Can gender-fairness be established in language? : an evaluation of the acceptance of language change in a German speech community
In 1980, the first German proposals for gender-fairness in language were published in Germany. They suggested many gender-fair alternatives to items such as the generic masculine, which were believed to convey androcentric or sexist meanings. Since then critics of androcentrism in the German language, together with subsequent antidiscrimination legislation, have instigated several linguistic changes that aim at an equal treatment and representation of the two genders. This ongoing reform of German is, however, primarily noticeable in the official, and especially the written, form of German; there are effective laws that ensure the use of non-discriminatory items in this domain. In private language, on the other hand - both spoken and written - there appears to be less readiness to use gender-fair terms. However, until now there has been little empirical research that investigates the extent to which people are willing to speak and write gender-fair language in their everyday private lives. Thus, there is little knowledge of whether speakers of German are aware of any sexism in their language, whether they agree with the criticisms that have been made of the androcentric aspects of their language, or whether they approve of the many gender-fair innovations. The present case study, using a triangulation approach, investigates these questions. The research is conducted in a local speech community in North-Rhine Westphalia. It focuses on the inhabitants of this community as a source of information. More generally, the study emphasises the strong but often neglected relationship between two fields of study within sociolinguistics that are often kept separate: 'Language and Gender'and 'Language Planning'.