Sapir-Whorf Language and Culture

395 words | 2 page(s)

The objective of gender-neutral language aims to combat sexism through a re-thinking of how we use language. By moving away from gender-biased language, such as the use of only “he” in so-called pseudo-generic writing towards the use of both he and she, the view is that our communication will become less discriminatory. At the same time, however, there is also a fundamental element to this project aimed to transform how we think. This can be tied to the Sapir-Worf hypothesis: the specific languages we use inform how we look upon the world. Therefore, if we switch from gender-biased language to gender-neutral language, according to this thesis, what is occurring is a transformation of a worldview from a sexist perspective to a non-sexist perspective. In this regard, gender-neutral language use is not a trivial issue of political correctness, but rather reprogramming how we think.

Of course, this hypothesis assumes a high degree of linguistic determinism, which is to say that language is viewed as contributing to how we look at the world. This linguistic determinism is also found in certain concerns with gender marking of nouns, such as in the French language. On the other hand, however, this argument appears flawed. For example, the English language does not have gender marking nouns, but English history has been dominated by exploitation and colonialization of the world, the practice of genocide and coup d’etats in the form of the British Empire and its colonies and descendents, such as the United States and Canada. A gender-neutral language was the tongue of one of the most violent and discriminatory empires in human history. In this regard, the hailing of English because of its gender-neutral perspective just appears to be another aspect of the Anglosphere’s strategy of dominance, i.e., U.S. and British Imperialism.

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When looking at languages that have gender markings for nouns from a non-English perspective the absurdity of the arguments against such languages being inherently discriminatory are apparent. Consider Slovenian for example: there are two words used to refer to a human being or person, “čelovek” and “oseba.” The first is masculine, the latter feminine. However, in official documents one will always find the generic form of “oseba”, whether a man or woman is being addressed. The attacks against gender marked nouns appears to be another close-minded viewpoint advanced by the already culturally dominant Anglosphere.

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