Skip to main content

Grammatical gender as a challenge for language policy: The (im)possibility of non-heteronormative language use in German versus English

Abstract

The present paper aims to reinvigorate discussions of language policy within language, gender and sexuality studies. It provides initial considerations of a poststructuralist, non-heteronormative language policy for German and English—two languages whose structural make-up differs fundamentally with respect to gender representation. Gendered structure types (lexical, grammatical, social, referential gender; agreement patterns) and their relevance in the two languages are outlined. Three main strands of verbal hygiene in language, gender and sexuality studies (and their language policy strategies) are differentiated: non-sexist, LGBT-friendly and non-heteronormative language policies. The main focus is a specific type of non-heteronormative language policy, namely one which is guided by Queer Linguistic as well as applied linguistic principles. Gender neutralisation is found to be the most useful strategy in this respect. Whereas this strategy is usually unproblematic in English, the existence of a grammatical masculine–feminine contrast in German in some cases renders non-heteronormative language use impossible. It is argued that, in tune with a poststructuralist conceptualisation of language, Queer Linguistic intervention should not aim at changing the language system but at affecting the formation of gender and sexuality at the discursive level.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Albrecht, U., & Pantli, A.-K. (1996). Amtlicher Leitfaden zur sprachlichen Gleichbehandlung in der Schweiz. Der Deutschunterricht, 48(1), 108–110.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Baumgartinger, P. P. (2008). Lieb[schtean] Les[schtean], [schtean] du das gerade liest… Von Emanzipation und Pathologisierung, Ermächtigung und Sprachveränderungen. Liminalis, 2, 24–39.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Billig, M. (1995). Banal nationalism. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Braun, F., Sczesny, S., & Stahlberg, D. (2005). Cognitive effects of masculine generics in German: An overview of empirical findings. Communications, 30(1), 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2004). Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research. Language in Society, 33(4), 469–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bunzl, M. (2000). Inverted appellation and discursive gender insubordination: An Austrian case study in gay male conversation. Discourse & Society, 11(2), 207–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bußmann, H., & Hellinger, M. (2003). Engendering female visibility in German. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages. The linguistic representation of women and men (Vol. III, pp. 141–174). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  8. Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble. Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Butler, J. (1997). Excitable speech. A politics of the performative. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Cameron, D. (1995). Verbal hygiene. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concerns. (1991). Avoiding hetersosexual bias in language. American Psychologist, 46(9), 973–974.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Desprez-Bouanchaud, A., Doolaege, J., & Ruprecht, L. (1999). Guidelines on gender-neutral language. Paris: UNESCO.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Doyle, M. (1995). The A-Z of non-sexist language. London: Women’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Ehrlich, S., & King, R. (1992). Gender-based language reform and the social construction of meaning. Discourse & Society, 3(2), 151–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fröhler, H. (2009). Sprachliches ‘Gendern’? - Ja, aber richtig! Die Kunst des geschlechtergerechten Formulierens. Wien: HF.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Guentherodt, I., Hellinger, M., Pusch, L. F., & Trömel-Plötz, S. (1980). Richtlinien zur Vermeidung sexistischen Sprachgebrauchs. Linguistische Berichte, 69, 15–21.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Hayes, J. J. (1979). Language and language behavior of lesbian women and gay men. A selected bibliography (part 1). Journal of Homosexuality, 4(2), 201–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hellinger, M. (2001). English – Gender in a global language. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages. The linguistic representation of women and men (Vol. I, pp. 105–113). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  19. Hellinger, M. (2004). Empfehlungen für einen geschlechtergerechten Sprachgebrauch im Deutschen. In K. M. Eichhoff-Cyrus (Ed.), Adam, Eva und die Sprache. Beiträge zur Geschlechterforschung (pp. 275–291). Mannheim: Duden.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hellinger, M. (2011). Guidelines for non-discriminatory language use. In R. Wodak, B. Johnstone, & P. Kerswill (Eds.), The Sage handbook of sociolinguistics (pp. 565–582). London: Sage.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  21. Hellinger, M., & Bierbach, C. (1993). Eine Sprache für beide Geschlechter: Richtlinien für einen nicht-sexistischen Sprachgebrauch. Bonn: Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hellinger, M., & Bußmann, H. (2001). Gender across languages: The linguistic representation of women and men. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages. The linguistic representation of women and men (Vol. I, pp. 1–25). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  23. Hellinger, M., & Pauwels, A. (2007). Language and sexism. In M. Hellinger & A. Pauwels (Eds.), Handbook of language and communication: Diversity and change (pp. 651–684). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Henley, N. M., & Abueg, J. (2003). A review and synthesis of research on comprehension of the masculine as a generic form in English. Estudios de Sociolingüística, 4(2), 427–454.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hornscheidt, A. L. (2011). Feminist language politics in Europe. In B. Kortmann & J. van der Auwera (Eds.), The languages and linguistics of Europe: A comprehensive guide (pp. 575–590). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Johnsen, O. R. (2008). ‘He’s a big old girl!’ Negotiation by gender inversion in gay men’s speech. Journal of Homosexuality, 54(1/2), 150–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Jones, L. (2012). Dyke/Girl: Language and identities in a lesbian group. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Kargl, M., Wetschanow, K., & Wodak, R. (1997). Kreatives formulieren. Anleitungen zu geschlechtergerechtem Sprachgebrauch. Wien: Universität Wien.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and woman’s place. New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Leap, W. L. (Ed.). (1995). Beyond the lavender lexicon: Authenticity, imagination, and appropriation in lesbian and gay languages. Luxembourg: Gordon and Breach.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Leap, W. L. (2011). Queer linguistics, sexuality, and discourse analysis. In J. P. Gee & M. Handford (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of discourse analysis (pp. 558–571). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Leap, W. L., & Motschenbacher, H. (2012). Launching a new phase in language and sexuality studies. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 1(1), 1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Liddicoat, A. J. (2011). Feminist language planning. Current Issues in Language Planning, 12(1), 1–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Miller, C., & Swift, K. (2001). The handbook of nonsexist writing (2nd ed.). Lincoln, NE: Lippincott & Crowell.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Milles, K. (2011). Feminist language planning in Sweden. Current Issues in Language Planning, 12(1), 21–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Mills, S. (2008). Language and sexism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Morrish, L., & Sauntson, H. (2007). New perspectives on language and sexual identity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  38. Morse, T. (2008). Hebrew GaySpeak: Subverting a gender-based language. Texas Linguistic Forum, 52, 204–209.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Motschenbacher, H. (2010). Language, gender and sexual identity: Poststructuralist perspectives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  40. Motschenbacher, H. (2011). Taking Queer Linguistics further: Sociolinguistics and critical heteronormativity research. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 212, 149–179.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Motschenbacher, H. (2013). Gentlemen before ladies? A corpus-based study of conjunct order in personal binomials. Journal of English Linguistics, 41(3), 212–242 .

    Google Scholar 

  42. Motschenbacher, H., & Stegu, M. (2013). Queer Linguistic approaches to discourse. Discourse & Society, 24(5), 519–535.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Pauwels, A. (2011). Planning for a global lingua franca: Challenges for feminist language planning in English(es) around the world. Current Issues in Language Planning, 12(1), 9–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Prewitt-Freilino, J. L., Caswell, T. A., & Laakso, E. K. (2012). The gendering of language: A comparison of gender equality in countries with gendered, natural gender, and genderless languages. Sex Roles, 66(3/4), 268–281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Pusch, L. F. (1988). Totale Feminisierung: Überlegungen zum umfassenden Femininum. Women in German Yearbook, 4, 1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Queen, R. (2006). Heterosexism and/in language. In E. K. Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed., Vol. V, pp. 289–292). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei (2009). Geschlechtergerechte Sprache. Leitfaden zum geschlechtergerechten Formulieren im Deutschen. Bern: Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei.

  48. Spolsky, B., & Lambert, R. D. (2006). Language planning and policy: Models. In E. K. Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed., Vol. VI, pp. 561–575). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Sunderland, J. (2004). Gendered discourses. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  50. Uchida, A. (1992). When ‘difference’ is ‘dominance’: A critique of the ‘anti-power-based’ cultural approach to sex differences. Language in Society, 21(4), 547–568.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Valentine, T. (2004). Guidelines for avoiding heterosexist and homophobic language. In T. M. Valentine (Ed.), Language and prejudice (pp. 176–177). London: Pearson.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Wasserman, B. D., & Weseley, A. J. (2009). ¿Qué? Quoi? Do languages with grammatical gender promote sexist attitudes? Sex Roles, 61(9/10), 634–643.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Weinberg, M. (2009). LGBT-inclusive language. English Journal, 98(4), 50–51.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Heiko Motschenbacher.

Additional information

Throughout this article, the term Queer Linguistics is capitalised. This is done in order to distinguish the non-academic, identity-related use of queer from its critical, de-essentialising academic use, which is relevant here.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Motschenbacher, H. Grammatical gender as a challenge for language policy: The (im)possibility of non-heteronormative language use in German versus English. Lang Policy 13, 243–261 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-013-9300-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Language policy
  • Grammatical gender
  • Language, gender and sexuality
  • Queer Linguistics
  • Heteronormativity
  • Gender neutralisation
  • English
  • German