Does gendered grammar effect perceptions of gender? hello Italki people! I am doing a project on whether gendering in grammar effects perceptions of gender in a society. There is a body of research that claims it does. I am interested in hearing from users who have an opinion of whether they think it does. I'll give an example of gendered grammar from french: La plume, Le paragraphe. (The feather, the paragraph.) Un avocat, Une avocate. (a lawyer (male), a lawyer (female). Especially in cases like the second example, where the base word is masculine and this is given a stem to make it feminine, this is referred to as "sexist grammar". I would love to know your thoughts!
Aug 13, 2014 6:31 AM
Answers · 4
I don't think that the gender of a word influence the perception for common nouns. Something can be perceived as more masculine and have a feminine noun. It's purely grammatical. But when we spoke about jobs, the determinant can have just the grammatical value but can also represent the person. In that case, the word is sometimes feminized. Some words have a feminine counterpart since long time ago (le boulanger - la boulangère). Some words are the same ones (le pilote - la pilote). Some feminine words are new and sound odd (le pompier - la pompière). So people will say "Elle est boulangère" but "Elle est pompier". I think that many jobs had only a masculine noun because those jobs were only done by men in a patriarchal society. So the language wasn't sexist but reflected the sexist society. So feminine nouns for all jobs weren't necessary but with the evolution, feminine nouns are become necessary for all of them. In plural sentences, we use masculine, but we had to choose a common gender and feminine gender isn't acceptable for men so masculine gender is used. In this case, I think that's like clothes, men with feminine clothes is still odd but the contrary is acceptable. So I'm for the equality men-women but I don't think there is any problems in French except this one for the jobs. Creating new words for jobs was a good idea even if some words don't penetrate the spoken language. That's something that can't be forced and that have nothing in relation with sexism but rather with a sonority perception of native speakers. Also in French we don't have the problem with "his or her" because the gender of "son" or "sa" depends of the gender of the following noun.
August 13, 2014
Yes I think it does. My husband is British and when he talk about animals, if nothing is obvious, he will say "he" when talking about it. The feminist part of me thinks he's sexist, unconsciously populating his universe only with males, sort of. In French some animal are always feminine. Not acknowledging the possibility that a frog, for example, could be a "she" is irritating. As for job title, the question is complicated. Before, it was mostly "eur" becoming "euse" (un vendeur, une vendeuse) and women started to think this "euse" ending was reducing. There is now plenty of job names finishing in "e" only (un ingénieur, une ingénieure). So it sound the same and feel less diminishing. But some thought it was not enough and decided we should call both gender with the masculine version (un professeur). I find this one step too far. One funny thing, is the fact that the word "personne" is feminine. French learner struggle with this idea whilst French don't bat an eyelid about it. If you say "il y a une personne dans le restaurant" and it's a man, it's fine. So here we are less concerned about genders. It's just a word. As for grammar, we have this rule "le masculin l'emporte" (maculine wins) when you conjugate. If you have a crowd of 100 female nurses, 1 male nurse, you have to say "ils" about them. That upsets women a bit. Should it not be "majority wins"? I don't think a society using genders in grammar is less macho than another one. I think gendering started as a way to acknowledge femininity, making room for it and celebrating it but then it backfired and became a burden as society changed.
August 13, 2014
I don't think it does. People are always speculating whether the grammatical gender discloses some sexist bias but it's important to differentiate between the gender of the words and the "real" gender. Of course, the biggest issue is that the grammatical terms are "masculine", "feminine", "neuter" for the "gender". That drives people especially from an English language background generally crazy who are not used to the concept. Personally I would prefer if there had been different terms maybe - making this up on the fly - this word is "fo", "fa", "fi" (rather than masculine, feminine, neuter). :-) That way people would no long speculate why the table in German is "masculine" but the the cup is "feminine".
August 13, 2014
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