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10 Comments

  • There’s a symbiotic relationship between language and behaviour, although which comes first is open to debate. Perhaps suitable non-gender specific words will naturally find their way into common parlance when our behaviour changes i.e. when we live in a more genuinely gender-balanced world.

  • Linguistic relativity is definitely an interesting area that has held my interest for quite a while (since I learned of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) but I do think that such changes as removing gender-specific words or parts of words can’t be forced via prescriptivism nowadays. Younger generations (myself included) are no longer strictly taught grammar or ‘the correct way to write’ in school – it was only when I took German classes much later in life that I learned about accusative/dative/etc. cases. It was only at university that I actually heard the phrase ‘subordinate clause’. From my educational experience, the trend today seems to be moving towards descriptivism, which is part of the reason why I believe such linguistics shifts must occur naturally.

    For an interesting dystopia with a genderless (both linguistically and in reality) future, I recommend Marge Piercy’s ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’.

  • TO S. RAWSON: YES MARGE PIERCY’S BOOK IS EXCELLENT – RECENTLY REREAD IT AND WAS AS IMPRESSED AS THE FIERST TIME SO MANY YEARS AGO

  • Whilst I agree with the general idea, it’s utterly ludicrous to alter many of the words as suggested by Barhart. Most of them have roots with nothing to do with gender – for example history – it’s not his-story, but a modern form of a Greek word meaning research.

  • Really enjoyed the article. I tend to use the plural (‘they’) instead of he or she, etc. to be more objective or gender non-specific. I like Miller and Swift’s proposal to use “gen” in words like “genkind” etc. – the other attempts are way too clumsy and superficial to hold.

  • Thank you for all your comments. I appreciate your contributions. Researching gender in the English language and the effects it has had in methodology has been inspiring ride for me. My view is that in Macedonia when English is spoken people aren’t very aware of this issue, and it is only when I ask them “Why did you use HE for the noun DOCTOR?” that they stop for a moment and consciously grasp this idea. I try to make my students as aware of gender as I can, not correcting them at the very moment but afterwards asking them a question similar to the previous one. It’s interesting to view all the suggestions for a genderless language, but I think gender-neutral would be a better word. If you come across something you’d like to share with me, feel free to send me an email or message via Twitter. If I have other gender-connected ideas I’d like to share with you, the Macmillan Dictionary blog is where I’d turn to.

  • Aneta, I absolutely agree with you that the students are not aware of this issue of gender role in English language so I recommend your book to all of my colleagues. 🙂 When it comes to the use of ‘he’ or ‘she’, as in the example with the noun DOCTOR which you have given, I think that the use of the impersonal ONE is a very common solution, although it may sound a bit formally.

  • Aneta:
    I’ve studied French, German, classical Greek, and Spanish, and dipped into a smattering of other European languages over the years. They all employ the male-female polarity. On the positive side, gender identification results in more specificity of comprehension in SOME semantic contexts; on the downside, the arbitrary identification of a noun or pronoun as male or female is disadvantagteous to language learners, and serves no useful purpose, although it proves no obstacle to native speakers. While I refuse to advocate English as “superior” in this instance, the loss of gender makes the language more facile in most cases. Where gender works to provide clarity, I applaud its existence; where its use is arbitrary, I do not. On a societal basis, most such changes seem to take time; how much, is anyone’s guess. As an optimist, I would assume that over time this issue may be mitigated by usage.

  • Samantha, thanks for suggesting Marge Piercy’s book. I’ve since ordered it and I’ve just started reading it. An interesting read, indeed! Thanks once again! Aneta.