Department or Program

Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Andrea Levitt


Do gender-specific conversational speech patterns appear in the lyrics of male and female artists? To answer this question, chapter 1 first reviews sociolinguistic methods and describes evidence for gender-specific speech characteristics as well as for some of the differences in power dynamics between men and women that the use of these characteristics reveals. It then discusses the similarity of lyrics and speech, reviews some of the current literature on the effects of music on behavior, and provides a motivation for the study that is described in chapter 2. This study looks at the lyrics of 179 romantic songs sung by male and female artists from three genres (country, pop, and rock) across three time periods (1958-1960, 1985-1987, and 2012-2014). As is done in content-analysis studies, each song was evaluated for its number of words, filler words, self-referential pronouns (“I” and “me”), inclusive pronouns (“you and I” and “we”), terms of endearment, love references, and sexual references. Narrative coding techniques were used to evaluate songs for evidence of speaker confidence or agency, and for requests. Results demonstrated primarily several significant changes over time, but few significant differences due to gender. It may be necessary to have face-to-face interactions in order for these gender-specific speech characteristics to emerge and the songs do not provide such a context. Alternatively, it may be that the lyrics of successful songs by female artists are not representative of everyday women’s speech.