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花旗国的半边天

An Exploration of Women's Issues

 
 
 

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语言中的性别差异 (Language Matters)  

2011-05-20 07:13:50|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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语言中的性别差异 (Language Matters) - 美国马尾妹 - 花旗国的半边天
 

英语里渗透了很多有性别差异的词汇和表达。这是因为语言是在一种崇尚男性主义的文化中发展的,有些词语和表达免不了体现当时男尊女卑的思想。近几十年来,女权主义者开始反抗这种语言中的性别歧视,以纠正这种性别偏见。


The English language is ridden with gender marked words and expressions. Because the language developed alongside a culture in which maleness was considered normative, these words and expressions give preferential treatment towards men while obscuring women. In recent decades, feminists have begun to object to this linguistic sexism and to suggest changes be made to everyday language usage in order to begin to redress this perceived sexism.


One of the most controversial linguistic battlegrounds for feminists has been the problem of pronouns. In the English language, there is no way to use a pronoun to refer to a person without indicating that person's gender because there is no gender neutral pronoun. Before language became a feminist concern, the male pronoun “he” was used in place of a neutral pronoun. Thus, forms sent home to parents from school would say things such as “If your child has any allergies, he should let the teacher know” with the understanding that “he” could refer to a male or female child. However, many feminists object to this supposedly gender neutral use of “he” because they say it makes women invisible in everyday language usage. It somehow suggests that maleness is normative. Feminist philosophy of language is critical of language's preferential treatment of men and demands that changes be made for the sake of rendering language's treatment of men and women more equal. The manner in which these changes should be made, however, is far from clear. Many feminists prefer that “he or she” or “he/she” be used in the place of “he.” Others advocate the use of the plural but gender neutral “they,” while still others argue that “she” should now be used as the gender neutral term to make up for all the years that “he” was used this way.


For each of these solutions, there are numerous objections. “He or she” is awkward and bulky. “They,” though less awkward, is technically grammatically incorrect when used to refer to a singular person. “She” seems unnatural and is really no more gender neutral than “he.” In one article I read, “Feminism and the English Language,” the author argues that the feminist movement has essentially hijacked the English language by ruining writers' stylistic capabilities. This writer, David Gelernter, believes that all of the suggestions put forth by feminists in favor of changing the usage of the English language are awkward and add dead weight to writing. To him, the extra thought that now has to be given to make things gender neutral inhibits a writer's ability to write fluidly and eloquently.


I understand Gelernter's objections. When writing, I definitely always pause for a minute to think about the best way to make things sound gender neutral, something that I would never have had to do if the masculine was never displaced from its position as the gender neutral pronoun. However, I don't think that the mere fact that feminist language concerns make things awkward is enough to justify ignoring these concerns altogether. I think that feminists make compelling arguments about the role that traditional language usage plays in cementing language inequality. Just because the problems made by these arguments are not easy to solve does not mean that they shouldn't be solved. Often the worst and most significant problems are the hardest to solve.


Discussing this issue with a group of female friends, I found that most of them were torn between conviction in feminist goals and the stylistic concerns voiced by Gelernter. One of my friends acknowledged that the use of “he” is problematic, but said that she ultimately preferred it to the alternatives because it is easiest and because she believes the alternatives actually draw more attention to the issue of gender than “he,” which still sounds natural to most people. Most of my friends, however, preferred the use of “they.” Even though they acknowledge that it is grammatically incorrect, they believe that it is the best option because it is naturally gender neutral and it still flows relatively naturally within a sentence. I find myself leaning toward this option as well, even though I do squirm at using a plural pronoun in place of a singular one. As one of my friends noted, rules can be changed. Language is dynamic and always changing, so if “they” truly is the best option, grammatical rules can perhaps be changed so that “they” is no longer strictly plural.


It is clear from the impassioned debate surrounding this issue that there is no simple answer. It does not seem that any definitive solution will become widely accepted anywhere in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, it seems to me that even just being aware of the issue of how gender impacts language usage is important. Even if people are just aware of the fact that “he” is not truly gender neutral when they use it, women will not be completely invisible as feminists fear they will be.



讨论:人们是否对于汉语展开类似的争论? (Discussion Question: Have there been similar discussions regarding the Chinese language?)



Sources:
Gelernter, David. "Feminism and the English Language." The Weekly Standard 3 Mar. 2008: n. pag.
     The Weekly Standard. Web. 19 May 2011. <http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/ 
     Articles/000/000/014/783lvmtg.asp>. 

Saul, Jennifer, "Feminist Philosophy of Language", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/feminism-language/>.

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