Epicene pronouns in intermediate to advanced EFL writing

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Since the second wave of feminism, non-sexist language use has become an increasingly important topic. A key issue in English is the choice of epicene pronouns, i.e. pronouns that refer to both sexes. Despite the global nature of English, little research has addressed this topic in EFL contexts. This study examines the use of the epicene pronouns he, he or she, and they in two L1 and L2 corpora of student writing. The corpus analyses show that, overall, the L2 English speakers use he significantly more than the L1 speakers, whereas the L1 speakers use they more. Variation found in the L2 subcorpora seems to be partly related to L1 influence: The writers who use he the most are speakers of gendered L1s with a traditional practice of masculine generics. The study also shows that both L1 and L2 writers are affected by the antecedent type in their pronoun choice.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1–22
JournalInternational Journal of Learner Corpus Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • advanced EFL writing
  • epicene pronouns
  • singular they
  • gender-inclusive language

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