Seminar Paper, 2004
13 Pages, Grade: 2
2. What is gender-neutral language?
2.1 historical background
2.1.2 Generic “he”
3. False generics: “Man” & “He
3.1 The generic “Man
3.1.1. “Man” in gendered compounds
3.2. The generic “He”
4. Recommendations for alternative forms
4.1 Guidelines for replacing the generic “He”
4.2 Guidelines for replacing the generic “Man”
In the following paper I will deal with the concept of gender-neutral language. I will begin by looking at certain false generics that are commonly used in English Language and consider the position of gender-neutral language theorists to these false generics. Due to the fact, that the gender-neutral language theory offers very general recommendations and guidelines i felt difficult to do a corpus analysis. That is why I tried to concentrate only on the main positions of gender-neutral language theory and focus on central issues within he scope of this approach.
I concentrate on two particular false generics that are at the focus of gender-neutral language theory; “Man” as a generic form used in the English language to define male and female and the ambiguous use of the pronoun “He” in contexts where both sexes are to be addressed.
In the second and third chapter I will take a closer look at these false generics and exemplify how they create misunderstanding and actually promote a male centred perception. In the fourth chapter I will deal with the guidelines and recommendations of language planners and gender-neutral language theorists and work out their main positions. It will be argued, that language change is not an easy undertaking but requires perseverance and consistent argumentation. The biggest challenge for language planners who want to implement gender-neutral language is perhaps the persistent resistance towards the understanding, that gender-neutral language is not an issue concerning only feminists.
I will conclude by evaluating the gender-neutral language theory in terms of its practicability and give a personal opinion on the approach.
Gender neutral-language theory aims at analysing and changing the elements of language which cause misinterpretation and misunderstanding about sexual identifications of writers. Two particular sources of these misunderstandings, which are at the focus of theorists of gender-neutral language, are “Man” as a generic form used in the English language and the ambiguous use of the pronoun “He”. They are problematic because they very often support a male dominated reception of language and undermine a gender inclusive use of language. Even today, the use of words like mankind, salesman or definitions like average working man are being used, regardless if male or females are meant.
The use of words like mankind, salesman or definitions like average working man, man on the street and so on are used and accepted by the majority of the English speech community. Interestingly, the language of Old English was in some respect more gender-fair as modern English from the time of the eighteenth century had been, when the narrow sense of “Man” referring to males only had been established. In seventh-century the word “Man” originally included and was applied to both sexes In Old English. “Man” as a term meant “person” or “human being” and could not be used to identify a male person per se. For this, the prefix wer meaning “adult male” had to be added to the suffix man, meaning person . To identify a female person, the prefix wif had to be attached to the suffix man. In the course of time, changes took place in the use of these terms and eventually the neutral and inclusive use of man for both sexes was replaced. The prefix wif later changed into wife while the combination wifman changed into woman. Man, on the other hand, remained unchanged and was attached to male identification but also still used for generalizations for both sexes. Although the term man in combinations such as mankind or workingman is meant to be gender inclusive , studies with college students and school children suggest that the predominant interpretation of sex identification tends to be male oriented. Thus, critics such as Casey Miller and Kate Swift assume, that the gender-fair definitions are not fully operative and that unfair and un- inclusive definitions seem to be predominant. Sentences like
“Every man on this subcommittee is for public works”
“Man can do several things which animal cannot do.”
can guide the reader into misunderstanding the meaning of man to refer to the male human beings only and thus exclude females from these generalizations. Miller and Swift argue, that the habitual use of “Man” referring to include male and female has become obsolete and is no longer applicable in modern English.
A sentence like
“The rich cannot possibly appreciate the impact of the inflation on the average working man.”
Does not necessarily state that it includes females to be part of the working class as well. The image of the workingman will most probably be that of a male worker and not of a female. However, women are not any longer excluded from the various working fields that were reserved for males but have entered them and thus need to be considered when referred to as being part of the working force. Here it becomes obvious that these constructions date from times, when male workers dominated the working forces at factories, construction and crafts. Today, this is no longer the case.
The use of pronouns such as “He”, “His” and “Him” referring to persons of either sex is common practice in English language.
A sentence like
“God sent everyone their heart’s desire.”
Would probably sound odd to the majority of speakers and might be corrected into the sentence
“God sent everyone his heart’s desires.”
 Miller, Casey & Swift, Kate. The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing. London: The Women’s Press, 1980, 10.
 Miller & Swift, 10.
 Miller & Swift 12.
 Miller & Swift 12.
 Miller & Swift 33.
 Miller & Swift 33.
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