Blog #1: Gender and Linguistic Reform

The purpose of my academic research project “Gender and linguistic reform: finding the formula for success” is to gather the information on the linguistics reforms of the past in American English, analyze it in relation to gender in the hope to determine which aspects of proposals are associated with favorable results.

We (myself and my research advisor, Dr. Kristen Di Gennaro) started with the gathering of information from several related sources. We have reviewed several publications in order to establish their relevance to our research. A book by A. Curzan “Gender Shifts in the History of English” provided a valuable context for how did the understanding of gender change over the centuries. Later, we focused on contemporary articles focusing not just on a broad development of English, but on artificial linguistic reforms related to gender. One of the most useful sources was “Visible or influential? Language reforms and gender (in)equality” by A. Mucchi-Faina, who provides detailed analyses of almost 20+ research studies all over the English-speaking world and their outcomes, along with the author’s conclusions. Gathering information allowed us to begin the development of our own research questions for surveys we will be conducting in the near future. We’ve drawn on methods discussed in “Personality, prescriptivism, and pronouns” by E.D. Bradley, in which he provides examples of sentence types rated by respondents in relation to whether or not the correct pronoun was used.  Our survey will contain a test on grammaticality. There will be sentences like “If someone calls me, tell them to call me back”, and the participant will be asked to determine whether or not the usage of a pronoun “they” is correct. Another type of research questions we are developing will be “fill the blank”, in which participants would be asked to put in either “he/she” or “they”.

The goal is to find out which conditions would make a linguistic reform accepted by the general population.  We hope to find out whether increasing visibility has been a more effective strategy utilized in the past by linguistic reformers, or if a concept of inclusivity (substituting he/she with they, for example, or replacing words like “the stewardess” with “the flight attendant” to make them more gender-neutral) worked better in the long run.

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