Thesis supervisor prof Urmas Sutrop.
Opponent: prof Pirkko Nuolijärvi (Kotimaisten kielten keskus, Finland).
The aim of this dissertation is to find out what the context of words tells about the meaning of words for human being and how it reflects the vision we have about the different persons. This dissertation focuses on the context of the 10 most frequent Estonian words for ‘human being’ (ema ‘mother’, inimene ‘human being’, isa ‘father’, laps ‘child’, mees ‘man’, naine ‘woman’, poeg ‘son’, poiss ‘boy’, tüdruk ‘girl’ and tütar ‘daughter’).
The corpus study reveals that the more similar semantic components two words have, the more similar is also the context of their appearance.
The research shows that a big part of the adjectives attributed to words denoting human being, refer to age. For example 86% of the adjectives co-occurring with words poeg ‘son’ and tütar ‘daughter’ refer to age. Collocations reflect the power relations characteristic of the community. The comparison of typical context of the words inimene ‘human being’ and laps ‘child’ indicates that economic power belongs to the grown-ups.
Gender differences are manifested in the context of the words for ‘human being’. The verbs and adjectives occurring with words denoting human being illustrate the current Estonian stereotypes of male and female persons. For example, when describing the appearance of a girl and a woman, beauty is many times more salient a feature than in the case of men. Woman’s marital status is often emphasized, but with men we find reference to social status in such adjectives.
According to my analysis of verbs women are seen as more active in the private sphere, whereas men’s preferable sphere of activity is public. Words denoting male persons have much more co-occurrences with verbs referring to aggressive or violent activities.
It is difficult to determine whether the differences in the co-occurrence relations of words reflect the reality, gender roles, or stereotypes that do not correspond to reality. Frequent co-occurrence relations are rather an abstractions or simplifications that show how people are typically perceived in an Estonian culture.