Sexism – Language The Loaded Weapon by Dwight Bolinger (1980)

The Author’s central point is that men and women are not equal in society. Due to feminine bias of the past decade, more is known about sexual bias than any other kind. The chapter brings together ideas from feminist linguists, giving us an inside view of the oppressiveness that women themselves believe exists in our language heritage.

What examples does the author use?

The author believes that when linguists talk about sex differences they almost always look for a distinctive ‘female’ speech. He uses the example of the famous grammarian Otto Jespersen and his book ‘language’ where there is a chapter titled ‘the woman’ but no corresponding chapter named ‘the man’.

Bolinger observes the idea of women being property to men, for example the word wife although it has escaped signifying property in a direct sense, it is often encountered in statements like the following ‘the brave pioneers crossed the plains with their wives, their children and their cattle.’ Status as property is seen as devaluation by the possessed, not necessarily by the possessor.

The author mentions a hotel advertisement offering ‘anything any business man and his wife would need’ which shows that women are on the side lines and that the mental picture we get when he, him or his is mentioned is male.

What other theorists does the author refer to?

Weininger was a famous scholar who believed that genius could only be a masculine trait, along with his other idea that women did not have souls and they were incapable of true love. Jespersen however tried to have a more balanced perspective about genius as he pointed out that ‘idiocy is more common amongst men’ however he could never prove it.

Robin Lakoff feels that some of the sexist aspects of language ‘are too common, too thoroughly mixed throughout the language, for the speaker to be aware each time he uses them’ and correspondingly difficult to point out.

Six important quotations:

-‘linguistics has been till now so dominated by men that female speech has always been regarded as the ‘marked’ or supposedly exceptional form.’ This is important because it shows that we are equating male language to the norm and treating female language as some sort of foreign language.

-‘First, how do words for women differ from words for men?’ this proves that as a species words that we get taught can be classed male or female , for instance ‘untidiness’ wouldn’t be classes male or female however In Rogets thesaurus the words for ‘untidy person’ listed involve things such as slut, bitch, trollop which all have female connotations.

-‘Women in western society have had the greatest trouble simply being accepted as human, and the language records all their manifestations as the ‘sex with a difference.’ This shows how devalued women are and how much lower people see them in comparison to men.

-‘the gun of sex-biased language may be rusty, but it is there, and the greatest danger is unawareness that it is a gun, and is loaded’ this is important because this is the author’s opinion. He is aware of the sex biased language that exists amongst us and in the article it is made clear that he doesn’t think that this sex-bias should exist. Also the comparison to the gun makes it seem that the author knows that this issue is dangerous and can be damaging just like the effects of a gun.

The Author’s argument is very convincing, he uses evidence from other scholars and also he makes a reference to the Rogets thesaurus which makes his argument more believing and true because most people have read thesaurus’s so they can look in them for themselves.

When he makes a point he backs it up with an example for instance he makes a claim about linguists looking for ‘female speech’ and then he refers to the famous theorist Otto Jespersen, by doing this he creates a more convincing argument because the reader of this essay or chapter could research what the author has written themselves and then they would have a better understanding.


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