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Gender-Neutral English Language

The English language has evolved through history in a male-centered, patriarchal society. The male orientation of English carries two complementary implications: being male is normative and natural; and therefore, not being male is abnormal and unnatural. The shifting of our language from masculine to gender-neutral may be awkward at first, and our children may wonder what all the fuss was about. The English language is always changing and the future will hold a gender-neutral language. Throughout the history of the United States, men have been the dominant sex.

Men have not only been the documenters of the English language, but also the creators. Men, especially those with class and race privilege, remain the chief gatekeepers of language: the editors, publishers, rhetoricians, dictionary-makers, broadcasters, high-status educators(Henley, 1983). The inequalities in the use of language are numerous. The grammars of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries give evidence that indicates that most of the names in English are used for exclusive masculine reference (Kramarae, 1981).

Some argue that language shapes the attitudes and beliefs of a society, the language has worked with remarkable success in making it possible for man to perpetuate himself as master, to foster the illusion that women are dependent, and in fact, to subjugate women. Male dominance in language may not only reflect but also be involved in the perpetuation of cultural male dominance (Caldie, 1981). However, some say that language is a reflection of the values of a society it would be simple to blame men for the bias in the English language.

The word man was once interrupted as a generic word referring to all humans, but has gradually narrowed in meaning to become a work that refers to adult male human beings. Thomas Jefferson did not make the gender distinction in declaring that all men are created equal and governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. At this time, women were unable to vote and could not argue the language. It probably never occurred to Jefferson that anyone would disagree with this statement. Looking at modern dictionaries indicate that the definition that links man with males is the predominant one.

Studies of college students and school children indicate that even when the broad definitions of man and men are taught, they tend to conjure up images of male people only. (Jacobson, 1995) Today man is used sometimes to refer solely to male humans, while at other times it is intended to include all human beings. Which meaning is intended is often unclear. Whether the intention, the use of man obscures the presence and contribution of women. When we use man it conjures up images of male persons only, not females or males and females together.

Instead of The man we want for the job use The person we want for the job instead of Manning the office use Staffing the office. There are several pairs of words with masculine and feminine forms, such as, heir-heiress, steward-stewardess, usher-usherette. In nearly all such pairs, the masculine word is considered the base, with some kind of feminine suffix being added. Many common expressions and sayings are phrased exclusively in male terms, thus excluding women. Re-phrasing them in gender-neutral terms will help make them more inclusive, without changing the essential wisdom of the saying.

For instance, instead of To each his own use To each ones own; instead of, Everything comes to him who waits use Everything comes to those who wait. One area of controversy is the inclusive-language Bible. These Bibles change some or all of the Bibles use of generic masculine language to language that explicitly includes, or at least does not implicitly exclude, women. No more mankind or man or he who will and so on when all person, not just males, are meant. Grant Osborne, a representative for a large number of evangelical biblical scholars, feels gender inclusively, as a translation strategy, actually and more accurate.

Grudem, 1997, p. 27) Others argue that revising the Bible will make it more accurate and consistently gender inclusive. The creation narratives tell us that God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them(Gen. 1:27) The new gender-neutral version reads So God created humankind in his image. And God is suddenly found to give a different name to the race: Male and female he created them, and henamed them Humankind when they were created (Grudem, 1997 p. )

The problem is that humankind, human beings, and human are not names that can refer to man in distinction from woman, and the translations become less accurate. The words of the Scripture are not ours to change as we please. Elimination of masculine language from thousands of verse of Scripture may distort the meaning of the Word of God. Just like the word man is not generic, neither is the word he. The first grammars of modern English were intended to help boys from upper class families prepare for the study of Latin in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The male authors wrote for male readers, since there were few women who were literate. The masculine-gender pronouns did not refer to both sexes. In this time period there was no indication that masculine pronouns were sex-inclusive when used in general references. These pronouns were a reflection of the time, which were male dominant and a male-centered world. In the 1800s, grammarians started to use He as a generic pronoun. In 1850, an Act of Parliament gave official sanction to the recently invented concept of the generic he. The new law said, words importing the masculine gender shall be deemed and taken to include females.

Jacobson, 1995) Although similar language in contracts and other legal documents helped reinforce this in all English-speaking countries, it was often ignored. Studies indicate that most people understand he to refer to men only. Sentences like A doctor is a busy person; he must be able to balance a million obligations at once. imply that all doctors are men. (Jacobson, 1995) Males are clearly more visible than females in language content and use. For example, computer analysis of 100,000 words from childrens schoolbooks found male pronouns to outnumber female ones by almost four to one.

This ratio was not primarily due to the use of masculine words in generic context; 97 percent of the use of he referred to male humans or animals, or to persons presumed male (sailor, farmer); and men were referred to specifically seven times as often as women (Henley, 1980) There are several solutions to the pronoun problem. The first one is to use the word they as a singular. Most people when speaking or writing informal relies on singular they. For instance, I should like to praise everyone, even if they did it incorrectly. Some people are annoyed by the incorrect grammar that this solution necessitates, but it is used the most frequently.

The second solution is to create new pronouns. Many observers have proposed the introduction of new pronoun forms that do not convey a label of gender, like gen for man (in its generic sense) or tey for either he or she where the sex difference is not important. (Heatherington, 1980 p. 180) An example would be the politician tey instead of the politician he instead of the awkward phrase the politician he or she. The third solution is to make the subject and verb plural. The generic use of male pronouns, he, his, him, is misleading and exclusive. Simply stating that male pronouns should be understood to include females does not suffice.

Male pronouns should be used only in relation to males. When referring to humans in general, or to a group which includes both females and males, she and he, he and she, she/he’or s/he can be used. Or the following methods can be used to avoid the exclusive use of he. For instance, instead of As he advances in his program, the medical student has increasing his job opportunities. try As they advance in their program, medical students increase their job opportunities. To avoid the awkwardness of his/her or she/he recurring, it may be necessary to change the passage.

For example, Each student is responsible for publications on loan to him. He must return them to the library by the due date. try Students have responsibility for publications taken out on loan, which must be returned to the library by the due date. The fourth option is to eliminate sexist bias; such as, chairman or chairwoman and use the alternative of either the use of chair or chairperson regardless of the sex of the person holding that office. Sex-labeled job titles reinforce the assumption that the job can be, and is only, done by persons of one sex.

This can inhibit members of the other sex from applying for these posts. Other examples for occupational bias are fireman use firefighter; mailman use mail carrier; policeman use police officer; businessman or businesswoman use business executive. When a woman is in one of these occupations, attitudes change and she is seen as not behaving womanly and is often viewed as trying to act like a man, as if assertiveness belong only to men. A businessman is aggressive; a businesswoman is pushy. He is good on details; she is picky. He loses his temper because hes so involve in his job; shes bitchy.

He follows through; she doesnt know when to quit. Also, when listing pairs of nouns and pronouns, we usually put the male before the female. This suggests a hierarchy of importance and status. Varying the word order is the solution. For example instead of Sir or Madam try Madam or Sir or instead of Boys and Girls try Girls and Boys or instead of Men and Women try Women and Men. Stereotypes are another area of the English language that has striking inequalities. They reflect popular images of womens and mens language, perpetuate through proverbs, jokes, journalism, literature, and even by serious language scholars.

One of the striking features of these stereotypes is the way they rarely favour women, who are consistently portrayed as chatterboxes, endless gossips or strident nags patiently endured or kept in check by strong and silent men (Graddol, 1991. ) Stereotyping is biased and often inaccurate assumptions about people. For instance, Lecturers and their wives are invited to attend try Lecturers and their partners are invited to attend. This example assumes that all lecturers are male, heterosexual and married. The reality may be that the lecturer is female, homosexual, single, cohabiting or living apart from a partner.

Sex-role stereotyping is assuming that certain traits, ways of behaving, interacting with others, and working are naturally associated with each sex. It is seen as inappropriate for one sex to act in a manner associated with the other sex. Our language reflexes our notions of appropriate behavior for each sex. However, if we are to represent accurately the reality and diversity of peoples lives we need to move away from narrow and limiting behavior models for people. For instance She is a tomboy try Shes an adventurous/daring girl instead of Hes a sissy try Hes a sensitive/caring boy.

Sex-linked adjectives, such as feminine, masculine, manly, womanly, arise from stereotyped notions about male traits (strength, assertion, aggression) and female traits (passive, gentleness, concern). They associate with one sex attributes, which are shared by all people. Examples are Shes very masculine use She is a strong/assertive woman instead of What is needed is the feminine touch use What is needed is a caring/considerate attitude. Words that refer to women are commonly associated with negative implications. There are 220 terms for a sexually promiscuous woman and only 22 terms for a sexually promiscuous man.

Women are referred to as bitch, tramp, slut and many other hostile terms. There are also pairs of words that have a negative suggestion to the female while the male equivalent is seen as positive. A bachelor is viewed as a man who has it all while a spinster is a woman who is unable to get a man, usually viewed as ugly and unwanted. Women are referred to in large part by their looks or parts of their bodies. Women are referred to as babes, chick, and broads. The elimination of sexual stereotyping of roles by not calling attention to irrelevancies; woman doctor or lady lawyer.

Labeling in reverse also occurs, such as, a male who becomes a nurse is stated to be a male nurse because, in our culture, it so odd for males to do this profession. The labeling produces the same effect, as does the racial-ethic labeling: a suggestion that the lawyer is limited or qualified, not a real lawyer, but a lady lawyer. In a related manner, physical labels frequently identify women, although men usually are not, as in the charming, red-haired skydiver or the perky, shapely cellist. Anyone reading descriptions like that knows they refer to women, not to men.

Heatherington, 1995 p. 181) Another problem are the terms of address; such as, Miss and Mrs. indicate the sex and marital status of the person while the term Mr. indicates the sex only. It is unbalanced and unnecessary to specify the marital status of women but not of men. Ms. is recommended for all women when the parallel Mr. is used. Ms. was initially supposed to be neutral term like Mr. , which did not identify the marital status of the individual, but in many cases Ms. is coming to be used in place of Miss, particularly to identify a divorced woman.

Heatherington, 1995 p. 180) For example instead of Frank Brown, Miss Smith and Mr. Black use Frank Brown, Judy Smith and Ron Black or Mr. Brown, Ms. Smith and Mr. Black. Also, to eliminate sexism when addressing persons formally, use a married womans first name instead of her husbands; such as; Ms. Diane Mallinger not Mrs. Robert Mallinger. This identifies the person, not a possession of the husband. When addressing someone in writing and you are unaware of their sex, you would address them using Dear Colleague or Editor or Professor instead of Dear Sir, or Gentlemen.

It has become common for people to address others with whom they are barely acquainted as love, pet, dear or honey. While it is usually intended as a sign of warmth and friendliness, in some circumstances it can have quite a negative effect. Men rarely address other men as love, pet or dear, but frequently do so to women. Essentially, they are treating women differently from how they treat men. This could be interpreted as a lack of respect or that the relationship is viewed as potentially sexual. Whatever the reason, it is inappropriate in work and study relationships.

When people in positions of authority refer to others using these names it can be felt to be patronizing and dismissive. If we are to treat those with whom we study and work with respect as equals, we should try to avoid the use of overly familiar terms of address. Some commonly used expressions have the usually unintentional effect of trivializing and demeaning the contribution of women. Some examples are The girls in the office instead use The secretaries/typist/administrative assistants or Two men and three girls work in the lab instead use Five people work in the lab.

Sexism is discrimination on the basis of gender. While it is primarily women who are affected by sexism, it can be used to discriminate against either men or women. The language we use reflects and reinforces the values of the society in which we live. Rather than limiting and censoring language, the intention is to expand it so as to include all people on an equal basis. Gender in language may have something to do with the fact that English has been without the concept of grammatical gender for centuries, so we think of gender personally, not grammatically.

Throughout history society has tolerated male dominance. Some use mankind, and others humankind. Some use he generically; others scrupulously say he or she and still others switch back and forth between he and she. In this day and age of equal opportunity, the English language is still male oriented. Progress in the use of gender-neutral pronouns is slow, but nevertheless moving forward. It may not be appropriate in all areas of our society to use a gender-neutral language and the Bible is one of those areas that need to be left alone.

The four solutions of a using they as a singular, creating a generic pronoun, pluralizing material, and eliminating bias pronouns are steps in the right direction for a gender-neutral language. The translation of a gender-neutral language is difficult, because English usage is itself changing, and not changing everywhere at the same time in the same way. We need to make a conscious decision to try to eliminate offensive and derogatory language and make our language inclusive of all people.

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