Is the use with animals grammatically incorrect

Gender equitable language
How “gender” can the language be?

Students, students, studentx - in the past decades numerous attempts have been made to change the German language in such a way that all people feel equally addressed by it. But the debate is far from over.

Would you like a little self-test? Here's the story: Father and son are out in the car and are involved in a serious car accident. The father dies on the way to the hospital. As soon as the son arrives at the hospital, he is driven to the emergency operating room, where the surgeons on duty are already waiting. However, when they bend over the boy, someone from the surgical team said in a frightened voice: "I cannot operate - this is my son."

If you present this text to students, they often spontaneously object: “Wait a minute - your father is dead. Why is he suddenly standing as a surgeon in the operating room? Isn't the other his biological father at all? ”The solution is only clear in the second step: There is at least one surgeon on the team, the boy's mother. The linguist Annette Trabold describes the phenomenon described above as prototypical thinking: “Images arise in our inner eye: when we hear 'surgeons', we often first think of men, of 'uncle doctor'. 'Doctor' as a job title is only the so-called generic masculine here, but in this case also sex, because a man is automatically linked to it. "

The term generic masculine denotes the use of a masculine noun or pronoun when the gender of the person concerned is unknown or unimportant - or when men and women are meant equally. Conversely, there is also the generic feminine. We encounter it more often with names for animals (for example “the spider” or “the cat”), but only rarely in relation to people.

Since the 1970s and 1980s at the latest, feminist linguistics has been questioning current practice: Why, linguists and media professionals asked themselves, should the generic masculine be viewed as carved in stone? When we talk about a professional group, why do we speak of "the doctors", "the teachers" or "the engineers", although it is mostly about people of both sexes and yet also the familiar female forms with the extension "-in" be available?

Bends in the German language?

Language purists often argue that terms such as “Ärztin” or “Ingenieurin” with the “-in” appendix are already distortions of the German language. Annette Trabold, on the other hand, says: Even in Goethe's time there was the “miller” or the “meier”. At that time these were primarily names for the wife of the miller or the dairy owner. But it is not uncommon for women to continue their business successfully after the death of their husbands and thus work in their profession. Or think of jobs that are 90 percent or more of which women work today. Isn't it absurd to then use the generic masculine word and speak of “the educators” when there are almost only educators in after-school care centers and kindergartens?

Susanne Günthner, Germanist and linguist at the University of Münster, speaks of a “coded asymmetry” in personal designations in the German language: “The male form marks 'men as norm', the female form codes 'women as deviation' through the unmarked one '-in' appended to the (male) form. ”A good example of how inappropriate this can sometimes seem is an earlier tampon advertisement. A sentence from the commercial read: “Everyone experiences their days differently.” There were protests against this - because tampons are only used by women. The sentence has been changed to the feminine form.

The male form marks "men as norm", the female form codes "women as deviation"

Susanne Günthner, German and linguist

Susanne Günthner draws a comparison to the English language: In English one uses the terms that apply to both genders such as “teacher” or “doctor”, but in most cases a more precise feminine form is not necessary. “Because in English you can easily follow 'teacher' with 'she' or 'he' and thus answer the question about gender immediately. In German this is hardly possible: 'der Doktor' would not be followed by 'she' - that would be grammatically incorrect. "

What is grammatically correct does not always make sense in today's modern language usage. Some things sound downright strange: In principle, it is also a grammatical error to speak of "the girl" and to have a "she" instead of an "it" follow in the next main or subordinate clause. But a lot of people do just that - because it sounds strange to use a neuter pronoun to speak of a distinctly female person.

New pronouns

In Chinese, it is easier in such cases, says Susanne Günthner: There the pronoun “ta” is used for both women and men. In Sweden, gender equality or gender neutrality is pushed a little further: there, the neutral “hen” has been introduced in addition to the pronouns “han” (er) and “hon” (she), especially in order to also take transsexual people into account. For the same reason, passengers on the London Underground should no longer be greeted with “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen”, but with “Good morning, everyone”.

“Good morning, everyone!” - you haven't got that far with us in local public transport. In Germany, however, linguists, journalists and administrations have devised various other ways of achieving gender equality. However, while linguistic variations such as “doctor's mother”, “accompanying program” instead of “women's program”, “team” instead of “team” are a matter of course today, experts are still looking for the perfect solution for gender-appropriate addressing of people and groups of people. The journalist Christoph Busch is credited with using the large interior "I" (journalists, readers) for the first time. That was in 1981, in Busch's book on free radios. In the mid-1980s, the editors of the daily newspaper “taz” also started using it. Quite a few still do.

Back then, the big "I" caused a real controversy, today hardly anyone is upset about it. Nevertheless, the German language and proposals for its modification and modernization remain a minefield. Meanwhile, gender asterisks (“citizens”), underscores (“readers”), the consistent use of only the female form on official forms, the “passing through” by naming the female as well as the male form (“employees”) or even the complete renouncement of a gender allocation by replacing the ending with an "x" ("Professx"), for discussion material.

Linguist Annette Trabold, who is also the spokesperson for the Institute for German Language (which does not make any recommendations on this subject), says: “I find all solutions in order that are not dogmatic, compatible with grammar and, above all, do not seem ridiculous. Because that would of course not serve the matter. ”In the eyes of many, the latter applies to the“ x ”solution - for some, it arouses associations with“ Asterix ”comics rather than gender justice being meant too seriously.

Even with the solution of only using the female form - the Universities of Leipzig and Potsdam, for example, practice this in official forms - many can not get used to it. It is better to use the feminine as well as the masculine form, especially since this solution is also suitable for spoken language. If, on the other hand, one speaks of a female professor - as with the large interior "I" - it sounds as if one only wanted to address women. In many administrative forms, however, there is simply not enough space to always use both the feminine and the masculine form. This in turn led to the "*" and "_" solutions.

Not just unacceptable, but wrong?

Another variant are the substantiated participles such as "students", "teachers", "employees", the use of which has prevailed if you want to avoid an exact gender assignment altogether. For Peter Eisenberg, linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Potsdam, this solution is not only unacceptable, but also wrong. “When we use the participle, we are expressing that the person is in the process of doing something. Students, teachers, employees or - in a very bad example - 'truck drivers' are not constantly teaching, studying, collaborating or driving trucks. ”But even more serious, says Eisenberg, is that the substantiated participle causes linguistic errors . “Refugees, for example, are different from refugees. One can speak of a refugee from a party. Refugee, on the other hand, correctly describes the current living conditions of a person who has had to leave his home country. ”If this rule were interpreted strictly, then one would no longer be able to say“ CEO ”, for example.

Eisenberg finds it just as terrible to gender German songs and for example the indestructible "Abendlied" by Matthias Claudius ("The moon has risen") next to the "brothers" who lie down, also to add "sisters" and other lines of songs about gender justice sake to change. This is what happened at the German Kirchentag 2017. The Hamburg group “Lesbians and Church” distributed corresponding songbooks for the events.

Imagine a gendered Bible - that's just absurd.

Peter Eisenberg, linguist

Peter Eisenberg justifies his criticism: “This poem by Matthias Claudius is a cultural asset. The text of the song also stands for the time in which it was composed. Or imagine a gendered Bible; that is simply absurd. ”Eisenberg also finds the idea of ​​imposing such text changes on other works of world literature - by Goethe, Schiller or Thomas Mann - equally absurd. "These texts must also be viewed in a historical context - and this must not be falsified."

It is not easy. But a look at Switzerland shows how one can apparently find a relaxed approach to the topic. In its guidelines on gender-sensitive language, the Swiss Federal Chancellery recommends that instead of dogmatically making decisions simply creatively. Where it makes texts more difficult to read and where “gender neutral” in the linguistically negative sense “genderless” appears, it should be allowed to mix: Instead of speaking of “members of the National Council”, one should rather write “National Councilors”. That sounds more personal, as it is made clear that it is a group of men and women. This so-called pair form can also be used well when it comes to breaking down gender stereotypes and making it clear that both men and women are involved, for example with the word “single parents”. In fact, the phrase is almost automatically associated with women because most single parents are actually single mothers. In order to avoid this cliché, the guideline says, it should be better to speak of “single mothers and fathers” in a text.




Mareike Knoke is a science journalist based in Berlin.

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