Good-natured fellows and poor mothers

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The present paper is a corpus-based study which examines social roles as constructed in British nineteenth-century children’s literature. Both gender roles overall as well as the more specific roles of mother and father are investigated. The main approach is to systematically study adjectival descriptions of characters both quantitatively and qualitatively in order to find recurring patterns of description that function as part of defining a social role. The method of classification is primarily through semantic domains. The study shows that the female social role is defined as involving few mental qualities, whereas a pleasant appearance is important. In contrast, social status and positive mental characteristics are important defining factors for the male social role.


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