The Gender-Neutral Terms In Our Languages Are Extremely Gendered, Study Reveals

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Psychology News

A team of psychology and linguistic researchers revealed that languages have a “male-tilt” in otherwise “gender-neutral” words and notions like the concept of a “person” or “people”. The study is now published in the journal Science Advances.

The Study

Using an artificial intelligence algorithm, the researchers studied a language repository collected by Common Crawl, a non-profit organization. This repository covered more than 630 billion mostly English–language words used by individuals in over 3 billion web pages. They considered word-meaning related to word use, linguistic context, and popular concepts. Specifically, they compared the differences and similarities in words used for gender-neutral purposes (like “individual”, “persons”, “people”, etc.), men (like “he” and “male”), and women (like “she” and “female”).

The Findings

The team at New York University found that most languages have a male-tilt in their vocabularies, even in their gender-neutral terms. They inferred that, when people speak, most of the terms are directed to mean “men” and not “women”. Backed by a huge statistical margin, this tendency was observed across the use, contexts, and concepts of words.

For instance, the collective concept of a “person” or “people” overlapped more with the “male” concept than the “female” concept. Certain gender-neutral trait words like “superstitious”, “extroverted”, and “analytical” were, in fact, not gender-neutral and had their own “male” and “female” associations. Even verbs and actions—such as “smile”, “threaten”, “facilitate”, etc.—reflected this gendered bias.

Potential Consequences

The results have left researchers apprehensive about the long-term consequences of such gendered bias in something as fundamental as the choice of words. This included negative impacts on gender equality and societal decisions in fields like policy-making.

One of the lead researchers, Andrei Cimpian, observed, “Because men and women are each about half of the species, prioritizing men in our collective idea of a ‘person’ creates inequity for women in decisions based on this idea.”

To Know More You May Refer To

Bailey, A. H., Williams, A., & Cimpian, A. (2022). Based on billions of words on the internet, people = men. Science advances, 8(13), eabm2463. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abm2463

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