 7: 25.

Sigley, R. and Holmes, J. (2002) Looking at girls in corpora of English. Journal of English Linguistics 30(2): 138–57.

Silveira, J. (1980) Generic masculine words and thinking. In C. Kramarae (ed.) The Voices and Words of Women and Men 165–78. Oxford: Pergamon.

Sinclair, J. (1991) Corpus Concordance Collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sveen, H. A. (2005) ‘Honourable’ or ‘Highly-Sexed’: Adjectival Descriptions of Male and Female Characters in Victorian and Contemporary Children’s Fiction. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet.

Taylor, C. (2013) Searching for similarity using corpus-assisted discourse studies. Corpora 8(1): 81–113.

Weisberg, Y., DeYoung, G. C. and Hirsh, J. B. (2011) Gender differences in personality across the ten aspects of the Big Five. Frontiers in Psychology 2: 178.

Wood, D. (2015) Testing the lexical hypothesis: are socially important traits more densely reflected in the English lexicon? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 108(2): 317–35.

Ye, S., Cai, S., Chen, C., Wan, Q. and Qian, X. (2018) How have males and females been described over the past two centuries? An analysis of Big-Five personality-related adjectives in the Google English Books. Journal of Research in Personality 76(5): 6–16.

Younes, N. and Reips, U. D. (2019). Guideline for improving the reliability of Google Ngram studies: evidence from religious terms. PLOS One 14(3): e0213554.




How to Cite

Motschenbacher, H., & Roivainen, E. (2020). Personality traits, adjectives and gender: integrating corpus linguistic and psychological approaches. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 4(1), 16-50.