Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 8 : 6 June 2008
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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Concerns of Faith
Inclusive Language: Will It Solve the Problems?

Carmen J. Bryant, M.Th.


The current debate over the use of inclusive language in English Bible translations necessarily embraces concerns of Truth. The fact that the rhetoric in the 1990s contains such great emotion reflects the seriousness of those involved in the dispute, each side being concerned that Truth not be sacrificed, but disagreeing on the way Truth should be maintained.

In the process of debating issues of original language, sociology, linguistics and "political correctness," it is necessary to take an in-depth look at what an inclusive Bible translation is intended to solve. Is the preservation of Truth really the root issue? What concerns gave rise to the debate in the first place? Does the current debate have a direct relationship to these concerns? Will an inclusive-language Bible translation actually solve the problems, or will it only treat a symptom without dealing with the larger issues?

These questions and related topics will be dealt with in this paper.

Gender-inclusive language: an old issue with a new twist

As has been repeatedly pointed out in recent debate and literature, the present dilemma with the less-than-perfect English pronoun system is not a new issue. Popular usage has rarely matched the exactitude demanded by grammarians in the agreement of masculine and feminine, singular and plural. Furthermore, what is considered correct English in one period of history will neither be spoken nor written the same in an ensuing period. Language is alive. It is alive because it grows and changes with age and use. Language changes as need demands. The more rapid the social change, the more rapid the changes in language. As a general rule, vocabulary increases with the age and usage of a language, while grammar simplifies.

English is going through rapid change. The grammar is going through a natural process of simplification, begun long ago. Its ancestor, Old English (OE), is a descendant of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages, and shares some grammatical features with Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. Besides number, OE nouns, pronouns, adjectives and articles had gender as well as a four-case system. Through the centuries, these features have either simplified or died out. Remnants exist in Modern English, most notably in the pronoun system.

Though this simplification of grammar could be called a "loss," few English speakers today would bemoan the disappearance of a complicated case system or gender-marked nouns. Meaning that was conveyed through case is now handled in other ways. What was lost was not meaning but specific forms. The meaning that was conveyed through old forms can still be expressed, but by using different forms. Similarly, modern grammatical changes in English represent changes in form, not in the ability to express meaning. Old forms will adapt, or new forms will develop to cover the same meanings.

What is noticeably different in the gender-inclusive language issue now is the way in which change is being attempted. Instead of change occurring through natural processes of usage, change is being dictated by social agendas created by those who misunderstand the nature of language.

It is common today in public discussion, whether the context is academic, political, or even legal, to take it for granted that using the word "man," in isolation or as a suffix, to refer to all of humanity, or using the pronoun "he" where any person, male or female, may be referred to, is to engage in "sexist language," i.e., language that embodies, affirms, or reinforces discrimination against women or the patriarchal subordination of women to men. Not everyone agrees with this view, and "he" and "man" often seem to creep inappropriately into the speech of even those who consider themselves above such transgressions; but the ideology that there is "sexist language" in ordinary words and in the ordinary use of English gender rarely comes under sustained criticism, even in the intellectual arenas where all things are supposed to be open to free inquiry. Instead, the inquiry is usually strongly inhibited by quick charges of "sexism" and by the other intimidating tactics of political correctness.

The whole idea of "sexist language" is based on the false idea that words are limited to one meaning:

…if "man" and "he" in some usage means males, then they cannot mean both males and females in other usage. This view is absurd enough that there is usually a more subtle take on it: that the use of "man" or "he" to refer to males and to both males and females means that maleness is more fundamental than femaleness, "subordinating" femaleness to maleness.

Assumptions about Sexist Language and the Grammatical Realities of Persian

The movement to remove "sexist language" from the English language is being done supposedly to correct certain social injustices. The assumption is that by making "corrections" in the language, some of the wrongs of male/female relationships will also be righted. This assumption presumes that grammatical gender is directly associated with male/female societal issues. To show how false this assumption is, Dr. Ross cites the grammatical realities of Persian:

We would expect that if linguistic gender were a correlate of social form, an engine for the enforcement of patriarchy or a reflection of the existence of patriarchy, then we would find it present in sexist or patriarchal societies and absent in the non-sexist or non-patriarchal societies. In fact, the presence of gender in language…bears no relation whatsoever to the nature of the corresponding societies. The best historically conspicuous example is Persian.

This is only the beginning part of the paper. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Status Marking in Tamil - A Ph.D. Dissertation | Normative & Clinical Data on the Kannada Version of Western Aphasia Battery (WAB-K) | Concerns of Faith - Inclusive Language: Will It Solve the Problems? | What is Necessary in Pre-planned Materials? | A Research Report on Engineering Students' Performance in English Language Speaking Test | Action Research: Innovations beyond Imposition in Foreign/Second Language Teaching | Names - Legal and Illegal: From Cadbury's to Rationing of Personal Names | HOME PAGE of June 2008 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Carmen J. Bryant, M.Th.
WorldLink Graduate Center
Portland, OR

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