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The Gendering of Language: A Comparison of Gender Equality in Countries with Gendered, Natural Gender, and Genderless Languages

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Feminists have long argued that sexist language can have real world consequences for gender relations and the relative status of men and women, and recent research suggests that grammatical gender can shape how people interpret the world around them along gender lines (Boroditsky 2009). Although others have theorized about the connection between grammatical gender in language and societal gender equality (Stahlberg et al. 2007), the current work tests this link empirically by examining differences in gender equality between countries with gendered, natural gender, and genderless language systems. Of the 111 countries investigated, our findings suggest that countries where gendered languages are spoken evidence less gender equality compared to countries with other grammatical gender systems. Furthermore, countries where natural gender languages are spoken demonstrate greater gender equality, which may be due to the ease of creating gender symmetric revisions to instances of sexist language.
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
The Gendering of Language: A Comparison of Gender
Equality in Countries with Gendered, Natural Gender,
and Genderless Languages
Jennifer L. Prewitt-Freilino &T. Andrew Caswell &
Emmi K. Laakso
Published online: 18 October 2011
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
Abstract Feminists have long argued that sexist language
can have real world consequences for gender relations and
the relative status of men and women, and recent research
suggests that grammatical gender can shape how people
interpret the world around them along gender lines
(Boroditsky 2009). Although others have theorized about
the connection between grammatical gender in language
and societal gender equality (Stahlberg et al. 2007), the
current work tests this link empirically by examining
differences in gender equality between countries with
gendered, natural gender, and genderless language systems.
Of the 111 countries investigated, our findings suggest that
countries where gendered languages are spoken evidence
less gender equality compared to countries with other
grammatical gender systems. Furthermore, countries where
natural gender languages are spoken demonstrate greater
gender equality, which may be due to the ease of creating
gender symmetric revisions to instances of sexist language.
Keywords Grammatical gender .Gender equality .
Gendering Language
Introduction
It is quite likely, that as long as language has existed, the
distinction between male and female has also been present
within it. Today, there are no languages, which do not
distinguish between the genders at all, leading linguists and
psychologists to believe that gender may be so fundamental
to social organization and social structure that linguistic means
to refer to this category are indispensable for speech
communities(Stahlberg et al. 2007,p.163).However,
references to grammatical conventions of gender in language
have prompted contemporary concerns over the power of
language to shape social stereotypes about gender, and
perhaps ultimately shape status distinctions between men and
women. The feminist language critique, in particular, deems
language to be overwhelmingly androcentric, putting girls
and women at a disadvantage in personal and professional
relationships (Stahlberg et al. 2007), and some countries,
such as Norway, have actively reformed their languages to
reflect a more genderless outlook (Gabriel and Gygax 2008).
In spite of attempts at language reform already underway,
numerous questions remain regarding the relationship between
the social aspects of gender and language and the potential
benefits of modifying languages to be more gender-neutral.
Although Stahlberg and colleagues (2007)havetheorized
about the link between grammatical gender in language and
the relative social standing of men and women in society and
recent work highlights a link between the grammatical gender
of language and sexist attitudes (Wasserman and Weseley
2009), we believe more work is needed to determine the
precise relationship between language conventions and
gender equality. Thus, in the current work we investigate
this relationship directly in an attempt to determine whether
the grammatical gender of a language can predict societal
markers of gender equality.
Recent theorizing suggests that language not only
reflects the conventions of culture and particular patterns
of thought, but systems of language can actually shape our
cognitive understanding of the world around us (Boroditsky
2009; Deutscher 2010). Specifically, the gendering of
J. L. Prewitt-Freilino (*):E. K. Laakso
Rhode Island School of Design,
Providence, RI 02903, USA
e-mail: jprewitt@risd.edu
T. A. Caswell
University of South Florida,
Tampa, FL, USA
Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281
DOI 10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5
language (even that which appears mundane and purely
grammatical, such as the use of la versus le in French) can
actually impact our perceptions. For example, researchers
have discovered that the grammatical gender of a term for an
inanimate object can influence peoples perceptions of the
masculine or feminine characteristics of that object, and this
cannot be due merely to the properties of the object as the
researchers used terms that were grammatically masculine in
one language and feminine in another (see Boroditsky et al.
2003;Konishi1993). The same findings are true even when
pictures are used instead of text (Sera et al. 1994).
Furthermore, when Jakobson (1966) had participants choose
voices to personify the days of the week, Russian speakers
consistently selected male or female voices to match the
grammatical gender of that particular day.
If conventions of grammatical gender can affect peoples
perceptions of gender in non-human objects, could it
similarly affect the real world social relations of men and
women? If so, then the extent to which a language
distinguishes grammatically between the masculine and
feminine could have serious consequences for the social,
economic, and political standing of women relative to men.
Recent work highlights how grammatical gender can
increase sensitivity to the gender of a person, as relative
to non-gender related questions, English speakers were
faster and more accurate than Chinese speakers in responding
to gender relevant questions (Chen and Su 2011), suggesting
that grammatical gender aids gender-relevant processing of
social information.
Although all languages distinguish between genders, the
degree to which they do so varies. Grammatically, almost
all languages can be divided into three gender-related
groups: grammatical gender languages, natural gender
languages, and genderless languages (for overview of
definitions and classification of grammatical gender across
language families, see Stahlberg et al. 2007). Grammatical
gender languages (or gendered languages) are characterized
by their nouns, which are always assigned a feminine or
masculine (or sometimes neuter) gender. When said nouns
refer to people, they generally reflect the gender of the
individual in question, and other dependant forms, such as
adjectives and pronouns carry the same gender markers
as the nouns to which they refer. Generally, gendered
languages belong to the following linguistic families: Slavic
(Russian), Germanic (German), Romance (Spanish), Indo-
Aryan (Hindi), or Semitic (Hebrew), with some exceptions.
English (a West Germanic language), and Northern Germanic
(or Scandinavian) languages, belong to what are called
natural gender languages. While these natural gender
languages distinguish gender through pronouns (such as he
or she), most nouns have no grammatical marking of gender,
unlike the gendered languages. Finally, some languages,
called genderless languages, are characterized by their
complete lack of grammatical gender distinction in the noun
system. In Finnish, for example, hän refers to both he and
she, and so has no gender. Genderless languages generally
belong to the Uralic (Finnish), Turkic (Turkish), Iranian
(Persian), Sinitic (Chinese), and Bantu (Swahili) language
families, along with some others.
Given recent research tying gender in language to gendered
perceptions of the world (e.g., Boroditsky et al. 2003), one
could infer that when language constantly calls attention to
gender distinctions by discriminating between masculine and
feminine nouns and pronounsas is the case in gendered
languagesthat individuals may be more apt to draw
distinctions between men and women. If, in fact, language
plays a role in how people organize their beliefs about
gender, then it stands to reason that differences in the gendered
language systems across different cultures could play a role in
societal differences in beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral
practices about the role and status of men and women.
In an empirical test of this assumption, Wasserman and
Weseley (2009) assigned suburban, New York high school
students to read a passage in either English (a natural
gender language) or a gendered language (either Spanish or
French) and then complete a measure of sexism. Students
who read the passage and completed the sexism measure in
English expressed less sexist attitudes compared to students
who read the passage and completed the sexism measure in
a gendered language, lending support to the notion that the
grammatical gender of language can impact sexist
attitudes.
Although it is impossible to isolate whether the grammatical
gender of a countryslanguage system serves as a causal factor
in indicators of gender equality, we can determine whether
countries with gendered language systems are generally the
same countries in which men and women remain unequal in
their access to political and economic power. In the current
work, we explore the possible links between gendered
language systems and gender inequality by first reviewing
the literature on the many ways gendering occurs in language
(beyond conventions of grammatical gender) and how such
gendering in language has been shown to impact status
relevant social decision-making andbehavior. We then address
whether the grammatical gender of a language system can help
to predict cross-cultural variations in gender equality over and
above the predictive power of other cross-cultural factors by
comparing countries with gendered, natural gender, and
genderless language systems on archival indices of gender
equality.
Gender in Language
As noted above, the use of gender specific nouns and
pronouns is one way of classifying gender in language. A
lack of grammatical gender, however, does not necessarily
Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281 269
reflect gender neutrality (Braun 2001; Engelberg 2002), and so
it would be mistaken to believe that the grammatically
genderless languages automatically lead to a more gender-
neutral society. Linguistic asymmetries and false generics in
discourse cut across grammatical gender language systems,
and likely contribute to how individuals organize and interpret
gender relevant information in everyday communication
(Stahlberg et al. 2007). Below, we give a brief overview of
several ways in which language becomes gendered and how
such linguistic patterns convey status differentially to men and
women.
First, lexical gender refers to whether a word is gender-
specific (for example father, sister, grandmother), or gender
neutral (citizen, patient, individual), and gender asymmetry
is created when gender is lexically marked when it does not
need to be (Hellinger and Bußmann 2001). For example, in
the case of the English words steward and stewardess,
stewardess becomes a specific marked term, or separate
from the term of steward, and also gains a secondary
meaning entirely. According to the Oxford English Dictionary
(1989), steward is taken to primarily refer to an official who
controls the domestic affairs of a household, supervising the
service of his master's table, directing the domestics, and
regulating household expenditure…”;however,astewardess
primarily refers to either afemalestewardor afemale
attendant on a passenger aircraft who attends to the needs and
comfort of the passengers.The female counterpart of
steward references the male term, which becomes the neutral
form, and while the secondary profession of stewardess
possesses some similarities to the roles of the steward, the
masculine counterpart implies more authority, through the use
of words such as control,and supervise.Furthermore,
female counterparts for male words are often derived from
the masculine term, and are more complex, demonstrating
that the masculine is the generic form, as the feminine form is
generally only used when females are specifically involved.
For example, in Norwegian, forfatter (meaning writer) is the
generic and masculine term, where as forfatterinne,the
feminine form, is derived from forfatter, is considerably
longer in length, and would never be used as a generic term
for a writer, unless a female writer were specifically being
referenced (Bull and Swan 2002). Moreover, some languages
use compounding in nouns to create gender specific
structures of non-traditional professions (Hellinger and
Bußmann 2001). A male-nurse or a female-surgeon points
to the need to categorize, in language, which gender generally
pursues which occupation, and to mark the exceptions with
marked names. The marked nature of such exceptions results
in specific patterns of the perceptions of social gender, or the
use of stereotypes in deciding generic pronouns for specific
occupations and roles.
Gender asymmetry may also be manifested through
gender-related messages within a language, such as address
terms and idiomatic expressions (see Hellinger and
Bußmann 2001). Address terms refer to the use of formal
structure as compared to informal structure within a
language depending on who one is speaking to, or the use
of honorary titles, such as Mr.,Mrs., Miss, and Ms. in
English. In the Javanese language, for example, a husband
addresses his wife as dik,oryounger sister,where as he is
called mas,orolder brotherregardless of his actual age.
In addition to asymmetry, the use of false generics can
affect how gender intersects with language. A solely
masculine or feminine term, used generically to represent
both men and women, is called a false generic (Hellinger
and Bußmann 2001). Most false generics are masculine and
are used to refer to males as well as females, such as the
word lakimies (literally, lawman, or lawyer) in Finnish.
Another example is the general he in English, as in When
a student drops a pencil, he should also pick it up.The
only known languages in which the generic is female, are in
some Iroquois languages (Seneca and Oneida), as well as
some Australian aboriginal languages (Hellinger and
Bußmann 2001).
Language and Gender Equality
Increasingly scholars and researchers recognize the power
that asymmetries in lexical gender, male false generics, and
the systematic way language becomes gendered can have
on social gender stereotypes and inequities in status
between men and women (Schneider 2004). For example,
feminist scholars have long decried that masculine generics
are androcentric, and make women seem invisible in
historical and contemporary discourse (see Cameron
1998). With empirical research highlighting the real world
impact that gendered language can have on peoples social
judgments, decisions, and behavior, many have begun to
rally behind the idea that change in language is needed to
curb social inequalities in society (Martyna 1980).
Although opponents of language reform argue that male
false generics remain mere grammatical convention, too
widespread to expect change, and irrelevant to gender
inequality, empirical evidence supports what feminists have
long known (see review by Martyna 1980). For example,
studies have shown that the male generic is in fact not
simply a grammatical convention but that speakers actually
visualize males when the word heor hisis used in its
generic form (Gastil 1990; Hyde 1984; Moulton et al.
1978). Moreover, a chairmanprimes male pronouns and
is rated as more masculine than a chairperson(Banaji and
Hardin 1996; McConnell and Fazio 1996). If men and
women interpret male generics in a gendered way, then it
stands to reason that these gendered impressions could have
a lasting impact on real world gender stereotyping and role
behavior. For example, consider the implications for career
270 Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281
choice. Masculine forms of nouns, such as are found in lexical
gender and gender related structures, are problematic,
specifically when it comes to occupational titles and positions
because women may have trouble identifying with the
masculine forms, and so may choose to not pursue a career
which implicitly excludes women. For example, Bem and
Bem (1973) found that only 5% of female participants
applied for a traditionally male job which used male generics
in its description, whereas 25% of women applied when it
was described in a gender neutral way. Moreover, Briere and
Lanktree (1983) found that people rated womensattraction
to a future career in psychology as lesser when they had read
an excerpt about ethical standards for psychologists worded
using male generics, as opposed to versions that were
worded in a gender neutral way. Thus, over and above the
influence of stereotypes about traditional gender roles
associated with a particular occupation, the gendering of
language may influence womensdesiretoseekcertain
employment opportunities.
Generics may also pose legal issues for women, when legal
documents (especially from the past) do not clarify whether
they pertain to all people, or explicitly to men. Such linguistic
conventions can even have legal consequences, as Hamilton et
al. (1992) have demonstrated the dangers of gendered
pronouns in a legal context. In their study, students enrolled
in introductory psychology courses at the University of
Kentucky played the part of the jury in a mock murder case,
and were asked to determine whether a woman had acted in
self-defense. As a part of the case,72 participants (24 in
each group) were given a definition of self-defensewith
either the use of he, he or she, or she, in the description. Only
five of the participants reading the description with he were
willing to acknowledge self-defense, whereas sixteen did with
he or she, and eleven with she. This suggests that male
generic wording in legal proceedings can dramatically affect
peoples perceptions of an individuals guilt or innocence.
Given the above research demonstrating how small
changes in the use of gendered language can have a
dramatic impact on peoples judgments, decisions, and
behaviors, it is perhaps unsurprising that there have been
efforts on the part of government agencies, feminist groups,
professional associations, religious organizations, educational
institutions, publishing firms, and media institutionsto
reduce the use of male generics (Martyna 1980,p.491).In
many languages, people have begun to shy away from the
use of masculine generics.
Grammatical Gender in Language and Gender Equality
Although ample empirical research demonstrates that
reducing the use of masculine generic pronouns promotes
the inclusion of women, there are no empirical studies that
we are aware of which attempt to investigate the overall
relationship between all three grammatical gender groups
and gender equality. Wasserman and Weseley (2009)
demonstrate that gendered languages promote an increase
in expressed sexist attitudes. Moreover, Stahlberg and
colleagues (2007) have noted that languages that create
significant gender distinctions (i.e., grammatical gender
languages) are often thought to lead to greater sexism,
while languages that do not distinguish grammatical gender
(i.e., genderless languages) may on the surface appear less
sexist. However, as they note:
All language typescould in principle be used in
a symmetrical and gender-fair way: In grammatical
gender languages the feminine could be used
consistently in referring to female persons and
the masculine in reference to males. In natural
gender languages symmetry could be achieved,
above all, by the consistent use of sex-marking
pronouns. And in genderless languages sex can be
disregarded symmetrically (Stahlberg et al. 2007;
p. 167).
However, as we have seen from the above examples, this
is rarely the case, and all grammatical groups display
gender asymmetry, as it is expressed in language through
lexical structures, generic terms, social use of language, and
gender related word structures.
Despite the fact that gender neutral conventions can be
developed for languages within all three grammatical
groups, this does not imply it is equally easy to address
gendered grammar conventions across these groups. In fact,
Stahlberg and colleagues (2007) note that grammatical
gender languages (like German) involve much more effort
to create a gender neutral configurationcompared to
natural gender languages like Englishbecause such
reconfigurations require changing a large number of
personal nouns in addition to pronouns.
Furthermore, although it might appear that genderless
languages already exhibit a gender fair grammatical style,
there is evidence that gender neutral nouns and pronouns
can be interpreted with an implicit male bias (Stahlberg et
al. 2007). Take, for example, research showing that
different solutions to the use of masculine generics are not
equally effective in natural gender languages like English.
Several studies have shown that replacing masculine
generics with gender-symmetrical terms, like he/she, led
to greater visualization of female actors compared to gender
neutral terms, like the singular they (Hyde 1984; Switzer
1990). Hyde (1984) found that when children were asked to
write a story in response to the prompt When a kid goes to
school, [he/they/he or she] often feels excited on the first
day,(p. 699) only 12% and 18% wrote about female
characters when he and they were used, respectively,
whereas 42% wrote about a female character when he or
Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281 271
she was used. Thus, even the use of gender neutral
terminology (such as member of congress) may implicitly
convey a gendered interpretation more often than gender-
symmetrical terminology (such as congressman/woman),
which would make it more difficult to convey a gender
neutral interpretation in genderless languages that lack
gendered pronouns.
Overview of Current Investigation
In the current investigation, we explored the relationship
between countriesgrammatical gender language systems
and indices of gender equality. To do this, we categorized
an extensive list of countries as having either a gendered,
natural gender, or genderless orientation, and then used
grammatical gender system as a fixed grouping variable to
compare the average level of gender equality.
Because the gendering of language has the power to
impact how we think at an individual level, systems of
language have the potential to shape entire social structures
(Boroditsky 2009; Deutscher 2010). Gender equality is not
a unitary construct, and as such, we were interested in
exploring the specific domains in which grammatical
gendering of the language system predicted gender inequality.
Thus, we wanted a measure of gender equality that allowed
for exploring how men and women fair across a wide array of
societal indicators. The World Economic ForumsGlobal
Gender Gap Index and sub-indices (Hausmann et al. 2009)
highlight the gap between men and women in economic,
educational, political, and health spheres in countries around
the world.
By its very nature, differential research (i.e., research that
tests for differences in pre-existing groups) does not allow for
the testing of causal relationships; therefore, we wanted to
ensure that any differences between the grammatical groups
could not be completely explained by other factors that may
relate to societal indicators of gender equality. Thus, to
explore whether the impact of grammatical gender remained
even when other potential influences on gender equality were
accounted for, we included several possible covariates of
gender equality in our model.
In brainstorming for characteristics of countries that
could be related to gender equality that were either easily
categorizable or already reliably quantified, we arrived at
the following list of covariates: geographic location,
religious tradition, system of government, and relative
human development. This list is not considered exhaustive
of the possible influences on variation in gender equality in
different countries, but was a starting place for trying to
account for such variance. We believe that over time,
variations in geographic location could contribute to cultural
shifts that impact the relative treatment of men versus women.
For example, such variation could be an impetus for divergent
evolution of not only language systems (which map onto
geographical shifts in population), but the development of
regionally specific cultural mores and practices that might
impact everyday gender relations, as well. In line with our
assumption, the global gender gap report confirms that
widespread variations in gender equality by geographic region
exist (Hausmann et al. 2009).
As cornerstones of culture, we believe dominant religious
tradition and political systems have the power to influence
gender equality at the societal level, and recent theorizing
supports this view (Razavi and Jenichen 2010). Razavi and
Jenichen (2010) argue that especially in the last 30 years
religious fundamentalism has shaped political governance in
a way that impacts womens rights. Given the link between
both religious fundamentalism (Hill et al. 2010) and right
wing authoritarianism (Sibley et al. 2007)withbenevolent
sexism, we expect that both religious and governance
systems should predict variation in gender equality. Moreover,
variation in human development, which comprises life
expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living
(Klugman et al. 2010), may also help to explain why
countries differ with regard to gender equality, as the global
gender gap report also notes the importance of development
of human talent as a key factor in cross-cultural variations in
gender equality (Hausmann et al. 2009).
In the current analyses, we included these factors in our
model because we predict that even when controlling for other
characteristics of countries that could be related to gender
equality (e.g., religious tradition, system of governance), we
believe differences in gender equality will emerge between
countries with divergent grammatical gender language systems.
Hypotheses
Given the previous research outline above demonstrating the
difficulty involved in crafting gender fair communications in
gendered languages, we anticipated the following:
Hypothesis 1. Countries predominated by a gendered
language system should consistently evidence less
gender equality across the various indexes than
countries where natural gender or genderless languages
are spoken, even when controlling for geographic,
religious, political, and developmental variations that
could also explain differences in gender equality
among countries.
Although previous work has demonstrated a link between
gendered languages and sexism (Wasserman and Weseley
2009), we are unaware of prior research on the impact of
genderless versus natural gender language usage on sexism.
Despite the fact that genderless languages generally avoid
the problem of the masculine generic, even gender neutral
terminology (e.g., the singular they) can still convey a
272 Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281
male bias in the mind of the audience, and unlike natural
gender languages, genderless languages do not always allow
for adopting gender symmetric terminology (e.g., he/she).
Thus, because natural gender languages allow for greater
flexibility compared to genderless languages to address the
problem of the male generic, we predicted:
Hypothesis 2. Countries predominated by a natural
gender language system should evidence greater
gender equality than countries with other grammatical
gender systems.
Unlike our prediction about gendered languages, which
we believe to be robust even when accounting for other
societal influences on gender equality, our predictions about
the relative differences in gender equality between countries
with natural gender and genderless languages are based on
assumptions about the ease of language reform. Because
social factors (i.e., religious tradition, political system) can
influence the desire and ability to reform language, our
predictions about differences are much more circumspect,
as we do not necessarily believe these differences could
emerge when controlling for social factors that influence
efforts at language reform. If indeed, natural gender
languages demonstrate greater gender equality, we believe
such a difference would shed light on the need as well as
potential for effective language reform across different
language systems.
Method
Sample
In the current investigation, the third author categorized 134
countries (those represented in the 2009 Global Gender Gap
Report; Hausmann et al. 2009) based on the predominant
language(s) spoken as either gendered (54.5%), natural
gender (9%), genderless (19.4%), gendered and natural
gender (4.5%), gendered and genderless (4.5%), natural
gender and genderless (5.2%), or other (3%). Each
countrys grammatical gender group or groups were
determined by first identifying the primary language for
each country. The languages spoken in each country were
found through the Central Intelligence Agencys (CIA)
Factbook (2010), which lists each country, the languages
spoken, as well as the percentage of population which
speaks each language, or, if percentages are not available,
the official language(s). Given that many of the countries
listed speak multiple languages, if over 70% spoke a single
language or multiple languages with a single type of
grammatical gender, those languageslinguistic families
determined using Lewiss(2009) Ethnologue: Languages of
the Worldwere used to determine the appropriate gram-
matical gender grouping. If only official languages were
listed, those languages were used to determine the
grammatical gender.
Using the dominate language or languages for each
country, grammatical gender group was specified using the
criteria put forth in Stahlberg et al. (2007) for delineating
the difference between gendered, genderless, and natural
gender languages. Stahlberg and colleagues categorize
some languages and language families directly, and for
those languages, we used their classification. For languages
not classified directly by Stahlberg and colleagues (2007),
we consulted information from the series Gender across
Languages (Hellinger & Bußmann 20012003) and work
by Ibrahim (1973) to determine the grammatical gender
structure of specific languages. For the languages not
covered in either of these sources we conducted online
searches to ascertain the grammatical gender structure of
the language in order to classify it.
If no single grammatical gender was predominant, the two
most predominant grammatical genders were listed (e.g.,
gendered and natural gender). A very small percentage of
countries could not be categorized into a specific grammatical
gender category and comprise the other, either because they
spoke a Creole or hybrid language without a determinable
grammatical gender, or if the language did not fit into any of
the groupings.
In order to validate our coding of grammatical gender
group, the second author classified a random sub-set of the
countries by grammatical gender group using the same
process. The second authors judgment matched that of the
third author on sixty of the sixty-one randomly chosen
countries, yielding a kappa of .96. Thus, we felt comfort-
able with the reliability of the coding procedure and used
the entirety of the third authorscategorizations in our
analyses.
In the current investigation, we only analyzed the
differences between countries that fell neatly into one
gender language category (i.e., gendered, natural gender, or
genderless), which left 111 countries in our sample (73
gendered, 12 natural gender, and 26 genderless; see Tables 1
and 2).
Indicators of Gender Equality
In order to compare countrieslevel of gender equality, we
utilized data from the 2009 World Economic Forums
Global Gender Gap Report (Hausmann et al. 2009).
According to its authors, the Global Gender Gap Index
benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political,
education- and health-based criteria, and provides country
rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions
and income groups(p. 3). Rather than focusing on policy,
culture, or norms, the report attempts to provide a snapshot
Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281 273
Table 1 Summary of data by country
Country Lang. Group GGG Index Econ. Part. Educ. Attain. Health/Surv Pol. Emp. Continent Religion Govt HDI
Overall Mean .68 .63 .95 .97 .16 –– –.77
Algeria Gendered .61 .47 .95 .97 .06 Africa Islam AR .73
Argentina Gendered .72 .60 .99 .98 .31 SA Christianity DR .87
Armenia Gendered .66 .67 1.00 .93 .04 Europe Christianity DR .78
Australia Natural .73 .75 1.00 .97 .19 Oceania Christianity DCM .96
Austria Gendered .70 .57 .99 .98 .27 Europe Christianity DR .95
Azerbaijan Genderless .66 .69 .97 .94 .06 Europe Islam AR .75
Bahamas Natural .72 .83 1.00 .98 .07 NA Christianity DCM .85
Bahrain Gendered .61 .48 .99 .96 .02 Asia Islam AM .87
Bangladesh Gendered .65 .46 .91 .95 .29 Asia Islam DR .55
Barbados Natural .72 .79 1.00 .98 .13 NA Christianity DCM .89
Belarus Gendered .71 .73 .99 .98 .16 Europe Christianity AR .8
Belgium Gendered .72 .65 .99 .98 .24 Europe Christianity DCM .95
Belize Gendered .66 .62 1.00 .98 .05 NA Christianity DCM .78
Bolivia Gendered .67 .59 .97 .97 .15 SA Christianity DR .7
Botswana Genderless .71 .74 1.00 .95 .13 Africa Christianity DR .65
Brazil Gendered .67 .64 1.00 .98 .06 SA Christianity DR .8
Brunei Darus. Genderless .65 .62 .99 .97 .03 Asia Islam AM .89
Bulgaria Gendered .71 .69 .99 .98 .16 Europe Christianity DR .82
Burkina Faso Gendered .61 .64 .73 .97 .10 Africa Islam DR .37
Cambodia Genderless .64 .65 .86 .98 .08 Asia Buddhism DCM .6
Cameroon Genderless .61 .55 .84 .97 .08 Africa Other AR .53
Chad Gendered .54 .65 .47 .98 .07 Africa Islam AR .39
Chile Gendered .69 .52 1.00 .98 .26 SA Christianity DR .87
China Genderless .69 .70 .98 .95 .14 Asia Other CS .78
Colombia Gendered .69 .69 1.00 .98 .10 SA Christianity DR .79
Croatia Gendered .69 .65 .99 .98 .16 Europe Christianity DR .85
Cuba Gendered .72 .60 1.00 .97 .29 NA Christianity CS .84
Czech Republic Gendered .68 .64 1.00 .98 .09 Europe Irreligion DR .89
Denmark Natural .76 .75 1.00 .97 .33 Europe Christianity DCM .95
Dominican Rep. Gendered .69 .65 1.00 .98 .12 SA Christianity DR .78
Ecuador Gendered .72 .63 1.00 .98 .28 SA Christianity DR .77
Egypt Gendered .59 .45 .90 .97 .02 Africa Islam AR .71
El Salvador Gendered .69 .58 .99 .98 .23 NA Christianity DR .74
Estonia Genderless .71 .71 1.00 .98 .16 Europe Other DR .86
Ethiopia Gendered .59 .60 .70 .97 .11 Africa Christianity DR .41
Finland Genderless .83 .75 1.00 .98 .57 Europe Christianity DR .95
France Gendered .73 .66 1.00 .98 .29 Europe Christianity DR .95
Gambia Natural .68 .74 .85 .98 .13 Africa Islam AR .5
Germany Gendered .74 .70 1.00 .98 .31 Europe Christianity DR .94
Ghana Genderless .67 .75 .89 .97 .07 Africa Christianity DR .55
Greece Gendered .67 .61 .99 .98 .09 Europe Christianity DR .93
Guatemala Gendered .62 .51 .94 .98 .06 NA Christianity DR .69
Guyana Natural .71 .61 1.00 .98 .25 SA Other DR .75
Honduras Gendered .69 .60 1.00 .98 .17 NA Christianity DR .7
Hungary Genderless .69 .67 .99 .98 .11 Europe Christianity DR .87
Iceland Natural .83 .75 1.00 .97 .59 Europe Christianity DR .97
India Gendered .62 .41 .84 .93 .27 Asia Hinduism DR .62
Indonesia Genderless .66 .57 .97 .97 .12 Asia Islam DR .73
274 Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281
Table 1 (continued)
Country Lang. Group GGG Index Econ. Part. Educ. Attain. Health/Surv Pol. Emp. Continent Religion Govt HDI
Iran Genderless .58 .38 .96 .98 .02 Asia Islam AR .76
Ireland Gendered .76 .69 1.00 .97 .37 Europe Christianity DR .96
Israel Gendered .70 .69 1.00 .97 .15 Asia Judaism DR .93
Italy Gendered .68 .59 1.00 .97 .16 Europe Christianity DR .94
Jamaica Natural .70 .74 1.00 .97 .09 NA Christianity DCM .74
Jordan Gendered .62 .45 .99 .97 .06 Asia Islam DCM .77
Kazakhstan Gendered .70 .76 1.00 .98 .07 Asia Other AR .79
Korea Rep. Gendered .61 .52 .89 .97 .07 Asia Irreligion DR .92
Kuwait Gendered .64 .56 .98 .96 .04 Asia Islam AM .89
Kyrgyz Rep. Genderless .71 .69 .99 .98 .16 Asia Islam DR .7
Latvia Gendered .74 .75 1.00 .98 .23 Europe Irreligion DR .86
Lithuania Genderless .72 .75 .99 .98 .15 Europe Christianity DR .86
Luxembourg Gendered .69 .64 1.00 .97 .14 Europe Christianity DCM .94
Macedonia Gendered .70 .67 .99 .96 .16 Europe Christianity DR .8
Malawi Genderless .67 .69 .88 .96 .16 Africa Christianity DR .44
Malaysia Genderless .65 .57 .99 .97 .06 Asia Islam DCM .81
Maldives Gendered .65 .58 1.00 .95 .06 Asia Islam AR .74
Malta Gendered .66 .56 1.00 .97 .12 Europe Christianity DR .88
Mauritania Gendered .61 .49 .85 .98 .12 Africa Islam AR .55
Mexico Gendered .65 .51 .98 .98 .13 NA Christianity DR .83
Moldova Gendered .71 .73 .99 .98 .14 Europe Christianity AR .71
Mongolia Genderless .72 .83 1.00 .98 .08 Asia Buddhism DR .7
Morocco Gendered .59 .45 .86 .97 .10 Africa Islam DCM .65
Mozambique Genderless .72 .81 .78 .98 .30 Africa Christianity DR .38
Namibia Genderless .72 .72 .98 .97 .20 Africa Christianity DR .65
Nepal Gendered .62 .50 .82 .96 .22 Asia Hinduism DCM .53
Netherlands Gendered .75 .69 1.00 .97 .34 Europe Christianity DCM .95
Nicaragua Gendered .70 .56 1.00 .98 .26 NA Christianity DR .71
Norway Natural .82 .78 1.00 .98 .53 Europe Christianity DCM .97
Oman Gendered .59 .41 .97 .97 .02 Asia Islam AM .81
Pakistan Gendered .55 .34 .75 .95 .15 Asia Islam AR .55
Panama Gendered .70 .68 .99 .98 .15 NA Christianity DR .81
Paraguay Gendered .69 .67 1.00 .98 .10 SA Christianity DR .76
Peru Gendered .70 .64 .98 .97 .22 SA Christianity DR .77
Poland Gendered .70 .64 1.00 .98 .18 Europe Christianity DR .87
Portugal Gendered .70 .68 .99 .97 .16 Europe Christianity DR .9
Qatar Gendered .59 .40 .99 .95 .02 Asia Islam AM .88
Romania Gendered .68 .71 .99 .98 .04 Europe Christianity DR .81
Russian Fed. Gendered .70 .74 1.00 .98 .08 Asia Other DR .8
Saudi Arabia Gendered .57 .31 .97 .98 .00 Asia Islam AM .81
Senegal Gendered .64 .64 .82 .97 .14 Africa Islam DR .5
Slovakia Gendered .68 .65 1.00 .98 .11 Europe Christianity DR .86
Slovenia Gendered .70 .72 1.00 .97 .10 Europe Christianity DR .92
South Africa Genderless .77 .66 1.00 .98 .45 Africa Christianity DR .67
Spain Gendered .73 .60 .99 .97 .37 Europe Christianity DCM .95
Sri Lanka Gendered .74 .57 .99 .98 .42 Asia Buddhism DR .74
Sweden Natural .81 .79 1.00 .97 .50 Europe Christianity DCM .96
Switzerland Gendered .74 .69 .98 .98 .33 Europe Christianity DR .96
Syria Gendered .61 .46 .93 .98 .06 Asia Islam AR .59
Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281 275
of where men and women stand with regard to some
fundamental outcome variables related to basic rights(p. 3).
The report provides scores for each country in the form of a
composite rating to represent the countrys overall gender gap,
as well as individual scores for each of the four sub-indices
that are used to calculate the un-weighted average composite
rating (Economic participation and opportunity, Educational
attainment, Political empowerment, and Health and survival),
with scores for both the overall index and sub-indices ranging
from 0 to 1 (higher scores representing greater gender
equality). The sub-indices themselves are calculated using
weighted averages of individual indicators (see Hausmann et
al. 2009 for further details). It is important to highlight that
these ratings represent the relative gap between men and
women in a given country, rather than the overall level for
each indicator. Thus, countries in which the average
educational attainment is relatively high might still rate as
relatively low in gender equality if the gap between men and
Table 1 (continued)
Country Lang. Group GGG Index Econ. Part. Educ. Attain. Health/Surv Pol. Emp. Continent Religion Govt HDI
Tanzania Genderless .68 .68 .87 .97 .20 Africa Other DR .47
Thailand Genderless .69 .72 .99 .98 .07 Asia Buddhism DCM .78
Tunisia Gendered .62 .45 .96 .97 .11 Africa Islam AR .77
Turkey Genderless .58 .40 .89 .97 .07 Asia Islam DR .78
Ukraine Gendered .69 .72 1.00 .98 .06 Europe Christianity DR .79
United Arab Em. Gendered .62 .41 .99 .96 .11 Asia Islam AM .87
United States Natural .72 .75 1.00 .98 .14 NA Christianity DR .95
Uruguay Gendered .69 .65 1.00 .98 .14 SA Christianity DR .85
Uzbekistan Genderless .69 .77 .94 .98 .08 Asia Islam AR .7
Venezuela Gendered .68 .62 1.00 .98 .14 SA Christianity DR .79
Vietnam Genderless .68 .73 .90 .97 .12 Asia Irreligion CS .73
Yemen Gendered .46 .23 .61 .98 .02 Asia Islam AR .51
Zambia Genderless .63 .59 .87 .96 .11 Africa Christianity DR .43
Zimbabwe Natural .65 .62 .93 .95 .10 Africa Other AR .51
Note: GGG stands for Global Gender Gap and HDI stands for Human Development Index. The full names of the sub-scores for the Global Gender
Gap Index are "Economic Participation and Opportunity", "Educational Attainment", "Health and Survival", and "Political Empowerment." All
quantitative variables range from 0 to 1. Under the Continent column, NA stands for "North America" and SA stands for "South America". Under
the Government column, AR stands for "Authoritarian Republic," AM for "Absolute Monarchy," DR Stands for "Democratic Republic," DCM for
"Democratic Constitutional Monarchy," and CS for "Communist State"
Table 2 Descriptive statistics for indicators of gender equality by grammatical language group
Dependent measure Grammatical language group
Gendered M (SD) Natural M (SD) Genderless M (SD) One-way p-value df
With covariates
Overall GGG rating .67 (.004)
a
.72 (.011)
b
.70 (.008)
b
< 0.001 2,103
Economic participation .59 (.010)
a
.71 (.025)
b
.68 (.019)
b
< 0.001 2,103
Educational attainment .95 (.007) .95 (.016) .98 (.012) .13 2,103
Health and survival .97 (.001) .97 (.003) .97 (.002) .92 2,103
Political empowerment .15 (.013) .23 (.032) .16 (.024) .06 2,103
Without covariates
Overall GGG rating .67 (.007)
a
.74 (.016)
b
.68 (.011)
a
< 0.001 2,108
Economic participation .59 (.013)
a
.74 (.031)
b
.67 (.021)
b
< 0.001 2,108
Educational attainment .95 (.010) .98 (.025) .94 (.017) .44 2,108
Health and survival .97 (.001) .97 (.003) .97 (.002) .48 2,108
Political empowerment .15 (.014)
a
.26 (.034)
b
.15 (.02)
a
.02 2,108
Note. Subscript letters indicate group differences obtained by pairwise comparisons significant at the 0.05 level. GGG stands for Global Gender
Gap. Covariates included contrasts for geographic location, religious tradition, system of government, and the continuous measure of the human
development index (HDI)
276 Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281
womens educational attainment is large, whereas countries
with low average educational attainment may be represented
as more equal, as both men and women fail to achieve
educational attainment. For the current analyses, we utilized
the overall rating, as well as the individual sub-indices as
outcome variables, to determine whether differences in gender
equality exist among countries with different grammatical
gender language systems.
Covariates
In order to determine if any existing differences in gender
equality between countries with different grammatical
gender language systems would persist even when other
factors that could impact gender equality were accounted
for, we entered several other factors into our final model as
potential covariates. Because most of the potential covariates
were categorical variables with many levels, we first conducted
a series of one-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs) on the
Global Gender Gap Index with each potential categorical
covariate as the grouping variable to determine if there were
any consistent patterns in the group means that could be
represented by a planned contrast in the final model. Without a
planned contrast, representing each level of the variable would
have required an extensive number of dummy coded variables
which would have required a larger sample size to ensure
enough power in the model for our primary analyses.
Furthermore, some of the levels had a very small sample size
(e.g., countries with a communist state as the system of
government) and thus would not have allowed for comparison.
Creating the planned contrast to represent the categorical
covariates allowed for a reduction in the number of dummy
coded variables in the final model, while still representing the
variability explained by that particular factor. The contrasts
chosen as covariates were those which maximized the variance
in GGG ratings explained.
First, we explored whether geographic region predicted
gender equality by comparing differences in gender equality
by continent (Asia, Africa, North America, South America,
Europe, and Australia). A series of one-way ANOVAs
comparing the differences in means by continent suggested
that a contrast comparing Eastern (Africa and Asia) versus
Western cultures (North and South America, Europe, and
Australia) would best represent the variance based on
geographic location. Thus, in our final analyses, our indicator
of geographic location contrasted countries in Eastern versus
Western cultures.
Next, we once again used a series of one-way ANOVAs
to assess the differences in gender equality among countries
with various predominant religious traditions (Christianity,
Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, irreligion, or other)
and found that countries which primarily practiced Islam
and Hinduism demonstrated less gender equality than other
countries. Thus, in our final analyses our indicator of
religious tradition contrasted countries in which Islam and
Hinduism were the primary religious traditions versus
countries where Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, irreli-
gion, or other religions predominate.
To assess differences in gender equality in countries with
varied political systems, we compared gender equality among
countries with various government structures (democratic
republics, democratic constitutional monarchy, absolute mon-
archy, authoritarian republic, military government, communist
state, and transitional government). We found persistent
differences in gender equality between countries with either
democratic republics or democratic constitutional monarchies
compared to other forms of government. Thus, in our final
model we entered a contrast comparing democratic republics
and constitutional monarchies versus other forms of govern-
ment as a covariate.
Finally, we utilized the 2010 Human Development Index
(HDI) ratings published by the United Nations as another
factor which might reliably predict differences in gender
equality as a covariate in our final model. The United Nations
conceptualizes human development as the expansion of
peoples freedoms to live long, healthy and creative lives; to
advance other goals they have reason to value; and to engage
actively in shaping development equitably and sustainably on
asharedplanetand as an indicator of human development,
the HDI combines information on life expectancy, schooling
and income in a simple composite measure(Klugman et al.
2010;p.23). The HDI is a continuous measure in which
higher scores indicate greater overall development, and the
HDI demonstrated a positive relationship with all five
indicators of gender equality (all ps< .01 except the
relationship with Economic participation, which merely
approached significance, p=.06).
In order to ensure that none of our covariates interacted
with our language variable, we submitted the dependent
variables to a series of Multivariate Analyses of Covariance
(MANCOVAs) with the dichotomous covariates (geographic
location, religious tradition, and system of government), as
well as a regression on the HDI scores to test for
moderation with our primary predictor (grammatical gender
language group). None of the interactions were significant,
and thus, we felt comfortable entering our covariates into
the final model.
Results
To test the effects of language classification on gender
equality, we submitted the overall Global Gender Gap
(GGG) ratings and four individual indices to a MANCOVA
with the government contrast, religion contrast, geography
constrast, and HDI scores as covariance. This yielded a
Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281 277
significant effect for language, Λ=.69, F(10,198)=4.11,
p<.001, with religion, Λ=.79, F(5,99) = 5.12, p<.001, and
HDI, Λ=.49, F(5,99) = 20.46, p< .001, emerging as
significant covariates. The political system covariate
approached significance, Λ=.90, F(5,99) = 2.16, p<.07,
and geography was not statistically significant, Λ=.98, F
(5,99)= .34, p>.89.
We next submitted each of the five dependent variables toa
separate Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) with the same
covariates described above. To control the Type I error rate,
the Bonferroni approach was employed. With five univariate
follow-up tests, the alpha was set at α=.01 (.05/5). These
analyses yielded a significant effect of language classification
for the overall GGG ratings, F(2,103)= 12.68, p<.001, and
the economic participation rate, F(2,103)=15.85, p<.001.
The analyses on the remaining dependent variables did not
yield significant results, Fs< 2.9, ps>.06.
As predicted in Hypothesis 1, countries with gen-
dered language scored lower in the GGG overall rating
(M=.67, SE = .004) than countries with a natural gender
(M=.72, SE=.011) or a genderless language (M=.70,
SE= .008). The difference between the latter two groups
was not significant. An identical pattern was found among the
economic participation rating with countries with a gendered
language scoring lower in equality (M=.59, SE=.01) than
countries with a natural gender (M=.71, SE= .025) or a
genderless language (M=.68, SE=.012).
To ensure that the covariates were not masking any
significant effects, we ran the analyses with the covariates
removed. We submitted the five ratings of gender equality to a
one-way Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) with
the language classification as the independent variable. This
yielded a significant effect for language classification, Λ=.69,
F(10,198)=4.11, p<.001.
We next submitted each of the five dependent variables toa
separate Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) with the more
conservative alpha level (α=.01) described above. This
yielded a significant effect of language classification for the
overall GGG ratings, F(2,108)= 8.58, p<.001, the economic
participation rate, F(2,108)=13.34, p<.001, and the effect
for political empowerment approached significance, F
(2,108)=4.31, p=.016. The analyses on the remaining
dependent variables did not yield significant results, Fs<1,
ps> .43.
In support of Hypothesis 2, countries with natural gender
language scored higher in the GGG overall rating (M= .74,
SE=.016) than countries with a genderless (M=.68,
SE=.011) or a gendered language (M=.67, SE = .007). The
difference between the latter two groups was not significant.
An identical pattern was found for the political empowerment
ratings. Countries with natural gender language scored higher
in the political empowerment rating (M=.26, SE=.034) than
countries with a genderless (M=.15, SE=.023) or a gendered
language (M=.15, SE=.014), with no significant difference
between the latter two groups. For the economic participation
rating, countries with a gendered language scored lower in
equality (M=.59, SE=.013) than countries with a natural
gender (M=.74, SE=.031) or a genderless language (M=.67,
SE=.021). The difference between the latter two groups
approached significance, p=.06.
Discussion
Previous research highlights how grammatical gender in
language can shape peoples perceptions (e.g., Boroditsky
et al. 2003) as well as how minor changes in the gendering
of everyday language can impact an individuals judgments,
decisions, and behavior in ways that could influence the
relative status and treatment of men and women at an
interpersonal level (e.g., Bem and Bem 1973; Hamilton et
al. 1992). The current work attempts to merge these two
areas by exploring how grammatical gender in language
relates to gender equality at the societal level. Taken
together, the current findings suggest a relationship between
the gendering of language at a macro level and society-wide
indicators of gender equality.
In the current work, we anticipated that the grammatical
gender language classification of the primary language spoken
within a given country had the potential to predict overall
levels of gender equality in that country. As predicted, it
appears that countries that speak gendered languages evidence
less gender equality than countries that speak natural gender or
genderless languagesespecially in terms of gender differences
in economic participationeven when other factors that could
influence variations in gender equality (e.g., religious tradition,
system of government) are taken into account (Hypothesis 1).
Moreover, the current findings suggest that countries that
speak natural gender languages may be even more apt to
exhibit gender equalityespecially in the form of womens
greater access to political empowermentthan in countries
where gendered or genderless languages are spoken (support
for Hypothesis 2), as countries that speak genderless languages
appear to fall in between countries that speak gendered and
natural gender languages in terms of the various indicators of
gender equality.
As Stahlberg and colleagues (2007) have noted, despite
the assumption that genderless languages are gender fair or
neutral, research has shown that a seemingly gender neutral
term (e.g., they) can be interpreted in a gender biased way.
For example, in their review, Stahlberg and colleagues
recount research investigating possible corrections for the
masculine generic in Spanish, English, German, and Turkish
that have all demonstrated that gender neutral terms can
continue to connote a male bias in the mind of the audience,
and in cases where a gender symmetrical version is
278 Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281
investigated (e.g., he or she), the gender symmetrical
version promotes greater inclusion of women (see, for
example, Braun 2001;Hyde1984;Nissen2002;Scheele
and Gauler 1993). Therefore, genderless languagessuch as
Finnishcan include seemingly gender neutral terms that in
fact connote a male bias (just as natural and gendered
languages), but because they do not possess grammatical
gender, it is not possible to use female pronouns or nouns to
emphasize womens presence in the world,which could
mean androcentricity in a genderless language may even
increase the lexical, semantic and conceptual invisibility of
women(Engelberg 2002,p.128).
In contrast, gendered languages are so fundamentally based
in gender that it is complicated to attempt to reform the gender
asymmetry that is present in pronouns, nouns, dependant
forms, and grammatical rules of agreement (Stahlberg et al.
2007), and including gender-symmetrical forms of nouns and
their dependant forms within sentences would significantly
disturb ones ability to read them (Koniuszaniec and
Blaszkowska 2003). Therefore, natural gender languages
may be the most successful at promoting gender-inclusive
language, because unlike genderless languages they are able
to include gender-symmetrical forms in pronouns and nouns
(thus increasing the visibility of women), but compared to
gendered languages they do not depend upon gendered
structures that would limit the legibility or intelligibility of
symmetrical revisions.
Although the current findings signal the existence of
differences in gender equality between countries with
various grammatical gender language systems, they cannot
address questions about the process through which these
differences emerge or if language systems play a causal
role. Fortunately, by including other possible causal factors
in our model, we know that the pattern of variation in
gender equality cannot be completely explained by divergent
geographic locations, religious traditions, government systems,
or level of development alone, as differences by grammatical
gender language remained even after controlling for other
factors. Future research could explore other possible factors that
predict gender equality cross-culturally or other ways of
operationally definingthevariablestobeincludedinthe
model. For example, in the current study, we used continent as
basis for defining the various geographic locations. However,
smaller regional differences might be more appropriate for
teasing apart geographic influences on gender equality.
Whereas Europe did not stand out from all other continents as
having greater gender equality, five of the top ten countries
for overall gender equality are Nordic countries (Denmark,
Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). However, in addition
to a shared geographic proximity, these countries (with the
exception of Finland) also share a history of Scandinavian
cultural and linguistic tradition. Thus, it is difficult to tease
apart these influences.
Although in the current work, we have classified
languages into three distinct categories on the basis of the
extent to which grammatical gender is evident, it is
important to note that there are vast differences in the
way grammatical gender manifests within each individual
language. For instance, gendered languages differ greatly in
the extent to which lexical gender is tied to the semantic
categories of sex and gender (i.e., distinctions between male
and female or masculine and feminine; Comrie 1999), and
these differences can impact the extent to which grammatical
gender influences gendered perceptions. For example,
Vigliocco et a l. (2005) found that grammatical gender affects
meaning more when the mapping between grammatical
gender and the semantic categories for sex and gender are
more direct (e.g., in Italian) compared to when the
relationship between grammatical gender and semantic
gender are largely arbitrary (e.g., German). However, despite
the variations in the way grammatical gender manifests
within gendered, natural gender, and genderless languages,
the fact that consistent differences between these broad
categories emerged is perhaps even more impressive. Future
research should investigate the extent to which semantic
mapping plays a role in cross-cultural language differences
and how this could impact both efforts at reforming gendered
language and the extent to which grammatical gender
impacts everyday gender relations. Is it the case that
countries with gendered languages where the mapping
is largely arbitrary demonstrate less gender inequality
compared to countries where the mapping is consistent? The
current findings suggest that perhaps it is less about whether
the language contains grammatical gender per se, but rather the
ability to reducing sexist language that predicts societal
indicators of gender equality. Given this, we would expect
that whichever language form allows for creating gender
symmetry should be associated with greater gender equality.
It is also important to note that even in languages that are
deemed genderlessin our grammatical gender classifica-
tion, language conventions exist that may allow for gender
inequalities. For example, in Chinese, characters are often
comprised of a collection of radicals (which themselves can
be stand alone characters). Research suggests that terms
comprising a radical that as a standalone character
represents the word sonare generally viewed more
positively than terms comprising the character for woman
(Cherng et al. 2009), despite the fact that both sets of terms
were generally judged to be positive. Thus, grammatical
gender is only one facet of how language becomes
gendered which may have wider social implications.
For many years, feminist critics have been calling for
language reform to reduce or eliminate the use of gender
asymmetries, masculine generics, and other biases in
language and make language more gender fair (Martyna
1980). There have been clear efforts on the part of
Sex Roles (2012) 66:268281 279
professional organizations, publishing companies, and even
governmental organizations in different countries and across
many different languages to address these concerns (Gabriel
and Gygax 2008;Martyna1980; Stahlberg et al. 2007).
Despite the notion that grammatical gender is harmless (or
even poetic; see Deutscher 2010), given the differences in
gender equality that emerged in the current work, it might be
worth considering how grammatical gender impacts attempts
at language reform, and whether the limitations of gendered
and genderless languages to adequately reform sexist
language could impact real world perceptions of gender,
and ultimately the everyday lives of women and men.
The current investigation explored cross-cultural variations
in grammatical gender in language and gender equality.
Taking such a macro approach allows for the discovery
of sweeping trends, but does not allow for the discovery
of nuanced differences between individual countries and
languages or the understanding of how languages are
communicated and social aspects of gender status are
negotiated in everyday situations. Thus, we hope the current
work will be a catalyst for future work to further explore how
grammatical gender operates in everyday communication and
how differences in the use of grammatical gender across
languages may not only impact cognitive interpretations (as
others have already noted; e.g., Deutscher 2010; Boroditsky et
al. 2003), but possibly the gender relations of men and
women. To truly understand the intersection of gender in
language, cognition, and culture, researchers will ultimately
need to draw connections between large-scale cross-cultural
trends, cognitive process models, and experimental research
on interpersonal behavior. Moreover, although language
may very well play a role in gender equality and
language reform could be a fruitful avenue for improving
the status of women, it is important to remember that
linguistic modification must be accompanied by social
and political adjustments in order to truly change
existing asymmetries in gender.
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... In this regard, it is necessary to begin by clarifying that languages vary in terms of how they mark grammatical gender. Over the years, different taxonomies have been proposed on the basis of grammatical gender (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). The most recent is the one proposed by Gygax et al. (2019), which considers five types of languages: languages with grammatical gender, languages with natural gender, languages with a combination of grammatical and natural gender, and languages without gender -with some traces of grammatical gender and without traces-. ...
... In this regard, it is necessary to begin by clarifying that languages vary in terms of how they mark grammatical gender. Over the years, different taxonomies have been proposed on the basis of grammatical gender (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). The most recent is the one proposed by Gygax et al. (2019), which considers five types of languages: languages with grammatical gender, languages with natural gender, languages with a combination of grammatical and natural gender, and languages without gender -with some traces of grammatical gender and without traces-. ...
... In this regard, it is necessary to begin by clarifying that languages vary in terms of how they mark grammatical gender. Over the years, different taxonomies have been proposed on the basis of grammatical gender (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). The most recent is the one proposed by Gygax et al. (2019), which considers five types of languages: languages with grammatical gender, languages with natural gender, languages with a combination of grammatical and natural gender, and languages without gender -with some traces of grammatical gender and without traces-. ...
Article
Full-text available
there is empirical evidence in different languages on how the computation of gender morphology during psycholinguistic processing affects the conformation of sex-generic representations. However, there is no empirical evidence on the processing of non-binary morphological variants in Spanish (-x or -e) in contrast to the generic masculine variant (-o). To analyze this phenomenon, we conducted two experiments: an acceptability judgment task and a sentence comprehension task. The results show differences depending on the task. This means that the underlying processes put into play in each one generate different effects. In acceptability judgments, which involve strategic processes mediated by beliefs and the linguistic norm, the generic masculine is more acceptable to refer to mixed groups. In the sentence comprehension task, which inquires about automatic processes and implicit representations, the non-binary forms consistently elicited a reference to mixed groups. Furthermore, the response times indicated that these morphological variants do not entail a higher processing cost than the generic masculine. psycholinguistics; gender; morphology; gender stereotypes
... In this regard, it is necessary to begin by clarifying that languages vary in terms of how they mark grammatical gender. Over the years, different taxonomies have been proposed on the basis of grammatical gender (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). The most recent is the one proposed by Gygax et al. (2019), which considers five types of languages: languages with grammatical gender, languages with natural gender, languages with a combination of grammatical and natural gender, and languages without gender -with some traces of grammatical gender and without traces-. ...
... In this regard, it is necessary to begin by clarifying that languages vary in terms of how they mark grammatical gender. Over the years, different taxonomies have been proposed on the basis of grammatical gender (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). The most recent is the one proposed by Gygax et al. (2019), which considers five types of languages: languages with grammatical gender, languages with natural gender, languages with a combination of grammatical and natural gender, and languages without gender -with some traces of grammatical gender and without traces-. ...
... In this regard, it is necessary to begin by clarifying that languages vary in terms of how they mark grammatical gender. Over the years, different taxonomies have been proposed on the basis of grammatical gender (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). The most recent is the one proposed by Gygax et al. (2019), which considers five types of languages: languages with grammatical gender, languages with natural gender, languages with a combination of grammatical and natural gender, and languages without gender -with some traces of grammatical gender and without traces-. ...
Article
Full-text available
There is empirical evidence in different languages on how the computation of gender morphology during psycholinguistic processing affects the conformation of sex-generic representations. However, there is no empirical evidence on the processing of non-binary morphological variants in Spanish (-x ore) in contrast to the generic masculine variant (-o). To analyze this phenomenon, we conducted two experiments: an acceptability judgment task and a sentence comprehension task. The results show differences depending on the task. This means that the underlying processes put into play in each one generate different effects. In acceptability judgments, which involve strategic processes mediated by beliefs and the linguistic norm, the generic masculine is more acceptable to refer to mixed groups. In the sentence comprehension task, which inquires about automatic processes and implicit representations, the non-binary forms consistently elicited a reference to mixed groups. Furthermore, the response times indicated that these morphological variants do not entail a higher processing cost than the generic masculine.
... En este sentido, es preciso comenzar por aclarar que las lenguas difieren respecto de cómo marcan el género gramatical. A lo largo de los años se han propuesto diferentes taxonomías (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). La más reciente es la propuesta por Gygax et al. (2019) que considera cinco tipos de lenguas: lenguas con género gramatical, lenguas con 1 En este trabajo hemos decidido utilizar la forma morfológica con [-e] para referir a personas de cualquier género. ...
... En este sentido, es preciso comenzar por aclarar que las lenguas difieren respecto de cómo marcan el género gramatical. A lo largo de los años se han propuesto diferentes taxonomías (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). La más reciente es la propuesta por Gygax et al. (2019) que considera cinco tipos de lenguas: lenguas con género gramatical, lenguas con 1 En este trabajo hemos decidido utilizar la forma morfológica con [-e] para referir a personas de cualquier género. ...
... En este sentido, es preciso comenzar por aclarar que las lenguas difieren respecto de cómo marcan el género gramatical. A lo largo de los años se han propuesto diferentes taxonomías (CORBETT, 1991;DIXON, 1987;LEAPER, 2014;PREWITT-FREILINO;CASWELL;LAAKSO, 2012). La más reciente es la propuesta por Gygax et al. (2019) que considera cinco tipos de lenguas: lenguas con género gramatical, lenguas con 1 En este trabajo hemos decidido utilizar la forma morfológica con [-e] para referir a personas de cualquier género. ...
Article
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Existe evidencia empírica en distintas lenguas sobre cómo la computación de la morfología de género durante el procesamiento psicolingüístico incide en la conformación de representaciones sexo-genéricas. Sin embargo, no existe evidencia empírica sobre el procesamiento de variantes morfológicas no binarias en español (-x o-e) en contraste con la variante de masculino genérico (-o). Para analizar este fenómeno, realizamos dos experimentos: una tarea de juicios de aceptabilidad y una de comprensión de oraciones para evaluar procesamiento online. Los resultados muestran diferencias dependientes de la tarea, es decir, de los procesos subyacentes que se ponen en juego en cada una. En los juicios de aceptabilidad, que involucran procesos estratégicos mediados por las creencias y la norma lingüística, el masculino genérico resulta más aceptable para referir a grupos mixtos. En la tarea de comprensión de oraciones, que indaga sobre procesos automáticos y representaciones implícitas, las formas no binarias provocaron consistentemente una referencia hacia grupos mixtos y los tiempos de respuesta indicaron que estas variantes morfológicas no conllevan un costo de procesamiento mayor que el masculino genérico.
... Sa pag-aaral na ginawa nina Prewitt-Freilino et al. (2012) ay sinuri nila kung may pagkakaiba sa "gender equality" ang mga bansa depende kung sila ay gumagamit ng "gendered languages," "natural gender languages" o "genderless language." Nakita nila na ang mga bansa na gumagamit ng "gendered language" ay mas nakitaan ng mas mababang ebidensya ng "gender equality" kumpara sa mga bansang gumagamit ng "natural gender languages" at "genderless language." ...
... Mahalaga din ito dahil sa argumento ng "gender-fair language" na maaaring makatulong sa pagpapalawig ng "gender equality" dahil maaari itong makabawas sa "gender stereotyping and discrimination" (Sczensny, Formanowicz, at Moser, 2016). Lumabas din sa isang pag-aaral na ang mga bansa na gumagamit ng "gendered language" ay mas nakitaan ng mas mababang ebidensya ng "gender equality" kumpara sa mga bansang gumagamit ng "natural gender languages" at "genderless language" (Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2012 (Miciano, 2001) Konsepto ng Kasarian (Unger at Crawford, 1992). ...
Article
Ang pangunahing layunin ng pag-aaral ay makabuo ng klasipikasyong pangkasarian sa mga salitang nominal sa Filipino na may malalim na integrasyon ng kasarian sa wika at kulturang Pilipino. Gamit ang deskriptibong pamamaraan, ang mga mananaliksik ay pumili ng tatlong panggramatikang aklat sa Filipino na kung saan, nakalikom ng mga halimbawang salita na may kaugnayan sa kasarian. Batay sa pagsusuri ng mga salita ay nakabuo ng klasipikasyon ng kasarian sa nominal na salita. Ito ay ang sumusunod: Kasariang Maylapi, Kasariang Markadong Semantikal, Kasariang Kontekstwalisado, at Kasariang Di Kontekstwalisado. Natuklasan ng pag-aaral na ang mga salitang nominal sa Filipino ay may taglay na kasarian tulad ng pambabae, panlalaki, walang kasarian at di tiyak batay sa mga halimbawa sa mga aklat panggramatika. Kaugnay nito masasabing ang kasarian ay hindi makikita sa estruktura ng isang wika kung hindi sa pakikipag-ugnayan nito sa semantikal na aspekto ng salita at lipunan (konteksto). Nirerekomenda na gamitin ang nabuong klasipikasyon ng nominal na salita upang maging paunang daan sa integrasyon ng Gender and Development (GAD) sa larangan ng wika na hindi gaanong nabibigyan ng pansin.
... It is well known that different languages mark grammatical gender in different ways. In this sense, various taxonomies have been proposed over the years (Corbett 1991, Dixon 1987, Gygax et al. 2019, Hellinger and Bußmann 2001, Leaper 2014, Prewitt-Freilino et al. 2012. One of the most recent classifications (Gygax et al. 2019) distinguishes between five types of languages: with grammatical gender, with a combination of grammatical and natural gender, with natural gender, without gender with some traces of grammatical gender, and without gender. ...
Article
Full-text available
Several grammatical studies have focused on the study of morphological innovations used as non-binary forms in Spanish (-x; -e). However, there are no experimental studies that analyze their psycholinguistic processing or the multiple and complex relationships between production and comprehension in non- binary language. To analyze this phenomenon, we performed a sentence reading and comprehension task. We recorded reading times, response times, and accuracy. We considered morphology, stereotypicality and frequency of use of non-binary forms in the participants as predictors. The results show specialization of the non-binary forms as generic morphological variants, as opposed to the generic masculine. The non- binary forms consistently elicited a reference to mixed groups and response times showed that these morphological variants do not carry a higher processing cost than the generic masculine. Moreover, it is possible to see that the conscious use of non-binary forms influences the comprehension processes of the different variants of gender morphology: as the voluntary use of non-binary forms increases, the generic masculine seems to concentrate its reference to groups of men exclusively. Thus, in addition to showing general evidence regarding the processing costs and comprehension of gender morphology in Spanish, our data allow us to observe a potential reciprocal link between production and comprehension processes that deserves further study.
... Consistent with the converging evidence of the linguistic mapping of gender stereotype across languages (T. E. S. Charlesworth et al., 2021;Garg et al., 2018;Lewis & Lupyan, 2020;Tavits & Pérez, 2019), a previous cross-national research has shown that the more explicit gender information is encoded linguistically, as in grammatical gender languages, the more likely that gender stereotypes are made salient and thus the higher are the chances of reproducing sexist beliefs in speakers (Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2012). ...
Thesis
The various facets of gender play an important role in shaping our cultures. People are categorized into males or females based on their biological sex; human languages differ in how gender is encoded in the language structure; and in society, different gender ideologies exist concerning what roles and positions men and women should occupy. The relationships between these facets are often intertwined. In this dissertation, I first investigate the relationship between language and people’s mental representations of gender (Chapters 2 and 3). In particular, I ask if assigning grammatical masculine or feminine gender to nouns denoting inanimate objects would make native speakers think of these objects as having “male” or “female” qualities, a language effect as postulated by the Neo-Whorfian hypothesis that linguistic categories affect people’s construal of the world entities. Extensive piloting work on this topic suggests null effects of grammatical gender on speakers’ conceptualization of objects. Unlike object nouns, the grammatical gender of person nouns is meaningful in that it has a semantic underpinning (i.e. male – masculine; female - feminine). I then examine the influences of grammatical gender on people’s perceptions of male-female distributions across various professions in two experiments, and found that different language forms induce differential male and female associations, some of which are consistent, others biased. Finally, I explore the relationship between individuals’ moral attitudes on gender equality – the extent to which gender equality is deemed to be a moral imperative – and their trust in written scientific evidence of hiring bias disfavoring women in academia (Chapter 4). Six experiments show that people of greater moral commitment to gender equality are more receptive of research revealing a hiring bias against females. Overall, the dissertation demonstrates that the encoding of gender in language has impacts on the mental representations of gender groups but likely not on those of inanimate objects, and that individuals’ gender attitudes influence their reactions to research on gender bias.
... Gender is encoded in pronouns (e.g., he, she) and kinship relations (e.g., brother, sister) in English. In many other languages, however, all nouns (including inanimate ones) are categorized by grammatical gender [58], whereas languages like Turkish, Finnish, and Indonesian are categorized as 'genderless'; even their pronouns are gender neutral [59]. In Indonesian, a salient semantic feature, missing in English pronouns and kinship terms, is the social relation between participants (e.g., siblings are categorized for whether they are older or younger). ...
Article
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English is the dominant language in the study of human cognition and behavior: the individuals studied by cognitive scientists, as well as most of the scientists themselves, are frequently English speakers. However, English differs from other languages in ways that have consequences for the whole of the cognitive sciences, reaching far beyond the study of language itself. Here, we review an emerging body of evidence that highlights how the particular characteristics of English and the linguistic habits of English speakers bias the field by both warping research programs (e.g., overemphasizing features and mechanisms present in English over others) and overgeneralizing observations from English speakers' behaviors, brains, and cognition to our entire species. We propose mitigating strategies that could help avoid some of these pitfalls.
... Dès lors, il est intéressant de se focaliser sur les structures linguistiques genrées, car le genre fait partie des caractéristiques grammaticales les plus stables d'une langue (Wichmann et Holman [2009]). Il n'existe aucune langue qui ne fasse pas du tout de distinction entre les sexes (Prewitt-Freilino et al. [2012]) mais toutes ne possèdent pas un sys-tème grammatical genré. L'apprentissage de ces structures linguistiques genrées s'acquiert dès le plus jeune âge et influence par exemple l'âge auquel l'enfant prend conscience de son identité de genre. ...
... Las investigaciones en tipología lingüística han mostrado que las distintas lenguas del mundo marcan el género gramatical de modos diferentes. En este sentido, a lo largo de los años se han propuesto diversas taxonomías (Corbett, 1991;Dixon, 1987;Gygax et al., 2019;Hellinger y Bußmann, 2001;Leaper, 2014;Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2012). Una de las más recientes (Gygax et al., 2019) distingue entre cinco tipos de lenguas: con género gramatical, con combinación de género gramatical y natural, con género natural, sin género con algunos rastros de género gramatical, y sin género. ...
Article
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Diversos estudios gramaticales se han abocado al estudio de las innovaciones morfológicas utilizadas como formas no binarias en español (-x; -e). Sin embargo, no existen trabajos experimentales que analicen su procesamiento psicolingüístico ni las múltiples y complejas relaciones entre producción y comprensión en lo que respecta al lenguaje no binario. Para analizar este fenómeno, realizamos una tarea de lectura y comprensión de oraciones con hablantes de español de Argentina. Registramos tiempos de lectura y de respuesta, precisión y frecuencia de uso de las formas no binarias en les participantes. Los resultados muestran una especialización de las formas no binarias como variantes morfológicas genéricas, en contraposición al masculino genérico. Las formas no binarias provocaron consistentemente una referencia hacia grupos mixtos y los tiempos de respuesta mostraron que estas variantes morfológicas no conllevan un costo de procesamiento mayor que el masculino genérico. En este trabajo1, nos concentramos también en el análisis de un factor definido como “uso habitual consciente” de formas no binarias y su efecto sobre los procesos de comprensión. Es posible ver que el uso consciente de formas no binarias influye en los procesos de comprensión de las distintas variantes de morfología de género: a medida que crece el uso voluntario de formas no binarias, el masculino genérico parece concentrar su referencia hacia grupos de varones exclusivamente. Es así que, además de mostrar evidencia general en relación con los costos de procesamiento y modos de comprensión de la morfología de género en español, nuestros datos permiten observar una potencial vinculación recíproca entre procesos de producción y comprensión que merece ser estudiada con mayor profundidad.