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Gendered language in science

  1. Aug 31, 2011 #1
    What really irks me is reading/hearing gendered language in science - or ANYWHERE for that matter! But especially in science, as it should use strictly non-gendered language, I strongly feel, to preserve objective scientific accuracy. "He" the observer, "he" the scientist, the "manned" space program, "she" the spacecraft...etc.

    This is not so much about "political correctness", but simply about scientific neutrality.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 31, 2011 #2
    Unfortunately the English language (and many others) doesn't have a "common" gender third person singular pronoun. The common gender, as opposed to the neuter, recognizes the noun referenced is masculine or feminine but combines the two. The neuter refers to nouns that are neither masculine nor feminine. The only languages of which I know with the common gender singular pronoun are the Scandinavian group, although there may be others outside of Europe. I wrote a book where I tried to deal with this problem in various ways, but usually just fell back to the clumsy he/she or she/he. Many people use the common/neuter gender plural "they" but this is really incorrect if you're referring to a singular noun.

    If you think English is bad, French is worse. French does not have a common gender plural pronoun (and has no neuter nouns). If you have a mixed group, you must use the masculine form ils even it contains only one male; this by the decree of the French Academy (L'Académie française). Also since there is no singular neuter pronoun corresponding to the English 'it', you must the masculine form il in unspecified cases where English would use "it" such as "It's raining."
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2011
  4. Aug 31, 2011 #3
    Well I think using the singular "they" is quite acceptable - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they. "Crewed" instead of "manned"... "Humanity"/"Humankind" instead of "Mankind"... and a spacecraft is an IT, not a "she"! :P

    I just think here in the 21st century, there is no excuse for such archaic use of language like this anymore. NASA website and Discovery Channel etc is full of gendered language.
  5. Aug 31, 2011 #4


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    Are you serious lol? Science doesn't concern itself with the so called "gendered language"; science concerns itself with the more important things like, oh yeah, scientific inquiry. Maybe the reason why those terms are still used is because scientists are too busy doing their jobs and not wasting time caring about whether their words are gender neutral.
  6. Aug 31, 2011 #5


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    Of all the things we have to worry about in science, I will say that I've never seen a more trivial example than this. Nowhere in your complain here is there any consideration of any kind of consequences for such a thing. Did it deprive of someone an interest in science? Did it cause serious emotional distress?

    No? Then you're complaining about something that just annoys you?

  7. Aug 31, 2011 #6


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    I think you meant "ils". :smile:
  8. Aug 31, 2011 #7
    I don't mind it at all. It's just how the English language is.
  9. Aug 31, 2011 #8
    Things are better now than when I went to school. Back then only boys ever rolled balls down inclines. Now Bob is in one rocket, but Alice is in the other. I think Einstein put it best when he or she said:

  10. Aug 31, 2011 #9
    There is no reason whatsoever that English speaking cultures, or at least academia, can't adopt their own gender neutral pronouns. The Walden Two inspired commune known as Twin Oaks attempted to introduce "co" as a gender neutral pronoun and the English language is particularly famous for adopting new terms. The only obvious reasons why this has not been done already is cultural inertia and sexism.
  11. Aug 31, 2011 #10
    Vous êtes corrects, mais cela devrait être "iles" et le "-es" devrait être prononcé donc nous pouvons distinguer la forme singulière et plurielle dans le discours.

    Either that or start pronouncing the endings of the verbs in the third person plural.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2011
  12. Aug 31, 2011 #11


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    Well, if you want to be objective about it boys are bigger than girls, so nanny nanny boo boo.
  13. Aug 31, 2011 #12
  14. Aug 31, 2011 #13


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    I think we're going off topic for the discussion so we might be use PM's for the next post.
    I'll correct your sentence: Vous êtes correct rather than corrects. This is a Quebecism (so I guess it's still correct). In France one would say "Vous avez raison".
    If you mind to explain me why we should use "iles" rather than "ils", I'd love to know it. And also why we should pronounce it differently than "il".
    "donc nous pouvons" should be "donc nous pourrions" if I understood well your sentence.
  15. Aug 31, 2011 #14
    Hmm. pourrions is the conditional tense which I did not intend. That part of the sentence was meant to mean "... so we can (are able to) distinguish the singular and plural form in speech." As far as "iles" is concerned, it was not meant to be serious. I explain in my PM.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2011
  16. Aug 31, 2011 #15
    Try describing a quantum cryptography protocol without Bob, Alice and Eve!
  17. Aug 31, 2011 #16
    I've always thought "he" refers to both man and woman
  18. Aug 31, 2011 #17
    "He" only refers to a male. Unless you're joking, in that case, Haha.
  19. Sep 1, 2011 #18
    Well go ask a woman in science what she feels, perhaps? We are talking about half the world's population. Or do you think science is a man's domain?

    I'm saddened that you feel this is a trivial issue, not even worthy of being raised. I think it's very important, and yes it annoys me very much that we're in the 21st century still using archaic gendered language.

    I know a lot of folk have knee-jerk reactions to "political correctness" - myself included, generally - but this is a whole 'nother matter.
  20. Sep 1, 2011 #19
    In the 1950s, maybe?
  21. Sep 1, 2011 #20
    This is a very poor thought path to go down. Rather than presenting a logical argument of why it would be worth it for society to change our language, you've implied that women in science are more bothered by gendered language than men, and accused a very respected member of being sexist because his views differ from yours. Now you've created this man-vs-woman atmosphere that most men and women feel uncomfortable with. In short, you are marginalizing yourself and others who share your views.

    I can think of two main reasons most scientists don't care:
    1) They don't see it as an issue worthy of time and energy.
    2) It has absolutely nothing to do with science.

    It's part of the English language, not science.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2011
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