Feminist language reform

Feminist language reform or feminist language planning refers to the effort, often of political and grassroots movements, to change how language is used to gender people, activities and ideas on an individual and societal level.[1] This initiative has been adopted in countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and Australia, and has been tentatively linked to higher gender equality.[2][3][4][5]


Linguistic activism and feminist authorship stemming from Second Wave Feminism in the 1960s and 70s began to draw attention to gender bias in language, including "the uncovering of the gendered nature of many linguistic rules and norms".[6] Scholarship such as Dennis Baron's "Grammar and Gender" and Anne Bodine's "Androcentrism in Prescriptive Grammar" uncovered historical male regulation to promote male-centric language such as the use of "he" as a generic pronoun.[7][8] In certain cases the reaction to proposed non-sexist language use often relied on Ad Hominem arguments, calling into question the author's linguistic expertise instead of disproving their theories.[6]

Exposition and analysis of sexism in language through a grassroots feminist linguistics movement continued throughout the 80's and 90's, including study across languages and speech communities such as Germany and France.[9][10] Study and documentation of gendered language has since spread to cover over 30 languages.[11]

Feminist Language Planning has more recently been instituted centrally in countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and Australia, with mixed results.[2][3][5]


Cases of feminist language planning have taken a largely sociolinguistic approach in which the goal is to enact social change through the reform of language and language use.[6] This approach to language planning is divided into four stages:

  1. Fact-finding in which language issues are identified and reported.
  2. Planning in which solutions to the issue are proposed.
  3. Implementation in which agreed upon methods are tested and the final solution implemented.
  4. Evaluation and Feedback in which the results of the plan are assessed for effectiveness and the overall affects of the plan are evaluated.[6][12]

See also

Further reading


  1. Liddicoat, A. J. (2011). "Feminist language planning". Current Issues in Language Planning. 12 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1080/14664208.2011.548314.
  2. 1 2 Milles, K. (2011). "Feminist Language Planning in Sweden". Current Issues in Language Planning. 12 (1): 21–33. doi:10.1080/14664208.2011.541388.
  3. 1 2 Wyss, E. L. (1997). ""Feminist" Language Change: Some Reflections on the Situation in Switzerland". Sprachspiegel. 53 (3): 85–92.
  4. Prewitt-Freilino, J.; 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: A Journal of Research. 66 (3): 268–281. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5.
  5. 1 2 Pauwels, Anne (1993). "Language planning, language reform and the sexes in australia". Australian Review of Applied Linguistics.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Pauwels, Anne (2003). "Linguistic Sexism and Feminist Linguistic Activism". The Handbook and Language of Gender.
  7. Baron, Dennis (1987). Grammar and Gender. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  8. Bodine, Anne (1975). "Androcentrism in prescriptive grammar: singular 'they', sex-indefinite 'he', and 'he or she'". Language in Society.
  9. Leue, Elisabeth (2000). "Gender and Language in Germany". Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe.
  10. Fleischman, S. (1997). "The battle of feminism and bon usage: instituting nonsexist usage in French". French Review.
  11. Hellinger, M.; Bußmann, H. (2001). Gender across languages The linguistic representation of women and men. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamin's Publishing Company. pp. Preface.
  12. Majstorovic, Danijela; Lassen, Inger (2011). Living with Patriarchy : Discursive Constructions of Gendered Subjects across Cultures. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 74. ISBN 9789027206367.
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