Program :
Abstracts :
The main motivation of the symposium “Between Feminine and Masculine – Language(s) and society”, which will take place on December 9th and 10th online and (pandemic context permitting) on-site in Lisbon, Portugal, with a hybrid format, is to provide scientific data for the reflection on the possibility of gender-inclusive language and the possible evolution towards gender-neutral language – an ongoing process in much of the Western world, albeit not without debates.

While the first symposium of the series, held in Paris in 2019, focused on Romance languages[1], this second edition proposes to include issues of language and gender in Germanic languages, which are both genetically related to Romance and typologically different. The main issue of the symposium remains the question of how research into language and gender can help find ways to use inclusive language: (a) what has been done in Romance and Germanic languages to be linguistically inclusive? (b) what has worked best? what are the pros and cons of various methods?

Since the end of the 70’s, the issue of language and gender has fostered an abundant literature in various domains: linguistics, psychology, sociology, literature (see i.a. Boel 1976, Moulton et al. 1978, MacKay & Fulkerson 1979). There has been a steep increase in interest for these issues in recent years, possibly in relation to the me too movement and, more generally, the increased attention devoted to social inequalities.

The body of literature on gender in linguistics clearly points to the existence of a typologically common imbalance between genders, with strong disparities, however, across languages. In some languages, gender is explicitly marked, with morphosyntactic morphemes, typically on nouns, adjectives and pronouns, sometimes on verbs; in other, it is marked only in pronouns, or barely marked at all. Such systems are far from balanced, or symmetrical: like all linguistic paradigms, they contain exceptions – one important source of asymmetry being the so-called generic use of the masculine, another one the existence of semantic asymmetries (see e.g. for French Yaguello 1978[2]). One question in point is whether the imbalance in linguistic gender systems is purely the result of the natural evolution of language, or whether it results at least partly from human intervention, as has been suggested, for instance, for French (Viennot 2014).

Another issue is whether this gender asymmetry is a source of discrimination. Is it a minor issue with little importance for society – are there, as has been said over and over again, other, more important issues to deal with, such as equal pay? Or is it an important issue, having consequences for the cognitive build-up of children? This has been a key question in psycho-linguistic studies on gender, and experiments have shown repeatedly that the gender asymmetry, and specifically the generic masculine, do have an impact on our cognitive representations, in English, German, French, and probably whatever the language (Trömel-Plötz 1978, Braun et al. 1998, Stahlberg et al. 2007, Gabriel & Gygax 2016, Gygax et al. 2019). Like algorithms (Bolukbasi et al., 2016), humans seem to be sensitive to the discriminations induced by gender asymmetries.

A final question (for now) is whether this asymmetry is inevitable, or if there are ways to go toward a greater balance between genders. For instance, much has been said and written about the neutral Swedish pronoun hen (Sendén et al. 2015), but neutral pronouns have appeared in other languages, e.g. English they or, with a more limited audience thus far, French iel or al (Alpheratz 2018). Scholars who study the various ways of achieving gender equality in language, e.g. in German (Steinhauer & Diewald 2017), French (Dister & Moreau 2020), including comparative studies (Elmiger 2008) do not necessarily agree on how we should go about this. Is it possible to come up with a toolkit for inclusive language?



Invited speakers

Gabriele Diewald, Universität Hannover

Daniel Elmiger, Université de Genève

Bernard Cerquiglini, Université Paris 7

[1] Fagard, Benjamin & Gabrielle Le Tallec (eds), to appear. Entre masculin et féminin. Français et langues romanes. Paris : PSN.

[2] With masculine-feminine word pairs in which the feminine only has pejorative or degrading connotations, e.g. gars “boy” / garce “prostitute”, courtisan “courtier” / courtisane “prostitute”, etc.; in English, master / mistress.