- Professor Susanne Kord
- Dr Geraldine Horan
Women (Re)Writing Language
Literary Approaches to the Linguistic Representation of Women and Men in English and German
Since the 1970s activists and linguists have argued for a more inclusive linguistic representation of women and men. As a result, editorial guidelines, legislation and everyday usage now incorporate more inclusive terms. However, in many instances men continue to be referenced as the linguistic norm. The research questions guiding this thesis are: ‘Can literary texts help to shape attitudes toward inclusive language?’ and ‘Can they help to instigate linguistic change?’
My starting point is narrative research. Zwaan showed that literary texts are processed differently to non-fiction. Furthermore, literary texts are able to ‘get under the radar’ of certain preconceptions, Dal Cin et al. found.
To provide the linguistic frame, I introduce key thinkers and findings from the English- and German-language context. Lakoff and Trömel-Plötz first problematised linguistic representation, followed by researchers such as Sczesny et al. who empirically demonstrated the impact of language on imagination.
I combine literary, linguistic and sociological research methods to evaluate the effectiveness of fiction. Firstly, I assess texts in a wider philosophical framework. I discuss Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Stefan’s Häutungen in relation to Leibniz’s work on language and logic. I evaluate Arnold’s The Cook and the Carpenter and Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time with reference to Wittgenstein’s notion that ‘eine Sprache vorstellen heißt, sich eine Lebensform vorstellen’. And I assess translations of Brantenberg’s Egalias døtre in dialogue with Freud’s thought on humour. Secondly, I conduct a focus group study to gain insight into reader responses. Analysing the data with grounded theory shows that literary texts raise awareness of the importance of inclusive language. Moreover, literary texts encourage readers to reconsider dominant practices.
Together, the two perspectives illustrate the usefulness of literary texts. Fiction, I argue in conclusion, is an effective tool to advance more inclusive linguistic representation.