He, (s)he/she, and they

Language ideologies and ideological conflict in gendered language reform





performativity, linguistic relativity, ideology, language reform, anti-sexist language, gender fair language, gender neutral language, anti-cis-sexist language


Gender-focussed language reform movements are underpinned by not only gender but also language ideologies. This study explores the relationship between these ideologies across anti-sexist and anti-cis-sexist reform movements. The movements target differing outcomes and align with differing ideologies, but I argue that they share an underlying goal and underlying ideological tenets. While anti-sexist reform seeks to improve the status and render legible the experiences of a subordinate but legible identity, namely women, anti-cis-sexist reform aims to unsettle cis-sexist assumptions of gender and render greater gender diversity legible. In targeting these goals, anti-sexist reformers cluster around forms of linguistic relativity, while anti-cis-sexist reformers focus on linguistic performativity. Both ideological stances, however, share underlying conceptualizations of language as limiting and as acting in the world, while both goals share an underlying commitment to harm avoidance. This paper highlights the role of language ideologies, in addition to gender ideologies, in gender-focussed language reform.


Ansara, Y. G., & Hegarty, P. (2013). Misgendering in English language contexts: Applying non-cisgenderist methods to feminist research. International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches, 7(2), 160–177. https://doi.org/10.5172/mra.2013.7.2.160 DOI: https://doi.org/10.5172/mra.2013.7.2.160

Awbery, G., Jones, K., & Morris, D. (2002). The politics of language and gender in Wales. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages, vol 2 (pp. 313–330). John Benjamins. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/impact.10.18awb

Banegas, D. L., & López, M. F. (2021). Inclusive language in Spanish as interpellation to educational authorities. Applied Linguistics, 42(2), 342–346. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amz026 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amz026

Bem, S. L., & Bem, D. J. (1973). Does sex-biased job advertising “aid and abet” sex discrimination? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 3(1), 6–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1973.tb01290.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1973.tb01290.x

Bing, J. M., & Bergvall, V. L. (1996). The question of questions: Beyond binary thinking. In V. L. Bergvall, J. M. Bing, & A. F. Freed (Eds.), Rethinking language and gender research: Theory and practice (pp. 1–30). Longman.

Black, M., & Coward, R. (1998). Linguistic, social and sexual relations: A review of Dale Spender’s Man Made Language. In D. Cameron (Ed.), The feminist critique of language (pp. 100–118). Routledge.

Bradley, E. D., Salkind, J., Moore, A., & Teitsort, S. (2019). Singular ‘they’ and novel pronouns: gender-neutral, nonbinary, or both? Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America, 4(1), 36. https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v4i1.4542 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v4i1.4542

Bußmann, H., & Hellinger, M. (2003). Engendering female visibility in German. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages, vol 3 (pp. 141–174). John Benjamins. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/impact.11.10bus

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble. Routledge.

Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that matter. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315144276-3 DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315144276-3

Calvert, C. (1997). Hate speech and its harms: A communication theory perspective. Journal of Communication, 47(1), 4–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1997.tb02690.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1997.tb02690.x

Cameron, D. (1985). Feminism and linguistic theory. St. Martin’s Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-17727-1

Cameron, D. (1994). Problems of sexist and non-sexist language. In J. Sunderland (Ed.), Exploring gender (pp. 26–33). Prentice Hall.

Cameron, D. (1995). Verbal hygiene. Routledge.

Cameron, D. (1998). Introduction. In D. Cameron (Ed.), The feminist critique of language (2nd ed., pp. 1–21). Routledge.

Darwin, H. (2017). Doing gender beyond the binary: A virtual ethnography. Symbolic Interaction, 40(3), 317–334. https://doi.org/10.1002/symb.316 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/symb.316

Davis, S. N., & Greenstein, T. N. (2009). Gender ideology: Components, predictors, and consequences. Annual Review of Sociology, 35(1), 87–105. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-070308-115920 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-070308-115920

Derrida, J. (1972). Signature, event, context. In Limited inc (pp. 1–24). Northwestern University Press.

Ehrlich, S., & King, R. (1992). Gender-based language reform and the social construction of meaning. Discourse & Society, 3(2), 151–166. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926592003002002

Ehrlich, S., & King, R. (1994). Feminist meanings and the (de)politicization of the lexicon. Language in Society, 23(1), 59–76. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S004740450001767X

Ettner, C. (2002). In Chinese, men and women are equal - or - women and men are equal. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages, vol 3 (pp. 29–56). John Benjamins. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/impact.10.07ett

Gerritsen, M. (2002). Towards a more gender-fair usage in Netherlands Dutch. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages, vol 2 (pp. 81–108). John Benjamins. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/impact.10.10ger

Gomard, K., & Kunøe, M. (2003). Equal before the law - unequal in language. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages, vol 3 (pp. 59–86). John Benjamins. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/impact.11.07gom

Gustafsson Sendén, M., Bäck, E. A., & Lindqvist, A. (2015). Introducing a gender-neutral pronoun in a natural gender language: the influence of time on attitudes and behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(July), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00893 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00893

Hekanaho, L. (2020). Generic and nonbinary pronouns: Use, acceptability and attitudes. University of Helsinki. DOI: https://doi.org/10.51814/nm.107784

Hellinger, M. (2011). Guidelines for non-discriminatory language use. In R. Wodak, B. Johnstone, & P. Kerswill (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of sociolinguistics (pp. 565–582). SAGE. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446200957.n38

Henley, N. M. (1987). This new species that seeks a new language: On sexism in language and language change. In J. Penfield (Ed.) Women and language in transition, pp. 3-27. State University of New York.

Hord, L. C. R. (2016). Bucking the linguistic binary: Gender neutral French, and German. Western Papers in Linguistics, 3(1), Article no. 4.

Johnson, I. P. (2019, July). Gender neutral wording is making German ridiculous, asserts association. DW. https://www.dw.com/en/gender-neutral-wording-is-making-german-ridiculous-asserts-association/a-47801450

Kroskrity, P. V. (2004). Language ideologies. In A. Duranti (Ed.), A companion to linguistic anthropology (pp. 496–517). Blackwell. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470996522.ch22

L’Academie Francaise. (2017). Déclaration de l’Académie Française sur l’écriture dite “inclusive.” Academie-Francaise.Fr. https://www.academie-francaise.fr/actualites/declaration-de-lacademie-francaise-sur-lecriture-dite-inclusive

Lassonde, K. A., & O’Brien, E. J. (2013). Occupational stereotypes: Activation of male bias in a gender-neutral world. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(2), 387–396. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2013.01008.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2013.01008.x

Lindqvist, A., Renström, E. A., & Gustafsson Sendén, M. (2019). Reducing a male bias in language? Establishing the efficiency of three different gender-fair language strategies. Sex Roles, 81(1–2), 109–117. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0974-9 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0974-9

Liu, A. H., Shair-Rosenfield, S., Vance, L. R., & Csata, Z. (2018). Linguistic origins of gender equality and women’s rights. Gender & Society, 32(1), 82–108. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243217741428 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243217741428

Lomotey, B. A. (2015). On sexism in language and language change – The case of Peninsular Spanish. Linguistik Online, 70(1). https://doi.org/10.13092/lo.70.1748 DOI: https://doi.org/10.13092/lo.70.1748

Lomotey, B. A. (2018). Making Spanish gender fair: A review of anti-sexist language reform attempts from a language planning perspective. Current Issues in Language Planning, 19(4), 383–400. https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2017.1403217 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2017.1403217

Lorber, J. (1991). Dismantling Noah’s ark. In J. Lorber & S. A. Farrell (Eds.), The social construction of gender (pp. 355–369). SAGE Publications Ltd.

Lorber, J. (2000). Using gender to undo gender. Feminist Theory, 1(1), 79–95. https://doi.org/10.1177/14647000022229074 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/14647000022229074

Martyna, W. (1983). Beyond the he/man approach: The case for nonsexist language. In B. Thorne, C. Kramarae, & N. Henley (Eds.), Language, gender and society (pp. 25–37). Newberry House.

McConnell-Ginet, S. (2011). Gender, sexuality, and meaning. Oxford University Press.

Merkel, E., Maass, A., & Frommelt, L. (2012). Shielding women against status loss. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 31(3), 311–320. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X12446599 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X12446599

Moulton, J., Robinson, G. M., & Elias, C. (1978). Sex bias in language use. American Psychologist, November, 1032–1036. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.33.11.1032

Mucchi-Faina, A. (2005). Visible or influential? Language reforms and gender (in)equality. Social Science Information, 44(1), 189–215. https://doi.org/10.1177/0539018405050466 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0539018405050466

Muchnik, M. (2016). Trying to change a gender-marked language: Classical vs Modern Hebrew. In J. Abbou & F. H. Baider (Eds.), Gender, Language and the Periphery (pp. 25–46). John Benjamins. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/pbns.264.02muc

Nissen, U. K. (2002). Gender in Spanish: Tradition and innovation. In M. Hellinger & H. Bußmann (Eds.), Gender across languages, vol 2 (pp. 251–280). John Benjamins. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/impact.10.16nis

Odrowaz-Coates, A. (2015). Is gender neutrality a post-human phenomenon? The concept of “gender neutral” in Swedish education. Journal of Gender and Power, 3(1).

Pauwels, A. (2003). Linguistic sexism and feminist linguistic activism. In Handbook of language and gender (pp. 550–570). Blackwell. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470756942.ch24

Prewitt-Freilino, J. L., Caswell, T. A., & Laakso, E. K. (2012). The gendering of language: A comparison of gender equality in countries with gendered, natural gender, and genderless languages. Sex Roles, 66(3–4), 268–281. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5

Remezcla Estaff. (2018, June). This young girl explains why “les” is an important gender neutral pronoun in Spanish. Remezcla. https://remezcla.com/culture/les-gender-neutral-pronoun-in-spanish/

Sarrasin, O., Gabriel, U., & Gygax, P. (2012). Sexism and attitudes toward gender-neutral language the case of English, French, and German. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 71(3), 113–124. https://doi.org/10.1024/1421-0185/a000078 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1024/1421-0185/a000078

Sczesny, S., Formanowicz, M., & Moser, F. (2016). Can gender-fair language reduce gender stereotyping and discrimination? Frontiers in Psychology, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00025 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00025

Shroy, A. J. (2016). Innovations in gender-neutral French: Language practices of nonbinary French speakers on Twitter. University of California, Davis.

Simpson, P. (1993). Gender ideology and point of view. In Language, ideology and point of view. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203136867 DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203312612

Sniezek, J. A., & Jazwinski, C. H. (1986). Gender bias in English: In search of fair language. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 16(7), 642–662. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1986.tb01165.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1986.tb01165.x

Spender, D. (1998). Extracts from Man made language. In D. Cameron (Ed.), The feminist critique of language (pp. 93–99). Routledge.

Steinem, G. (1983). Outrageous acts and everyday rebellions. Holt.

Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. Wiley.

Wayne, L. D. (2005). Neutral pronouns: A modest proposal whose time has come. Canadian Woman Studies, 24(2), 85–91.

Wentling, T. (2015). Trans* disruptions. TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, 2(3), 469–476. https://doi.org/10.1215/23289252-2926437 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1215/23289252-2926437

Woolard, K. A. (1992). Language ideology. Pragmatics, 2(3), 235–249. https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.2.3.01woo DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.2.3.01woo

Zimman, L. (2017). Transgender language reform: Some challenges and strategies for promoting trans-affirming, gender-inclusive language. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 1(1), 84–105. https://doi.org/10.1558/jld.33139 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/jld.33139

Zimman, L. (2018). Pronouns and possibilities: Transgender language activism and reform. In N. Avineri, R. Conley, L. R. Graham, E. Johnson, & J. Rosa (Eds.), Language and Social Justice: Case Studies on Communication & the Creation of Just Societies (pp. 176–183). Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315115702-23




How to Cite

O’Neill, B. (2021). He, (s)he/she, and they: Language ideologies and ideological conflict in gendered language reform. Working Papers in Applied Linguistics and Linguistics at York, 1, 16–28. https://doi.org/10.25071/2564-2855.4




Similar Articles

1 2 3 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.