If language mirrors the world, the generic use of masculine pronouns and other male-biased use of language in English would reflect a traditionally male-orientated view of the world, in which case it is interpreted as reinforcing the low status of women in the society (Crystal 368:1997).
To please prescriptivists and feminists, Cheshire and Prentice endeavoured to argue that language reforms could change people¡¦s attitude towards sexual, and social equality. This is based upon an axiom that if languages influence human thoughts, the eradication of masculine bias in English language can alter people¡¦s attitude towards the social equality of females. A language reform, therefore, is suggested to be implemented so as to achieve sexual equality.
language reform is the belief that changing people¡¦s way of speaking would change their way of thinking, that eliminating status distinctions in language would help to promote a more egalitarian society (Prentice 3:1994).
Cheshire (19:1985) suggests there should be a conscious reform in the language to eliminate some masculine-biased words. She claimed that a galaxy of English words are semantically masculine-biased, for instances, master and mistress. Master carries many positive meanings with a sense of competence, authority and skills while its counterpart mistress accompanies a lot of negative meanings which reflects the subordinate position of females to males. The society has tolerated men for bias but not women. Prentice (3:1994) thereby propounds that the elimination of sexist terms such as generic ¡§her¡¨ and ¡§man¡¨ would achieve social equality. The first step is to achieve linguistic equality. Then since languages influence thought, changes in language can contribute to ideological change (Prentice 4:1994).
Benjamin Martin stipulates that no language can ever be permanently the same, but will always be in a variable and fluctuating state. Every existing language undergoes change with time. To the advantage of human beings, these changes occur gradually. Had this not been the case, people would be faced with the task of relearning their native language almost every twenty years. As a result of these ...
Some feminist scholars further claims that the use of masculine generic terms perpetuates an androcentric view of the world, in which man is the norm and the female is deviant (Prentice 3:1994).
Flaws may embed this claim as the use of generic masculine pronouns does not necessarily lead to an androcentic world: it may perpetuate an androcentric view but it does not perpetuate this view. Under no circumstances can anyone be sure that this view directly contributes to a patriarchal world which longer holds valid in a lot of modern cosmopolitans.
Reformists claimed that masculine generic terms are not in fact interpreted generically: when people encounter ¡§he¡¨ and ¡§man¡¨ in generic contexts, they do not think of sex-indefinite beings, nor even of males and females in equal number; rather they think predominantly of males (Prentice 4:1994).
Cheshire (22:1984) further claims that using ¡§man¡¨ in generic sense does not necessarily include women and this creates an illusion that males represent the species with females subordinate to the males. Words like mankind, chairman, businessman, and fireman are said to provide a thorough indoctrination into a male-oriented view of the world. Hence, if ¡§man¡¨ were truly understood generically, one should have no difficulties imagining ¡§him¡¨ performing typical female actions. ¡§Man has no difficulties in giving birth.¡¨ or ¡§man being a mammal, breastfeeds his young.¡¨(Prentice 5:1994).
As a brute physical phenomenon, the bodiliness of people like us who are born intersexed challenges cherished assumptions about sex and gender made by many people within Western society. A variety of social institutions, including the dominant canons of medical practice and conceptions, much of the domain of the law itself, and some of the religious teachings which have loomed so large in the ...
People may find the above examples untypical and odd as ¡§man¡¨ is used conventionally to refer to human race including males and females. The above examples are linked to the stereotypical intrinsic jobs of females which are sexually specialized jobs. The usage of ¡§man¡¨ in the above context is inappropriate. The word ¡§mankind¡¨ does not explicitly construct a male-biased connotation with male imaginaries excluding females since everyone knows ¡§mankind¡¨ talking about the whole human race refers to both males and females. Therefore, the above advocate flawed with rigid polarization between males and females is not feasible.
Cheshire (21:1985) suggests the built-in, structural masculine bias is a reflection of cultural-stereotyping fact. This bias infiltrates in the idiomatic usage and grammatical structure. She claims that male gender goes before female gender as in ¡§boys and girls¡¨, ¡§men and women¡¨. Nonetheless, this binary polarization is not plausible because one of the sexes must come first in this situation. Moreover, being first does not imply explicitly being superior to another. If this were plausible, what about ¡§ladies and gentlemen¡¨? Male-chauvinism is said to prevail in some of the words which carry derogative meanings females while carry appreciative implications due to historical context. Women are said to ¡§gossip¡¨, while men ¡§discuss¡¨; women are ¡§bossy¡¨ while men are ¡§forceful¡¨ (Cheshire 21:1985).
In this light her claims may hold valid.
Adamsky (Prentice 6: 1994) then conducted an experiment to see whether language reforms could be effective or not. The participants of the experiment were a class of university students of 109 (50 females, 59 males).
They would be divided into reform group which would not encouraged to use generic male pronouns and control group which would not be ¡§corrected¡¨ even if they use sexist language. The goal of the experiment is to access the effects of modifying language use on various dimensions of thought (Prentice 10:1994).
No matter how high sounding the language reform is, this test to derive empirical data fails to provide a definite answer to the question of whether language reforms can change our way of thinking or not. Though the use of generic ¡§he¡¨ in reform group has slashed from 10.5% to 3%, there was no observable impact on the attitude on male imaginaries after the experiment. This outcome might be explained by the fact that the language manipulation was too week or the dependent measures too insensitive to demonstrate the hypothesized effects.
One element in the current controversy over "political correctness" concerns the use of nonsexist language and policies promoting such practices. Conservative commentators dismiss the use of such words as "chair" or "chairperson," ridicule women who prefer not to be addressed as "girls," and challenge the overall concern with language as illustrations of "thought surveillance." These criticisms of ...
The language reform mentioned in Prentice and Cheshire seems to only focus on the native English speakers. The impacts and effectiveness of it on ESL users may be doubtful since most of the ESL (English as second language) or EFL (English as Foreign Language) users truly realize the generic use of ¡§he¡¨ which includes females from learners¡¦ grammar book. Moreover, a lot of grammarians compromised with feminists in recent years.
In formal English, some people prefer to use ¡§he¡¨, ¡§him¡¨, ¡§himself¡¨ to refer back to an indefinite pronoun, but many people object to this use because it suggests that the person being referred to male. (1997. Collins Cobuild English Grammar)
The impact and effectiveness of language reforms may be questionable to those who have passed their critical period of acquiring language. The reform would be ineffective to the people who have developed their linguistic competence maturely. It is difficult, if not impossible, for them to re-establish the new imaginary of new pronouns.
Some moderate moves could be adopted to eliminate sexism. Professional organizations may give out guidelines such as Handbook of Nonsexist Writing to avoid sexist writing. ¡§He or she¡¨, ¡§himself or herself¡¨, ¡§s(he)¡¨ and so on can be used to replace generic pronouns. No matter whether Cheshire insists language reform while Prentice still is not sure for the impacts of language reform, language reforms would be the easiest step to achieve social equality in comparison with ideological reform, but the results would be sceptical.