English--A Man-Made Language?
The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, male, master on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language. ( Joyce, 1917, p. 189)
James Joyce's character, Stephen Daedalus, was not of course speaking here about gender bias in the English language, but instead about the effects of having been colonized by the English language, which replaced Irish as the medium of everyday communication in Ireland after England's conquest. Nevertheless, in line with the connection I noted in the previous chapter between colonized peoples and women, a woman might well express these general sentiments. Gender scholars such as Dale Spender argue that English is a language made by men for men in order to represent their point of view and perpetuate it. In this world view women are marked as deviant and deficient, or made invisible. Thanks to the women's movement, sexism in language became a political issue. This so-called "sexism in language" can be demonstrated with many different kinds of evidence. In this chapter and the next I look at the main areas of linguistic bias against women and some of the reasons why people have claimed English and other languages are man-made.
The first type of evidence involves asymmetries between pairs of gender-differentiated terms such as bachelor and spinster, sir and madam, and so on. The female term has negative associations, while the male term is