Friday, April 04, 2008

Assuming He is a man.

Oh man...

I'm torn.

I do believe that language expresses information in ways that influence the way we categorize that information. Influences but does not control. Does not dictate. Does not force.

And I believe that grammatical gender is not completely divorced from social gender or from a sense of biological sex. So I believe that "he" "his" etc do influence perception even when used inclusively and intended generically. I don't take offense at it but I try to avoid using it.

Pascal Gygax et al have sought to show that grammatical gender affects interpretation. And we're not talking about English where the distinction is growing less and less grammatical [if it's even a little bit grammatical. English really doesn't use gender except semantically anymore so it's probably time we just started calling an unspayed word an unspayed word.] The study took a look at French and German where gender is securely fastened to the grammar. The article should be available at the above link. If not e-mail me and I'll send you a pdf.

I've just browsed quickly thru it so I have no criticism or praise yet. The write-up at BPS Research Digest Blog gives a quick summary:

Gygax and colleagues have shown that when confronted with the male plural of a noun, people can't help but form a representation of men in their mind.

And by "male plural" they must mean grammatically masculine plural. Otherwise...duh. Did they do any testing with grammatically feminine group nouns? I'm a little nervous about the "can't help but" phrasing. It's slouching towards Sapir-Worf.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting point -- do Spanish-speakers imagine women when they hear about "las victimas", "las personas" or simply "la gente"? (I think it's the same for these words in French.) Do they "see" a more androgynous being than if the word "los heridos", "los interesados" or similar is used?


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