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Language and gender

A Gender awareness and vocabulary In professional contexts and elsewhere, we often take care to use gender-neutral language in English. David Crystal, in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, writes: Attention has been focused on the replacement of "male" words with a generic meaning by neutral items - chairman, for example, becoming chair or chairperson (though not without controversy) or salesman becoming sales assistant. In certain cases, such as job descriptions, the use of sexually neutral language has become a legal requirement. There is continuing debate between extremists and moderates as to how far such revisions should go - whether they should affect traditional idioms such as man in the street1 and Neanderthal Man2, or apply to parts of words where the male meaning of man is no longer dominant, such as manhandle3 and woman. The vocabulary of marital status has also been affected, notably in the introduction of Ms as a neutral alternative to Miss or Mrs. a typical person (could be replaced by person in the street)  ​2 a now-extinct species that were the ancestors of present-day humans  ​3 handle roughly, using force 1 Here are some examples of gender-neutral variations of vocabulary. B 204 older usage current usage spokesman spokesperson fireman, policeman firefighter, police officer air hostess flight attendant cleaning lady cleaner foreman supervisor man-made artificial mankind the human race / human beings to man (a machine or place of work) to staff Words referring to men and women words meaning/comment example male, female used for gender classification in biology male and female bees masculine, feminine having qualities traditionally felt to be typically male or female masculine pride, feminine charm guy, bloke informal words for a man Jack's a really nice guy. guys an informal word for men and women, especially in the phrase you guys, as a way of addressing people directly Do any of you guys fancy going out for a pizza tonight? girlfriend used by women to refer to a female friend I"m meeting up with a few girlfriends this evening. girlie/girly used to describe things that girls and young women often enjoy without men, especially involving clothes, make-up, etc. They"re having a girlie evening at home. lad informal word for a boy or young man He's having a night out with some of the lads tonight. laddish used to describe unpleasant behaviour thought to be typical of young men in a group, especially drinking alcohol I can't stand that kind of laddish behaviour! macho used to describe a man who likes to appear strong and doesn't show his feelings He refuses to cry - it would spoil his macho image! 2Exercises 99.1 Answer these questions about the text opposite. 1 Why do you think there have been attempts to introduce gender-neutral language of the kind described by David Crystal? 2 How would you explain this expression: "male" words with a generic meaning? 3 Why do you think there might have been controversy about attempts to change the word chairman? 4 What do more extreme advocates of making English gender-neutral want to do that is unacceptable to the moderates? 5 Why was Ms introduced and why is it useful? 99.2 Change these sentences so they reflect modern usage. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 99.3 Choose the correct word to complete each sentence. 1 2 3 4 5 6 99.4 Three firemen helped put out a fire at a disused warehouse last night. A spokesman for the Department of Education provided us with a statement. Cleaning lady wanted for house in Priory Street. The helpline is continuously manned even during holiday periods. All our air hostesses are fluent in at least three languages. The fibres in this garment are man-made. Policemen today spend more time in cars than on the beat. This was a great step for mankind. The man in the street has little time for such issues. Salesmen are often well trained and can be very persuasive. She always dresses in a very feminine / female way. The masculine / male cat is less aggressive than his sister. Do you girlfriends / guys fancy meeting up later? The bar was full of loud, lad / laddish young men. Ross likes to see himself as a tough male / macho man! Anna's going away for the weekend with a few girlfriends / females. Answer these questions. 1 Do you think that using gender-specific language affects people's attitudes to men and women's roles in society? 2 Does your language ever use male words generically? If so, give examples of words you use to avoid gender stereotyping. 3 How do you feel about imposing language changes of the different kinds that David Crystal describes? 4 Do terms of address (i.e. Mr, Mrs, etc.) in your language indicate whether people are married? 5 Do you think it is better if terms of address indicate marital status or not? Why? 6 A grammatical problem in this area is the use of he/his to refer to a person of either gender. In the sentence "A government minister may have to neglect his family", the minister could be a man or a woman. However, the use of "his" assumes, perhaps wrongly, that it is a man. How could you rewrite this sentence to avoid this problem? 205
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