LINGUIST List 6.1088

Sat Aug 12 1995

Disc: Sex/Lang, Re: 1079

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <dseelyemunix.emich.edu>


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  1. Michael Newman, sex bias and epicenes

Message 1: sex bias and epicenes

Date: Sat, 12 Aug 1995 12:34:52 sex bias and epicenes
From: Michael Newman <mnewmanmagnus.acs.ohio-state.edu>
Subject: sex bias and epicenes

H. Stephen Straight is right to mention the importance of the essentially
psychological evidence in favor of the idea that epicene HE biases
perceptions in favor male interpretations. There are considerable number
of studies of this effect and a few attempts at interpretation as to how it
comes about. Essentially, the studies take two tacks. One model involves
an interpretation task of some kind in which subjects are induced to
provide some form of evidence of male or female interpretation of the
referent of some generic epicene. The independent variable was the pronoun
coreferent to epicene antecedents in invented sentences presented to
subjects. Subjects give names to characters, draw pictures, or say
directly whether a character is male or female, etc. This type began back
in 1970, with an almost impossible to locate study by Kidd. The most
famous version was probably Martyna's (1978, 1980) work and the latest
version I am aware of was an experiment by Gastil in 1990. Also, there
were experiments by Kosrohshahi in 1989, Moulton, Robins, & Elias in 1978,
and Switzer in 1990.

The other type involves production tasks in which subjects selected a
coreferential pronoun to complete sentences with antecedents refering
generic epicene referents . Here the independent variable was the degree
of sex-stereotypicality of the generic referent (e.g. marine vs. teenager
vs. nurse). This type of study was inaugurated by Martyna (1978, 1980).
It was also used by Gastil.

In almost all studies uses of HE strongly correlat with male
interpretations of the referent. My own naturalistic data shows the same
result with referents like 'lumberjack' and 'particpants in congressional
sex scandal' used more with HE than say 'child,' or 'teacher.' There are
others along both lines, which will be supplied upon request.

As for explanations, the most interesting ones for someone (like me) who
tends to be skeptical of pernicious influences of grammar on other aspects
of cognition (please let's not start that one again) are by McConnell-Ginet
in a number of articles (e.g. 1988) and Moulton back in 1977. Moulton
eschews notions of markedness and instead compares it to the Kleenex effect
whereby the identity of a prestigious subset is assumed by the
superordinate category, with the result that people tend to think of the
subset as more prototypical. So Kleenex are most prototypical paper
tissues, Sanka is the prototypical decaf coffee (in the US), and so on.
Note that this involves cognitive interaction with lexical semantics; there
is nothing morphosyntactic going on here.

Refs: (I'll put full names whenever I remember; I don't want to look up all
the arts.)

 Gastil, John (1990) "Generic Pronouns and Sexist Language SEX ROLES, 23
629-643
 Kidd, V. (1970) A study of images produced through the use of male
pronouns as the generic MOMENTS IN CONTEMPORARY RHETORIC AND
COMMUNICATIONS, 1 25-30
 Khosroshahi, F(atima?) (1989) Penguins don't care, but women do
LANGUAGE IN SOCIETY, 18, 505-525
 Martyna, Wendy (1978) What does HE mean? J. OF COMMUNICATION, 28 131-138.
 Martyna, Wendy (1980) The psychology of the generic masculine in R.
Borker and N. Ferman WOMEN AND LANGUAGE IN LITERATURE AND SOCIETY
 McConnell-Ginet, Sally (1988) Language and Gender in Frederick Newmayer
LINGUISTICS THE CAMBRIDE SURVEY Vol. IV
 Moulton, Janice (1977) The myth of the neutral man. In M.
Vetterling-Braggan, J. Elliston, & J. English FEMINISM AND PHILOSOPHY
 Moulton, Janice, Robinson, M. and Cheris, E. (1978) Psychology in
action: Sex bias in language use" AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST, 33, 1032-1036
 Switzer, J. (1990) The impact of generic word choices SEX ROLES 22, 69-82


Michael Newman
Dept. of Educational Theory & Practice
The Ohio State University

MNEWMANMAGNUS.ACS.OHIO-STATE.EDU
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