Adventures in Linguistic Sexism

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Adventures in Linguistic Sexism

LINGUISTIC SEXISM                                                                        2

Abstract

This paper, separated into three sections, delves into the realm of linguistic sexism and the impact it has on society at large. Section One: Understanding Language describes discourse and how society uses it. Humans shape themselves through their discourse and the words they say, whether or not they acknowledge it. This prelude, a prerequisite to understanding the implications of linguistic sexism, begins the journey to understanding critical discourse and how to engage in it. Section Two: Gendered Language addresses the questions of linguistic sexism directly. Included in this discussion subjects like stereotypes, sex-paired words, male generics, generic pronouns, titles, and marked terms have a place. This paper goes in depth on each issue, and discusses its patriarchal implications. Section Three: The Alternative explains why society needs to change its ways, and provides possible solutions. Some such solutions include the plural “their” and excluding the use of pronouns altogether in certain writings. Overall, this paper serves to explain linguistic sexism and its harms in society.


 LINGUISTIC SEXISM                                                                        3        

Section One: Understanding Language

Since the topic of linguistic sexism has to do with language and the way words come into form and ultimately use, society must first understand the role language plays in the overall shaping of thoughts and actions. After all, the ways humans use language have profound impacts on how society views each individual member (Amare, 2007, p. 165). Language, the tool humans use to communicate, shapes the surrounding environment and changes how each member views each other. Without words to put to specific actions, everyday interactions would seem meaningless. Through language, society forms views, opinions, knowledge production, and societal norms (Nneka, 2012, p. 1). Language has the power to include everyone in a constructive way and include all groups in a functioning society. On the opposite hand, it can also actively exclude particular groups and create destructive practices (Nneka, 2012, p. 1). If the words used by a particular people group cause another group harm, then it has achieved its oppressive potential. However, if the language builds up both groups, it fosters a more inclusive environment for both parties to flourish (Amare, 2007, p. 165).

The next part of language, symbolic uses of words, complicates matters more. For every word in the English language, a symbol exists (Maryann, 1983, p. 186). Without a symbol, words would cease to have any meaning and language would devolve into meaningless gibberish (Maryann, 1983, p. 186). The concept of symbols may seem simple, however they can become extremely complex very quickly. A symbol can grow and change over time, making it extremely dynamic (Maryann, 1983, p. 192). Language can change depending on who uses it and in what context (Nielsen, n.d., p. 57). For example, take this literal symbol: #. Generations past would call the symbol a “pound” key, while the current generation calls this a “hashtag.” The thing itself did not change, only the word used to describe it. This example illustrates that words can evolve in meaning depending on its usage and the implications associated with it. This fact,