WIT Community

WIT Lecture - Why is inclusive language so important? by Pascal M. Gygax




When referring to a person’s personal, social or professional role as scientists, travellers or managers, knowing the person’s sex is not always crucial for comprehending the discourse. In fact, it rarely is. Research nevertheless suggests that when reading or listening to sentences where gender is not specified, such as “Travellers to Geneva are requested to change train in Lausanne” or “Les voyageurs pour Genève doivent changer de train à Lausanne”, we still form a mental representation of travellers to include gender.

In the presentation, the lecturer will present data across different languages to show that we tend to attribute gender in ways that unnecessarily narrow our perceptions of the world. The lecturer will specifically argue that language inevitably compel us to attend certain properties of the world that are not always relevant. He will further argue that in grammatical languages where the masculine form is assigned a generic meaning – on top of its specific one – we attribute gender to the relative disadvantage of women, nourishing our androcentric society. Under the heading of “sexist language” this issue has been a topic of political debate since the 1970s, especially in those languages that have grammatical gender, like German or French.

** This event is taking place thanks to the sponsoring of the CERN Diversity and Inclusion Office **

About the lecturer

Pascal Gygax is head of the Psycholinguistics and Applied Social Psychology team at the University of Fribourg. His work focuses on the way our brain processes the male grammatical mark, and how language creeps into our perception of gender. He has recently written a theoretical chapter on linguistic sexism with his Norwegian colleague Ute Gabriel, which received the Gender Studies Prize of the University of Fribourg. Pascal Gygax regularly appears in the media to talk about inclusive language or the so-called feminisation of language.

Recording of the event HERE.