Livia M Ballow
Wessex Thomas Hardy University
Those of us who wish to avoid giving unnecessary offence are often enjoined to use inclusive language and avoid gendered expressions. It is generally assumed that these are connected, but the hypothesis has not been empirically tested until now.
A sample of 144 languages, represented in both chapter 31 (“Sex-based and Non-sex-based Gender Systems”)1 and chapter 39 (“Inclusive/Exclusive Distinction in Independent Pronouns”)2 was obtained. In this sample, we find that around 60% lack an inclusive/exclusive distinction, 30% have such a distinction, and the remaining 10% are divided between those that have only an inclusive third person plural pronoun, those where “We” and “I” are identical, and those that have no way of saying “We” (see Figure 1). Around 60% have no gender system, 30% have a sex-based gender system, and 10% have a non-sex-based gender system (see Figure 2).
According to the hypothesis, languages that have an inclusive 3rd person pronoun should be most common in languages that either lack gender or have non-sex-based gender systems. However, there is a complication in that the existence of sex-based gender systems may favour exclusive pronouns. Examining Figure 3, however, shows no such correlation. The Mutual Information of the distribution is only 0.026 bits, making it overwhelmingly likely that the two features are statistically independent.
While many people may be disappointed with these results, examining the sample more closely does allow one useful conclusion to be drawn. People wishing to use only inclusive language and avoid gendered expressions should carry out their conversations in Imonda or Semelai.
1 Greville G. Corbett. 2013. “Sex-based and Non-sex-based Gender Systems.” In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
2 Michael Cysouw. 2013. “Inclusive/Exclusive Distinction in Independent Pronouns.” In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.