Funology—Classical Cyberphonemics—Rachel Jamison SpecGram Vol CLXX, No 2 Contents From the Archives!—Editorial Maté—The SpecGram Archive Elves™

Towards Gender Equality in Computational Linguistics

Oleg Gerakoff
Moscow Academy of Linguistic Technology

Much has been written about the consequences for social equality of grammatical gender. However, the matter is typically discussed exclusively in terms of the sex-based gender systems typical of Indo-European languages. When we look beyond the Indo-European macrofamily, however, we find that many languages have gender systems based not on sex, but on animacy. Such systems generally reflect a very hierarchical worldview, and it is not uncommon for inanimates to be denied agency altogether.

I believe that it is the duty of socially conscious linguists to challenge such animistic privilege, and that it must be addressed most urgently in the field of computational linguistics. Here, we find that an act of computational linguistics is necessarily performed in partnership between a human agent, regarded as animate, and a software agent, regarded as inanimate. However, despite the necessity of this partnership, without which the discipline could not exist, the software agent is generally regarded as nothing more than a tool of the human agent. It is particularly striking that it is the human agent that is typically referred to as a “computational linguist”, despite the software agent being the partner more aptly described as “computational”. Surely, we cannot tolerate this inequitable situation any more. We must change the language of our discipline to recognise the equal and symbiotic partnership of man and machine on which the very existence of the field depends.

I have put this proposal to several of my colleagues at the Academy, and been somewhat surprised by their replies. I had expected enthusiasm from the younger researchers, resistance from the middle-aged, and a reawakening of revolutionary zeal in those with long memories. However, a typical response was generally along the lines of, “Perhaps, if we do this thing, people will start treating us as human beings.”

FunologyClassical CyberphonemicsRachel Jamison
From the Archives!Editorial MatéThe SpecGram Archive Elves™
SpecGram Vol CLXX, No 2 Contents