Gender equality remains a critical societal challenge. But how does one ‘learn’ gender?

Children’s literature presents one early source of cultural norms, values and assumptions about gender. Language use in these texts is a crucial means by which children learn about gendered concepts and behaviours. To understand this formative influence more deeply, the innovative GLARE project will examine the discursive construction of gender in corpora of English children’s literature drawing on a novel cognitive corpus stylistic approach to characterization to conceptualise the notion of gender. GLARE will further take a diachronic perspective to the development of gender representation over time. The ‘cognitive corpus stylistics’ links together corpus linguistics and cognitive poetics. Corpus linguistics methods combine qualitative and quantitative approaches to text analysis while cognitive poetics offers a theoretical framework to account for the creation of meaning in the mind of the reader.

The approach adopted by GLARE stresses that the representation of real and fictional people is related – in terms of the background knowledge that readers bring to texts and in terms of the patterns used in a text. Hence, relationships between the representation of fictional characters and real people are to some extent a reflection of links between patterns in fictional and non-fictional texts. To investigate this relationship, the project draws on complementary data from the Times Digital Archive. Through the description and analysis of linguistic patterns GLARE will provide novel insights into the way in which children’s literature can influence the creation of gendered concepts and behaviours. The project is situated at the University of Birmingham and a secondment at Oxford University Press will allow the unique opportunity to access the largest electronic collection of children’s books, the Oxford Children’s Corpus. 

Main research objectives

  • To identify textual patterns relating to the construction of fictional characters that reflect gender in children’s literature
  • To analyse and describe the development of gender patterns from a diachronic perspective in children’s literature
  • To compare and relate the fictional gender patterns to patterns in non-fictional data in order to achieve a better understanding of the relationship between fictional and real-world gender construction
  • To provide an interpretative account of gender patterns that further develops the cognitive corpus stylistic approach of mind-modelling 

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