Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Feminine sympathy and masculine distaste in German

The German language uses gender-inclusive personal nouns to express closeness and sympathy with the people under discussion and to ensure that all readers feel included when addressed. However, masculine language forms are used to express distance and distaste, reveals a new thesis on the German language from the University of Gothenburg.

Imagine what it would be like if all female teachers were called teacheresses, and all female doctors doctoresses. That's exactly how it is in German - women are feminine in the language, while men are masculine. This means that anyone who speaks German faces problems when discussing groups of people comprising both men and women.

"This is a hot potato, not only for linguists but for all German-speakers," says Magnus Pettersson, author of the thesis and doctoral student at the Department of Languages and Literatures. "Not least because it's tied up with the issue of how to make women visible in the language, and, as such, with the whole equality debate."

One option is to use only masculine forms, such as der Student (the student) or der Lehrer (the teacher). Here, the masculine form is given a general, supposed gender-neutral meaning.

But many feel that the masculine form makes women invisible and discriminates against them linguistically. Feminist linguists have therefore suggested the use of splitting forms like der Lehrer und die Lehrerin = the teacher and the teacheress. These feminist forms are used in written German in parallel with masculine forms and neutral forms where the speaker refrains from distinguishing gender.

Pettersson has studied the variation between such strategies, primarily in feminist magazines like Emma, where splitting forms are considered politically correct and are used liberally, but also in other types of contemporary text.

"It turns out that not even feminists are always consistent. A lot of masculine forms sneak in, generally when the people under discussion are in some way stereotypically male, or when the author wants to introduce an element of distance from them."

In this way, masculine language forms in a feminist context become a marker for distance and distaste. Another observation is that splitting forms are often used when addressing people, such as Dear reader and readeress.

"This targets women and men explicitly, as the readers being addressed should feel included, irrespective of whether they are male or female. On the other hand, it's not a problem in the same text to use masculine forms when dealing with mixed groups. As such, linguistic genus awareness is dependent in practice on communicative factors, the intentions of the writer and the type of text."

Pettersson's thesis is perhaps the first to examine the use of gender for German personal nouns from a descriptive and text-analytical perspective.

"Many of the people who've done research in this area have a clear language political agenda. They want to talk about how things should be, for example that masculine language forms when referring to women are an abomination. I'm not interested in that. Linguistic research is based primarily on describing how things are, and not on prescriptive discussions of what is right or wrong."

The thesis was successfully defended.

Title of the thesis: Geschlechtsübergreifende Personenbezeichnungen. Eine Referenz- und Relevanzanalyse an Texten.

Author: Magnus Pettersson,
tel. +46 (0)31 7865579 (work),
+46 (0)70 4573467 (mobile)
Download the thesis from:

Helena Aaberg | idw
Further information:

More articles from Communications Media:

nachricht High Number of Science Enthusiasts in Switzerland
05.02.2018 | Universität Zürich

nachricht Between filter bubbles, uneven visibility and transnationality
06.12.2017 | Schweizerischer Nationalfonds SNF

All articles from Communications Media >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>