October 28, 2015 4:31 pm
The use of gender, and in particular transgender terminology, is still a controversial linguistic issue that often provokes exciting debates. Yet in our modern societies, some specific terms on this topic, such as ‘gender identity’, ‘transgender’ or ‘biological sex’ (in this video you can find a nice explanation of them all) may appear blurredly defined in the minds of the majority of people. Our brain tends to categorize concepts in boxes and language’s structure shares much of the blame on painting with blue or pink when it comes to gender.
Nowadays many people simply don’t fit in those boxes, which challenges grammatical gender to evolve quickly. Sweden, for instance, came up with a new gender neutral pronoun (‘hen’) to refer to someone without specifying the gender male or female.
In the following video, Tom Scott – a British ‘geek’ comedian and programmer – advocates for a generalized use of gender neutral pronouns but not, however, before exposing the advantages and disadvantages of traditional grammatical gender. According to Scott’s research, the only advantages of using female and male gender, also for the cases of inanimate objects, are that it helps us to recognize words more easily as well as vanish ambiguities. Disadvantages, on the other hand, cause bigger trouble since grammatical gender influences the way we see the world and intensify the fixed gender roles in society. To give a practical example of this, he mentions the findings obtained in a research carried out in 2002 where participants’ judgements were clearly influenced by the gender of the object comparing German and Spanish language.
Finally, Scott proposes to spread the use of ‘they’ as a neutral singular pronoun in the English language, considering that ‘it’ is dehumanized. Facebook has started using it, though Shakespeare already used to make use of it!
If you find this topic interesting, visit our selection of glossaries on gender terminology here.
Written by Ana Escaso Moreno
Communication Trainee at TermCoord
Journalist & Social Media manager
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