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Undergraduate Researchers

Scott Gautney, French

Cultural Effect on Sexuality-based Linguistic Differences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Thomas Field

There is only a rudimentary understanding of the ways in which sexuality and culture interact in structuring language. This study is an exploration in quantitative sociolinguistics in which I interview both heterosexual and homosexual men in France and America. The interview is designed to elicit lexical (or word-based) responses. I am specifically interested in the lexicon of these men as related to sexuality itself. Certain questions in the interview are designed to elicit the words that heterosexual and homosexual men use to talk about men's sexuality. Additional questions are personal in nature in which the subject discusses his feelings towards these words. Once the results are quantitatively analyzed, I will compare them cross-culturally to determine whether there is a difference between French and American speakers (as regards the type of words used and their attached significance) and whether or not any differences could be correlated to culture.


How did you find your mentor for this project?

My first semester at UMBC, I took MLL 190 with Dr. Tom Field.  Later that year, he became my major advisor. After taking a sociolinguistics course with him and being a Research Assistant for Dr. Field’s own research, I knew he would be the perfect faculty mentor for this project.


Is this your first independent research project?


How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award program?             

I received several emails regarding the URA program, though I have to admit I didn’t pay them much attention. It wasn’t until a professor of mine urged me to apply that I began to plan a proposal.

What academic background did you have before you started?

The only background in research that I had before applying for a URA was a LING 360 (Sociolinguistics and Dialectology) course I took with my current mentor, Dr. Field. In that course, I completed a small-scale research project which is the model for my current research. Then, this past semester, I assisted Dr. Field in his own research and learned a little bit more about the work associated with research.


Was the application difficult to do?

Not at all. The URA website has a lot of helpful information as well as models to help inexperienced students like me prepare a comprehensive proposal.


How much did your mentor help you with this?

Dr. Field helped me in tightening the scope of my project.  He also continues to help me by giving me advice and reviewing the work that I am doing to make sure that I am on track.  Also, when I took LING 360 with him, he mentioned that little research has been done regarding language and sexuality.  This is where I took my inspiration.


What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research? 

For many undergraduates, “research” may be a foreign and frightening term.  When I first came to UMBC, I made it my goal to avoid doing research at all costs.  Then, I decided to apply for the position of Dr. Field’s Research Assistant.  Along with the experience I gained in his LING 360 class, I fell in love with the idea of conducting my own research and adding knowledge to the field of Sociolinguistics.  My advice is not to be afraid of research; if a certain subject sounds even remotely interesting to you, talk to a professor about getting involved.


What has been the hardest part about your research?

  The hardest part of my research thus far is trying to create an interview in both French and English which is culturally accurate and which will give me unbiased results that I can then compare.


How does your research relate to your work in other classes?

In LING 360, I learned the basics of sociolinguistic research.  My current project uses what I learned in that class as a general model.  It also draws upon what I’ve learned not only in other linguistics courses but also what I’ve learned about French culture in my French courses.