The Guardian archly reports, March 8, 2019, that in an “reactionary” open letter published by the Dortmund-based German Language Association, a group of German authors, academics and comedians are calling for a fightback against “ridiculous linguistic constructions” designed to make the German language more gender-neutral.
German Language Association, with over 36,000 members, is one of several institutions in Germany which that try to set standards on grammar and spelling.
The letter’s signatories include philosopher Rüdiger Safranski, novelist Peter Schneider, comedian Dieter Hallervorden, and the former head of Germany’s domestic intelligence Hans-Georg Maassen.
In the German language, nouns have either a male, female or neuter gender; words for mixed groups of people are traditionally based on the masculine form. If you are talking about a group of teachers, for example, you would say die Lehrer, not die Lehrerinnen.
Feminist linguists have made various proposals to make the language more inclusive, either by typographic trickery, such as LehrerInnen, Lehrer(innen) or Lehrer*innen, or by replacing them with nouns that make the gender more invisible. Those proposals have been accepted by a number of academic institutions and municipal authorities. As an example, since January this year, officials in the city of Hanover no longer use the generic noun Lehrer in their correspondence, but the more neutral Lehrende (“teaching ones”).
The protest letter, headed “An end to gender nonsense!” and published shortly before International Women’s Day, argues that the distribution of gender to generic nouns in German is too arbitrary for there to be a systemic sexist bias. As examples, in German, lions are male while giraffes are female and horses neuter. The signatories also dispute that masculine generic pronouns discourage women from entering certain professions, pointing out the fact that Germany’s constitution has 13 mentions of the “chancellor” in its masculine form “did not prevent the repeated rise of Angela Merkel to the post of chancellor”.
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