Language, Gender and Bias in American Culture
Through language, bias has proliferated in our culture against both women and men. Language expresses aspects of culture both explicitly and implicitly. Gender expectations, behaviors, and cultural norms, are determined through language. A divide between the sexes has developed which includes language usages, intention, and understandings. This has created obstructions to communication between the genders. When anthropological linguists look at a language, he/she takes into consideration the "world view" of those languages (Whorf 221). The anthropological linguist will try to understand the language to learn more about the culture of that language. Aspects of that culture can be determined by the definitions of terms and usages of the language. In this sense, language and culture are very closely tied to one another.
Language influences and sculpts culture, and this determines how relationships within a society will associate. A very good explanation of how language specifically influences culture was postulated by Edward Sapir who argued that: Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society.... The fact of the matter is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. (Sapir 209) Sapir states that "language is a guide to social reality" and that it "powerfully conditions all our thinking" (209). The language we speak conditions our social behavior and how we speak that language will affect our view of reality.
Benjamin Lee Whorf, who studied under Sapir, continued the ideology through his analysis of linguistic and social structures in daily life (220-221). This is widely known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and is used today in anthropological linguistics. Whorf coined the "linguistic relativity principle" which states "that users of markedly different grammars are pointed by their grammars toward different types of observations and different evaluations of externally similar acts of observation, and hence are not equivalent as observers but must arrive at somewhat different views of the world" (221). Language also varies between groups within a culture and each group will comprehend differently from another (i.e. men and women). This is due in part because of how language categorizes and classifies innately as well as how it has developed over time out of necessity.
Inversely, the learned behavior of culture/societal structure also influences and affects language/linguistic structure. The cultural aspects, which influence language unequivocally, tie to how we interact with one another in society. There are four elements that connect directly with common language usage: Age-Grading, Regional Varieties and Dialects, Ethnic Background and Gender Related Phenomenon. It is Gender Related Phenomenon that is of interest to us because of how gender markers affect language. For example, in the 15th century they was used as 3rd person singular and was replaced by he which is a gender exclusive term grouping males and females together. This continued to be the social norm until the 1960's women's liberation movement when he was then changed to he or she which includes women but is still categorizing. More recently, the masculine forms of titles are being generalized and culture is moving into a more "gender neutral" realm. Because of social change, words like Chairman have changed to chairperson and a Congressman is now called Representative regardless of the gender of the person holding the position.
The English language has evolved to the point in which it puts lexical items into grammatical categories (Whorf 87). Categories like gender, past tense, future tense, and even how we pluralize words shows a direct relationship...
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