GENDER (from Latin genus – birth, race, sex; En. gender, Fr. genre, Germ. Das Gender) is a set of social and cultural rules imposed by society that people are supposed to follow according to their biological sex. Sex is predetermined by nature while gender – by social and cultural factors. Therefore, gender is a conventional notion, it varies in diverse cultural and linguistic communities on different stages of their development [Kirilina 2004]. Gender is a means of social stratification, which together with such social and demographic factors as race, nationality, class, age and others form the system of social hierarchy.

Gender can also be used as a cultural symbol as many sex-independent notions and phenomena are associated with the male and the female principles.

In linguistics, gender is primarily studied through linguistic mechanisms of its creation and factors influencing this process: the way it is marked in text, verbal and nonverbal means used to express it. One of the key notions not only for gender linguistics but for gender studies in general is gender asymmetry. As opposed to gender symmetry, gender asymmetry in linguistics is a historically and culturally based unequality in presence and use of gender-specific language units. Usually, what is meant is that femininity in language is either “invisible” (not present or inconsiderably present) or derogatory to women [Spender 1980, Sunderland 1991]. Some classic examples include generic words such as “man” in English, “homme” in French, “Mann” in German both to mean “man” and “person”, different connotations in feminine and masculine versions of words denoting people: “wizard”, “bachelor” (positive connotation) – “witch”, “spinster” (negative connotation), “governor” (superior connotation) – “governess”  (inferior connotation) [Sunderland, 2006]. 

Gender symmetry is an effort to invent and use gender fair forms such as “fireperson” instead of “fireman”, “chair” instead of “chairman” and so on [Posch, 2014]. Even in almost gender-free languages, for example in Basque where there are no gender-specific pronouns, most nouns have no gender, the second person singular of the verb can mark gender and it is still advised to avoid such forms. However, it should be noted that there is no positive correlation between the amount of gender-specific and gender-neutral language forms and the level of sexism in the culture that speaks the language.


Further reading

Гриценко Е. С. Язык. Гендер. Дискурс: Монография. – Нижний Новгород, 2005.

Кирилина А. В. Гендерные исследования в лингвистике и теории коммуникации: Учеб. пособие. – М., 2004. 

Словарь гендерных терминов / Под ред. А.А. Денисовой. – М., 2002.

Handbuch Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung: Theorie, Methoden, Empirie / Hrsg. von R. Becker, B. Kortendiek. – Wiesbaden, 2004.

Posch, C. Feminist Language Forms in German: A Corpus-assisted Study of Personal Appellation with Non-human Referents. – Hamburg, 2014.

Spender, D. Man Made Language. London: Routledge, 1980.

Sunderland, J. ‘The decline of “man” ’, Journal of Pragmatics 16: 505–22, –

Sunderland, J.  ‘“Parenting” or “mothering”?: the case of modern childcare magazines’, Discourse and Society 17 (4): 503–27, – 2006.

The Handbook of Language and Gender / ed. By J. Holmes and M. Meyerhoff. – Malden; Oxford; Melbourne, 2003.


Maria Tomskaya

Translated by Ekaterina Gaponova