Western Papers in Linguistics / Cahiers linguistiques de Western

Article Title

Bucking the Linguistic Binary: Gender Neutral Language in English, Swedish, French, and German


In a society built around gendered language, there is seldom enough linguistic “room” left for those who identify outside of the binary gender system. Queer and transgender communities have begun to identify the need for gender neutral language that will aid them in expressing non-binary identities; however, the question remains whether or not suitable gender neutral alternatives can be assimilated into linguistic structures, and whether there is a difference in this process (and the use and acceptability of neutral language) based on the grammatical gender system of the language in question. Through textual research as well as a preliminary research survey on the use, acceptance and suitability of gender neutral language in English, French, German, and Swedish, this paper explores the intersections between language and gender as they affect the lived experience of transgender individuals. Results of this study point to significant differences in transgender experiences in differing grammatical gender systems (such as the near impossibility to express certain identities in the grammatically gendered languages of French or German). This research also speaks to how we view the process of representation through language in the struggle against oppression and how this struggle (and the activism that surrounds it) must vary based on the linguistic context in which it takes place.

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