An Approach to Sexist Language in English

Topics: Gender, Gender role, Male Pages: 9 (2422 words) Published: June 7, 2012

An Approach to Sexist Language in English
BA.Yainier Moreno Rivera & BE.Yaima Riveri Ruiz

Language is a perfect tool for communication, much older than any of our institutions, which was not designed or created by any particular man, woman or group of people, but rather was a perfect example of the work of an invisible hand in society. It came to be spontaneously over the millennia of human history, serving all different needs of all kinds of societies. The current work aims at presenting some considerations on the linguistic phenomenon of sexist language and how writers could face the issue.

Key words: communication, sexist language


Language, culture and society interact to give members of different genders different levels of power and recognition in society. The different way boys and girls are socialized has significant ramifications on the way they communicate as adults because this encoding of social behavior is carried on into adulthood. In other words, it is consistently reflected in the different social and communicative styles of women and men.

According to Tannen (1995), “communication isn't as simple as saying what you mean”. The way people say what they mean is crucial, and differs from one person to the next, because using language is a learned behavior: how individuals talk and listen are deeply influenced by cultural expectations. Women and men are like people who have grown up in two subcultures. They have two broad different styles of speaking and establishing social status.

In the process of socializing with peers, children generally tend to play with other children of the same gender, resulting in different ways of creating rapport and negotiating status within their group: childhood play is where much of our conversational style is learned.

The main distinction between the way boys and girls communicate is that girls generally use the language to negotiate closeness, which is, to establish intimacy as a basis of friendship (collaboration-oriented). In comparison, boys generally use language to negotiate their status in the group (competition-oriented). (Tannen, 1995)

The theme of using power to negotiate status by males and cooperation to establish rapport by females is consistently played out throughout adulthood and repeated in the social and linguistic communicative styles between the two sexes at all levels: at home, work, meetings, social occasions, and in personal, casual and formal contacts. Consequently women and men tend to have different habitual ways of saying what they mean and experience sexist prejudice inherent in language.


Sexist language is defined as language which represents women and men unequally, as if members of one sex were somehow less completely human, less complex, and had fewer rights than members of the other sex. Sexist language also presents stereotypes of women and men, sometimes to the disadvantage of both, but more often to the disadvantage of women. (Wardhaugh, 1986)

This language has nothing to do with anything X-rated. The term refers to language that is influenced by gender, such as when people use “mankind” to mean both men and women. To do so is wrong. People need to say “humanity” or “humankind” or “people” in order to include both women and men. It is also important to point out that sexist language has absolutely nothing to do with pornography, as mostly might think of. It is a grammatical concept. Sexist language is an example of subtle sexism in that it consists of speech that reinforces and perpetuates gender stereotypes and status differences between women and men (Poynton, 1989). Sexist language is learned at an early age and can be considered a linguistic habit (Tannen, 1991). Despite the fact that nobody denies that language is frequently used in a sexist way, people have a problem with paying much attention to this fact. They may use sexist language for a variety of reasons: because...

Bibliography: Tannen, D. (1995), The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why, article from Harvard Business Review, September, v. 73, n5, pg 138-148.
Wardhaugh, R. (1986), An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Poynton, C. (1989), Language and Gender: Making the Difference, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tannen, D. (1991), How to Close the Communication Gap between Men and Women, article from McCall’s May, v. 118, n8, pg 99-102, 140.
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