Over the course of the past academic year, I was lucky to have a unique opportunity to conduct research with Dr. di Gennaro on a subject of gender and linguistic reforms. Over my entire college career, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences; I developed my skills as a researcher, gained useful experience of persevering for a long period of time, as well as achieved a feasible result with the project itself.
In my opinion, it is safe to say that our project was successful. At the beginning of the year, we set out to provide insight into which of the linguistic reforms in the past were successful and why. Our specific focus was devoted to the concepts of visibility vs inclusivity in the language. Also, considering that English is a naturally gendered language, we wanted to find out if the prescriptive rules of grammar still have their influence over the way people use language today.
We have developed and distributed a survey focused on different linguistic reforms: usage of generic “they” vs “he” or “she”, use of neologisms, and gender-neutral labels. Upon analyzing the result, we found the following:
1. Most participants (around 70-80% in each question presented) are okay with using neutral terms like “their”, “they” and “themselves” when it is used broadly and gender is not specified in a sentence.
2. There was an average distribution of preference towards generic “him or her”, “he” or “she or he”; the same happened for use of generic “they” when gender was specified. For example, since Jane is generally considered to be a girl’s name, a fewer number of respondents liked using “they” to refer to Jane.
3. The concept of “visibility” vs “inclusivity” proved not to be important when it came to terms for gendered professions and vice versa. That is, there was no visible preference towards “congressperson” vs “congressman/congresswoman”, “waiter” and “waitress” vs “server”.
4. However, we discovered the overall dislike of neologisms like “waitron”(instead of “waiter”), “ze” as a general pronoun, and Mx. instead of Ms, Mrs, and Mr. About 80 % of respondents said that they “would never use that phrase”.
This has been a very rewarding experience, and I would gladly do it again. I had a wonderful mentor, working with whom has been a profound pleasure. I learned exactly how to conduct academic research, how to predict the possible bias when answering certain types of questions, as well as how to analyze quantitative data. It has been a wonderful experience, and I’m happy to have been selected to participate.