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“Please Don’t Gender Me!” Strategies for Inclusive Language Instruction in a Gender-Diverse Campus Community

Abstract

Foreign language instructors increasingly face challenges in the classroom due to highly gendered structures inherent in many languages. Teaching grammatically gendered foreign languages such as German in its normative language patterns without consideration of how it affects gender nonconforming students, not only creates an exclusionary classroom environment, but also neglects to teach students authentic conceptions of new sociocultural developments in the target language. The question arises whether and if so how such gendered notions can be addressed successfully to create an inclusive environment for all students in a language classroom. While we cannot change language patterns or dismiss textbooks altogether, we need to develop strategies that can be incorporated in language classrooms to create safe spaces for students while still allowing for effective pedagogical instruction.

Keywords

  • German language classroom
  • Inclusive teaching strategies
  • Geschlechtergerechte Sprache
  • Inclusive language

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-34342-2_15
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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Sapir–Whorf principle is often stated to have two versions, the strong hypothesis or strong view (language determines thought and linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories) and the weak hypothesis or weak view (linguistic categories and usage only influence thought and decisions).

  2. 2.

    Nissen gives the following examples of pronoun choice based on status: secretary (she) vs. Foreign Secretary or Secretary of State (he).

  3. 3.

    Male referents were used for secretary in the nineteenth century and typist at the beginning of the twentieth century, for example, as these occupations were mainly held by men, while today, the generic female referent is used.

  4. 4.

    If you absolutely want to use the gendered forms, I recommend not correcting gender on day one. We may assume that students are using the “wrong” gender, but students may just as well understand the concept right away and purposely use a particular gendered form.

  5. 5.

    Many languages do not have gendered pronouns, rather, they refer to a 3rd person singular without specifying the person’s gender. Examples are Māori, Armenian, Farsi, Finnish, Chinese, among others.

  6. 6.

    The following information on gender-neutral language options in German has been collected from various sources (Fachhochschule Dortmund, Fischer, Gerwerkschaft, Erziehung und Wissenschaft, Heger, Hochschule Emden-Leer, Hochschule Hanover, Ursinger, Weltenschmiede) to put together an overview of the different suggestions that have been made. While I attempted to collect the options that appear to be most commonly suggested, I do not claim that these are the only existing options. As these language patterns have not been officially adapted into the language, there exist no universally accepted options and new language forms are still emerging. However, I hope that this overview can serve as a starting point for a discussion on gender-neutral language in German as a whole.

  7. 7.

    What appears to be missing in its entirety are declensions for gender-neutral adjective endings.

  8. 8.

    This can help us prevent and accurately respond to extreme situations such as one that a colleague once encountered in which a student asked: “Why do we need to learn the plural form of mother? There are no two mothers in a family!”

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Correspondence to Angineh Djavadghazaryans .

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Djavadghazaryans, A. (2020). “Please Don’t Gender Me!” Strategies for Inclusive Language Instruction in a Gender-Diverse Campus Community. In: Criser, R., Malakaj, E. (eds) Diversity and Decolonization in German Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-34342-2_15

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