GRAMMAR WORLD | SEXISM AND LINGUISTIC SENSITIVITY IN MODERN ENGLISH LANGUAGE USAGE

By Moshood Alabi, PhD Candidate, UNILAG

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Language is a living being. It grows, it moves, it breathes, it reproduces and dies. These features are peculiar to all languages including the English Language. It has been observed that most of the expressions in the English Language are masculine centered. A reaction to this masculinity brought up theories like FEMINISM in literature and the theory  is meant to fight gender marginalization. Different texts in from of drama, poems and novels have been written by different writers to correct this gender marginalization. In modern English language usage, the Equal Right Movement brought some changes in thinking and language usages in order to avoid sexist languages. The assertion of this movement is that women are presented to be weak and not as significant as men. Is there any linguistic evidence for this?

Let’s examine some. The use of the suffix “ess” in some feminine words especially where the two parties play the same role should be looked into. Agreed, Lion is different from Lioness in terms of natural role. One cannot question the gender inequality in the animal kingdom.   If that is for animals, why the marginalization in language usage?

Actor versus Actress

Poet versus Poetess

Proprietor versus Proprietress

These are professionals that play the same role in their professions. If men are addressed as actors, it means it is normal for men to act. Addressing the female counterparts as Actress ,is that not marginalization? The assumption here is that the label actress to separate the female from the name actor is weakness .

Another instance is the case of the title Mr and Mrs.

Mr, as a title, only indicates a male adult and there is no indication of marital status in it. Mrs indicates that the lady involved is married. There is no equality here . No wonder the title Ms is now being used as an equivalent feminine of Mr. Ms too does not indicate that the lady is married or not.

Apart from that, throughout my high school days and even till this present moment, we have been taught that the feminine of bachelor is spinster. Have you tried to look up the meaning of the words bachelor and spinster? Obviously, a bachelor is unmarried and there is no negative meaning attached to it. A spinster, however ,is single but can never get married again. This is linguistic injustice. No wonder the expressions BACHELORETTE and BACHELOR GIRL emerged as a protest against the word SPINSTER. These alternative words are not commonly used and they are not as popular as the word spinster.

Also, why the word FEMALE for some professionals?

Why these?

Female doctor

Female lawyer

Female president

The argument of some experts about these labels is this. ” The word FEMALE is derogatory for a lady who has become a professional. Examine expressions like

Female elephant

Female plug.

It is inappropriate to qualify such professionals as female.”

The outcome of this argument is the emergence of expressions like:

Woman doctor

Woman lawyer

Woman president

It was even further argued that the word WOMAN is too ordinary. It has no special meaning.  The word LADY has been suggested as a replacement for woman. The problem remains how this can be publicized.

What can  we do to end this GENDER INEQUALITY ?

Well, experts have been able to come up with some neutral names which  incorporate both masculine and feminine genders. Example are:

Spaceman replaced with Astronaut

Foreman replaced with Supervisor

Fireman replaced with Firefighter

Also, in naming some professions, the naming is now made common in the current English usage.

Proprietor can be both masculine and feminine

Poet can be both masculine and feminine

Actor can be both male and female.

In conclusion, this gender marginalization should be avoided by the modern users of the English language so that the notion that the English language has set women apart can be corrected.

 

References

Aronoff M and Fudeman K. 2007. What is Morphology? Australia: Blackwell.

Denham K and Lobeck A. 2010. Linguistics for Everyone. USA: Wadsworth.

Finegan.E.2008 Language Its Structure and Use . Australia: Wadsworth.

Fromkin. V, Rodman. R.and Hyams. N. 2014. An Introduction to Language USA: Wadsworth.

Leiber. R. 2015. Introducing Morphology United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

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