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Merkel, Elisa (2013) The two faces of gender-fair language. [Tesi di dottorato]

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Abstract (inglese)

This research project sheds light on gender-fair language and its possible effects on cognition. There already exists a large body of evidence, showing that the masculine form used as a generic yields a cognitive male bias (see Stahlberg et al., 2007, for an overview). Regarding the mental representation, the use of gender-fair language forms, which explicitly address men and women, such as word pairs, is hence desirable, as they are thought to support gender-equality. However, there lacks evidence of the effects of gender-fair language on other cognitive processes, which are related to gender-equality. First studies have shown, that gender-fair language can also have negative effects, hampering women’s persuasiveness (Mucchi-Faina & Barro, 2001) and lowering females’ likelihood to be hired (Formanowicz et al., 2012). On this background I aimed to investigate more deeply both the beneficial and possibly harmful effects of gender-fair forms, and to revise linguistic alternatives. Firstly, I provide a general overview of the close association of language and cognition, with an excursion into grammar, explaining the various degrees of gender-markedness in languages and the linguistic alternatives to the masculine form used as a generic. I review the already existing studies, investigating the effects of gender-fair language and give a short overview of recent language policies, shading particularly light on language reforms and the situation of gender-fair language in Italy. In Chapter 1 I then present findings, suggesting that females’ motivation to apply for a job is higher, when the job is advertised in word pairs as compared to masculine forms. This supports the hypothesis of gender-fair language yielding a greater mental representation of women. In Chapter 2 I examine if gender-fair suffices can evoke shifting standards in judgment. Here, results remained rather unclear, demonstrating diametral effects in Studies 2a & 2b. This issue has hence to be investigated more deeply by future studies. Chapter 3 deals with the question of whether suffices can make gender salient, and if so, how they affect self- and ingroup-stereotyping. In Study 4 (Chapter 4) both negative and positive effects of gender-fair language were investigated, for the first time, with the same methodologies and within a single paradigm. Results impressively show that gender-fair language has indeed two faces, enhancing women’s visibility, but hampering the perception of status of professional groups. As a consequence, Chapter 5 examines possible alternatives and solutions for this pay-off. Here I propose the use of neutralizations, as, in contrast to splitting-forms (see Chapter 3), they were found not to accentuate self-stereotyping in women and men (Study 5a). In three studies (Studies 5b to 5d) I then shed light on feminine generics. I hypothesized that the acceptability of feminine forms as generics, referring to a group of women and men, depends on the position of a male target in a group of females. Findings supported this idea, showing that phrases with feminine generics are grammatically more acceptable when the male target is positioned in distance to the feminine form. Study 5f illustrates that the status loss of women can be avoided by accurately choosing gender-fair language forms. This study provided evidence, that the symmetry of feminine suffices counts. Women described by feminine professional titles with asymmetrical endings (e.g., l’avvocatessa, the lawyer, fem.) were attributed significantly less social status than women who were referred to by titles with a symmetrical suffix (e.g., l’avvocata). The latter were judged as comparable in status to the masculine professional title (e.g., l’avvocato). So, symmetrical feminine forms may shield women against both, invisibility and status loss. In Chapter 6 I review all findings and discuss their limitations and their implications in terms of gender-equality. I argue that caution is needed when introducing new language policies and that policy makers ought to differentiate more cautiously, which linguistic strategies can genuinely support gender-equality, neither making women invisible nor being a peril for their social status.

Abstract (italiano)

This research project sheds light on gender-fair language and its possible effects on cognition. There already exists a large body of evidence, showing that the masculine form used as a generic yields a cognitive male bias (see Stahlberg et al., 2007, for an overview). Regarding the mental representation, the use of gender-fair language forms, which explicitly address men and women, such as word pairs, is hence desirable, as they are thought to support gender-equality. However, there lacks evidence of the effects of gender-fair language on other cognitive processes, which are related to gender-equality. First studies have shown, that gender-fair language can also have negative effects, hampering women’s persuasiveness (Mucchi-Faina & Barro, 2001) and lowering females’ likelihood to be hired (Formanowicz et al., 2012). On this background I aimed to investigate more deeply both the beneficial and possibly harmful effects of gender-fair forms, and to revise linguistic alternatives. Firstly, I provide a general overview of the close association of language and cognition, with an excursion into grammar, explaining the various degrees of gender-markedness in languages and the linguistic alternatives to the masculine form used as a generic. I review the already existing studies, investigating the effects of gender-fair language and give a short overview of recent language policies, shading particularly light on language reforms and the situation of gender-fair language in Italy. In Chapter 1 I then present findings, suggesting that females’ motivation to apply for a job is higher, when the job is advertised in word pairs as compared to masculine forms. This supports the hypothesis of gender-fair language yielding a greater mental representation of women. In Chapter 2 I examine if gender-fair suffices can evoke shifting standards in judgment. Here, results remained rather unclear, demonstrating diametral effects in Studies 2a & 2b. This issue has hence to be investigated more deeply by future studies. Chapter 3 deals with the question of whether suffices can make gender salient, and if so, how they affect self- and ingroup-stereotyping. In Study 4 (Chapter 4) both negative and positive effects of gender-fair language were investigated, for the first time, with the same methodologies and within a single paradigm. Results impressively show that gender-fair language has indeed two faces, enhancing women’s visibility, but hampering the perception of status of professional groups. As a consequence, Chapter 5 examines possible alternatives and solutions for this pay-off. Here I propose the use of neutralizations, as, in contrast to splitting-forms (see Chapter 3), they were found not to accentuate self-stereotyping in women and men (Study 5a). In three studies (Studies 5b to 5d) I then shed light on feminine generics. I hypothesized that the acceptability of feminine forms as generics, referring to a group of women and men, depends on the position of a male target in a group of females. Findings supported this idea, showing that phrases with feminine generics are grammatically more acceptable when the male target is positioned in distance to the feminine form. Study 5f illustrates that the status loss of women can be avoided by accurately choosing gender-fair language forms. This study provided evidence, that the symmetry of feminine suffices counts. Women described by feminine professional titles with asymmetrical endings (e.g., l’avvocatessa, the lawyer, fem.) were attributed significantly less social status than women who were referred to by titles with a symmetrical suffix (e.g., l’avvocata). The latter were judged as comparable in status to the masculine professional title (e.g., l’avvocato). So, symmetrical feminine forms may shield women against both, invisibility and status loss. In Chapter 6 I review all findings and discuss their limitations and their implications in terms of gender-equality. I argue that caution is needed when introducing new language policies and that policy makers ought to differentiate more cautiously, which linguistic strategies can genuinely support gender-equality, neither making women invisible nor being a peril for their social status.

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Tipo di EPrint:Tesi di dottorato
Relatore:Maass, Anne
Correlatore:Lotto, Lorella
Dottorato (corsi e scuole):Ciclo 25 > Scuole 25 > SCIENZE PSICOLOGICHE > SCIENZE COGNITIVE
Data di deposito della tesi:06 Giugno 2013
Anno di Pubblicazione:06 Giugno 2013
Parole chiave (italiano / inglese):gender, language, cognition, gender-fair language
Settori scientifico-disciplinari MIUR:Area 11 - Scienze storiche, filosofiche, pedagogiche e psicologiche > M-PSI/05 Psicologia sociale
Struttura di riferimento:Dipartimenti > Dipartimento di Psicologia dello Sviluppo e della Socializzazione
Codice ID:6119
Depositato il:23 Ott 2014 14:38
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Formanowicz, M., Bedynska, S., Cislak, A., Braun, F., Sczesny, S. (2012). Side effects of gender-fair language: How feminine job titles influence the evaluation of female applicants. European Journal of Social Psychology. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.1924. Cerca con Google

Mucchi-Faina, A., & Barro, M. (2001). Segnali periferici di tipo linguistico e attendibilità della fonte: il caso del suffisso -essa. Paper presented at the 4th General Meeting of the Social Psychology Division of the Italian Psychological Association. Cerca con Google

Stahlberg, D., Braun, F., Irmen, L., & Sczesny, S. (2007). Representation of the sexes in language. In K. Fiedler (Ed.), Social communication (pp. 163-187). New York: Psychology Press. Cerca con Google

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