Friday, July 13, 2012

the least sexist countries have gendered languages

The title of Gendered Grammar Linked to Global Sexism is misleading; the short article is worth reading because it notes that the link is weak and many exceptions exist:
...languages with no gender at all — where even "he" and "she" are represented by the same word — are associated with the most gender inequality,

...genderless languages didn't fare as well as natural gender languages such as English...

There is not a one-to-one correlation between language and equality. Iran, for example, is a predominately Persian-speaking country, and Persian is a genderless language.

...the results don't indicate that language differences necessarily cause the inequality.
I googled for a simpler test of the relationship between gendered language and sexism.

Here are the top 20 least sexist countries in the world
20. Canada 19. United States 18. Latvia 17. Netherlands 16. Sri Lanka 15. United Kingdom 14. Belgium 13. Germany 12. South Africa 11. Spain 10. Switzerland 9. Philippines 8. Lesotho 7. Denmark 6. Ireland 5. New Zealand 4. Sweden 3. Finland 2. Norway 1. Iceland
And here's a partial list of genderless languages:
Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Persian, Basque, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Quechuan, Tagalog, Dravidian languages, Turkish
Only the Finns make both lists. They're great, but the evidence suggests it's not because of their genderless language.

So if I re-embrace the generic "he", you know why.

PS. The Tagalog peoples are a third of the Philippines, so you could argue that language is a factor there, but they're still outnumbered by people speaking gendered languages.

19 comments:

  1. You left out Farsi, Tamil, Tuda, Swahili, and spoken Mandarin. And it seems to me Oskar made this point in the popcorn scene. Of course, that book isn't out yet.

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    1. Ooops. Sorry. That was me.

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    2. Farsi is Persian and Mandarin is included under Chinese languages at that link, but you're right; someone could expand that Wikipedia list.

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    3. And Tamil comes in under the Dravidian flag.

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    4. Steve, I tweaked my text to note that my list is incomplete. Do you remember where you got yours?

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    5. Mark Mandel, my usual consulting linguist.

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  2. Also, Japanese is at least as gendered as English... What's the criteria for "gender less"

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    1. The Wikipedia list I used was focusing on pronouns.

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    2. Oops, not focusing on pronouns, now that I checked back--I was remembering another site, I think. But I grant that the call of "genderless" can be tricky.

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    3. Hmm... Well, Japanese definitely has gendered pronouns, although not gendered nouns... As an aside, Maori is gender less too, but NZ is number 5 ;-p the others I can't speak to.

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    4. Upon further thought, you cant even say "gender less they" in Japanese... Basically you say "him-plural" or "her-plural" with the background idea that groups won't be mixed... In cases of mixed groups, you usually chose the more numerous, or else use the most important member (or at least the one you are mostly talking about) more "him and his group" or "her and her group".

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    5. Thanks for adding Maori. Its influence in New Zealand is probably small: Wikipedia says the language division there is:

      English (95.9%)
      Māori (4.2%)

      But small groups can have enormous effects on a country, of course.

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    6. 4.2% as FIRST language speakers would actually be grossly overstating it... We learn it in school, but more as verbs, so pronouns wouldn't apply...

      Japanese not really being gender less actually probably strengthens your correlation... Since Japan isn't in the list of less sexist countries... Taking it off the list of gender less languages removes a negative match.

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  3. As far as I could tell from the link, the researchers are referring to grammatical gender, i.e. languages where every noun is assigned a gender and is either male, female or (sometimes) neutral. This is different from having gendered pronouns. For example, English does not have grammatical gender, but it does have gendered pronouns. Finnish apparently has neither.

    Of the top twenty countries you posted, at least five speak languages which have a grammatical gender, Canada partially speaks a gendered language, since French does have a grammatical gender, while English does not (no idea how First nations languages work). There are also several languages where I simply don't know if they have grammatical gender or not.

    Speakers of languages without grammatical gender such as English have problems getting their head around the concept that e.g. a table or a chair could have a gender. So they come up with all sorts of theories about how assigning gender to tables and chairs must naturally influence the thinking of those speaking gendered languages. Most of those theories are - politely speaking - bunk. As a native speaker of a gendered language, I can assure you that I don't think of a table as male or a bridge as female or a girl as genderless - grammatical gender merely tells me which article, which pronoun or which form of an adjective to use.

    Looking at the list of the supposedly least sexist countries, I also wonder how that list was compiled. For example, Ireland still bans birth control let alone abortion, which IMO should kick it off any list of least sexist countries.

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    1. The full report is here: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2010.pdf It seems to be a mix of health care, education, and opportunity for women.

      As for the theories about inherently sexist language, yep, bunk. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis seems only to be loved by social justice slacktivists these days.

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    2. SFF folks in general are big fans of the Sapir Whorf hypothesis. Samuel Delaney and Jack Vance even wrote novels based on it, even though that was in the 1960s. Still, Sapir Whorf still has some credit in SFF circles and almost none outside.

      Of course, there is significant overlap between Social Justice people and the SFF community.

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    3. It's a lovely theory. What you have to remember about SF writers is they're actually fantasy writers who're trying to make their fantasy a bit more plausible. But it's still fantasy. So SF writers can do great things with notions like Sapir Whorf. The problem comes when SJ folks treat SF fantasies as if they're real.

      Which, now that I think of it, is all that SJers do.

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  4. First of all, the Gender Gap study is totally wrong and any look at the least, with more speculation than just immediate acceptance, would be able to rip it apart in seconds.

    Germany is still a country that has a 'traditional' holiday of allowing men to cheat on their wives for one day every year and not be 'punished' for it. Yeah, very egalitarian of them. And ever try talking to some German women about this? Any one of them over the age of 25 would tell you how much Opa just adores the idea of men and women being equal (sarcasm intended).

    In Iceland, a woman is still seen as some sort of strange oddity if she doesn't want to have children.

    The Phillipines are some of the most notorious sex traffickers of young women IN THE WORLD. And the amount of brothels on the island, just for foreign military personnel, is staggering even next to Thailand.

    This 'study' is just more propaganda aimed at gullible liberals, ( because sexist, racist, homophobes don't even run searches on 'least sexist' types of terms ), who WANT to believe there are 'least sexist' countries at all but don't want to have to do long term studies in high numbers of population samples, which are very, very expensive to do. It's also why most 'studies' are funded by corporations.

    Like any oppressive methodology, so long as it's serving the upper tiers of power in a country it will stay put and be reinforced. The only way to get rid of it, is to repopulate those upper tiers with TRULY open, unbigoted minds. And sexism is just another nice word for 'slavery' or 'abuse'. It never implies, like homophobia or ageism or racism, anything good whatsoever.

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    1. Oh, this info could be all kinds of flawed. But still, where's the evidence that changing language changes behavior?

      We need the revolution, and then language may very well change to reflect the new world. But currently, capitalists are just learning the approved ways to not sound sexist or racist while they're shafting us.

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