A Brief Analysis on Sexism in English

Topics: Woman, Gender, Female Pages: 16 (5522 words) Published: October 6, 2010
A Brief Analysis on Sexism in English


Sexism is engrained in the language people speak all over the world. English, one of the most popular languages in the world is no exception. The phenomenon of sexism is not only a linguistic one, but basically, a social issue that is far more notice-worthy than the public would have thought. Demonstrations of Sexism in English are too numerous to be totally covered. This paper illustrates demonstrations from the viewpoints of word-structure, word choosing, sentence structure, sentence pattern, meaning and speech, just to name the most common ones. Then it takes an insight into the causes of sexism in English— the historical, cultural, political, economical, educational, physiological and psychological reasons. History needs reforms to keep marching forward, so does the language. It is only when all these dregs are cleared, can the whole human society to be crowned civilized and the language of English, accurate and elegant.

Key Words: Sexism; English; demonstrations; causes.

I. Introduction

As the human society hurdled over the threshold of the 21st century, in a more civilized world, it seems that, women, the huge community which accounts for half the world’s population, is now enjoying an equal status as her counterpart in various aspects of lives. However, if people don’t mind to make the least effort to have a squint at the language people are using every day, they will undoubtedly accept the truth that there’s still lots to be done to erase the embedded sexual prejudice from the majority’s mind for people speak what they think. This is especially true of English, one of the most popular languages in the world. The extinguished Danish Linguist Otto Jesperson once labeled English as the most masculine language among those he’s familiar with in Growth and Structure of the English language published in 1923. Sexism is defied as “the unfair treatment of people, especially women, because of their sex; the attitude that causes this”1 in Oxford Advanced Learner’s English- Chinese Dictionary (6th Edition). This paper is dedicated to exhibit the various demonstrations of sexism in English and probe into the underlying causes of this widespread phenomenon and thereby brighten up the entire picture.

II. Demonstrations of Sexism in English

A. Sexism in Word-Structure and Word Choosing

In English, many address nouns that refer to women are often formed by adding a feminine suffix, such as “ess”, “ette”, “ine”, etc, behind its equivalent masculine form. e.g.: hero- heroine, host- hostess, usher- usherette, Louis- Louise, Jacquel- Jacqueline, etc. Formation process of these words hints that women are not substantive entities but affiliations to men. Other female address nouns which ended with the free morpheme “woman”, like “chairwoman”, “policewoman”, “stateswoman”, etc, imply their identity as the women who’re doing what supposed to be a man’s job. Besides, men and women also differ in the words they choose. Thus many words have been regarded as exclusively womanish, or “woman’s language”2, as Robin Lakoff concluded, “language typically used by women that had the overall effect of submerging a woman’s personal identity”3. Men and women have lexical distinctions. Adopting different color terms may be one example. Color terms such as “beige”, “mauve”, “ecru”, “lavender”, etc, are consciously connected with the female. A man who uses the above-mentioned words if not an artist or in the business of house decoration is likely to be mocked by his peer fellows. Moreover, adjectives such as “divine”, “adorable”, and “charming” are identified as women’s adjectives other than those like “great” and “terrific” which are appropriate for both sexes to use. According to Lakoff, women are also not supposed to use strong expletives such as “damn” or “shit”. Instead, they are expected to use some weaker substitutes like “oh dear” or “fudge”. So unlike men who’re free to...
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