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Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
|Subject:||To what extent can grammar be sexist?|
|Question:||Marie Darrieussecq, the French novelist, said recently on BBC Radio that the freedom of women in France is very much a matter of words and iit is related to the language: you have to add an e for the feminine form as if being a woman was an accident as opposed tp the universal masculine normality. Grammatically, one man rules over any number of women and if, for example, you want to say five million women and a dog, you have to use the masculine because dog is masculine. She added that when a young girl at school, she learnt that the masculine rules over the feminine and that the language says something about the society. To what extent is this argument valid? I have always understood noun gender as a way of dividing nouns into classes rather than a reflection of human gender differences (famously, the German for girl is neuter) and the Bantu languages, less confusingly, use instead the term noun classes, of which there are many. Is this really a case of projecting society's historic characteristics onto grammar rather than grammar refledting society or is it a two-way process?|
|Reply:||I think it is more a matter of projecting society's characteristics onto the language rather than vice versa. In Chinese, for example, there is no masculine/feminine distinction in the pronoun system, and yet Chinese society was historically sexist and remains so in spite of recent political changes.|
|Reply From:||Marilyn N Silva click here to access email|