Gender-neutral language

From Teflpedia

Gender-neutral language is language that does not mark for binary masculine-feminine gender. This is often employed where sociological gender is unknown or considered unimportant. It is frequently deliberately used to try to reduce social discrimination

Meaning[edit]

Words that refer to people regardless of their gender are deliberately used.

Form[edit]

Avoiding gendered nouns[edit]

In gender-neutral language, gendered nouns are avoided and dual gender alternatives employed instead.

Job titles[edit]

For job titles most compound noun job titles ending -man or -woman can be changed to one ending in -person, e.g. "chairperson" instead of "chairman" or "chairwoman".

Gendered noun(s) Gender neutral alternative(s) Notes
actress actor [1]. "Actor" suggests serious acting.
fireman firefighter In the sense of a professional who fights fires
policeman police officer
waiter, waitress server

Family nouns[edit]

Another group of gendered nouns, family nouns, can be trickier. There are some gender-neutral alternatives; examples include referring to a "spouse" instead of a "husband" or a "wife", to a "child" instead of a "son" or a "daughter", or to "parent" instead of "mother" or "father". Though suggestions have been made, there are no widely-understood single-word gender-neutral alternatives for "aunt"/"uncle" and "nephew"/"niece".

Co-ordinated words[edit]

Where gendered nouns and pronouns are used, they can alternatively be co-ordinated. These can be co-ordinated gender pronouns (e.g. "he or she", "he/she"). They could be nouns, e.g. "uncle or aunt", "niece or nephew". Or job titles; e.g. "actor or actress", "policeman or policewoman". This generally is considered somewhat stylistically clumsy compared to using a single gender-neutral word, especially where such a word is available.

Appropriacy[edit]

Feminists and their allies prescribe the use of gender-neutral language. In formal registers, suhc as academic English, this has been widely adopted. Some people might use gender-neutral language as part of their idiolect, though others may not. English tends to do a better job of adapting to being gender-neutral than other related languages.

Pedagogy[edit]

EFL learners will encounter gendered nouns in English at low levels, particularly with reference to jobs, people and family. At this point students don't have the language to discuss issues related to gender in language in English. Issues therefore tend not to be discussed. An additional issue is that many EFL learners are from socially conservative countries where feminist discourse may be disapproved socially. More mature students at an upper elementary level, particularly those in more liberal societies, may however be able to understand and discuss gender-neutral language.

References[edit]