Man as His own Worst Enemy: Lexical and Pronominal Masculine Generics - An Online Survey on Language Use and Attitudes

Forskningsoutput: AvhandlingMagisteruppsatsAvhandlingar


The purpose of this thesis was to study masculine generics in English. The goals were reached by conducting a meta-analysis of selected previous works on masculine generics and an online survey on language use and attitudes. The previous studies showed that the use of masculine generics in English supports a male biased world view as women are, lingually, invisible in these generics. The studies also showed that the use of masculine generics has decreased during the past few decades, perhaps due to increasing gender equality. However, masculine generics are not extinct. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis was to map to what degree masculine generics are still used and whether they are still accepted as generics. Another goal was to find out how popular the gender neutral equivalents of masculine generics are. On top of this, the participants of the survey were asked whether they thought a new, gender neutral 3rd person singular pronoun could be added to English, which many transgender organisations have suggested, and which has already taken place in Swedish with the addition of the gender neutral hen pronoun.

The survey gathered approximately 1600 participants, of which 1578 could be selected to the final data of this thesis. The survey was conducted online and both native English speakers and fluent English speaking native Finnish speakers were sought as participants. Finnish was chosen as an example of a gender neutral language; the purpose was to find out whether native speakers of a gender neutral language would view masculine generics differently, compared to native speakers of a natural gender language, English. On top of native language, the three other variables that were considered in the analysis were age, gender and education.

The results of the survey confirmed those of the earlier studies: the majority of participants chose gender neutral equivalents rather than masculine generics. The so called singular they was by far the most chosen option, but some participants opted for he or she -constructions as well. A worthy proportion of participants (11-28%) also chose masculine generics, which shows us that these generics are not extinct yet, even though they are more often than not interpreted as sex-specific, as earlier studies have shown.

Out of the four variables that were considered in the analysis, the participants' native language and gender seemed to have affected their answers the most. As an example, 28% of male participants and only 8% of female participants felt that gender neutral language use is not important. Moreover, male participants chose masculine generics significantly more often than did female participants. Reliable conclusions based on the participants' age and education could not be made, as differences were either not significant enough or inconclusive.

The majority of the participants thought that gender neutral language use is important and they also believed that language can affect the way we view reality. The survey also revealed that a considerable amount of participants (24%) felt that a new, gender neutral 3rd person pronoun is needed in English.
StatusPublicerad - maj 2015
MoE-publikationstypG2 Masteruppsats, polyteknisk masteruppsats


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