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Gender-Fair Language

The debate surrounding the use of gender-fair language is one that many, especially in academia, are familiar with. Proponents of gender-fair language advocate for using both male and female pronouns or word forms side by side (e.g. “he or she”, “Leserinnen und Leser”). But many worry that using these more complex forms will hinder the readability of their texts. A new study by Marcus Friedrich and Elke Heise tests this claim.

Numerous studies have shown the far-reaching benefits of using gender-fair language. The gender wage gap, hiring practices, and the perceived self-efficacy of primary school pupils when it comes to stereotypically male jobs are all influenced by gendered language.

In short, gender-fair language can have a very real, positive effect on certain gender inequalities. So why isn’t everyone already using it? One frequent argument is that gender-fair language makes texts more difficult to understand.

Friedrich and Heise’s study tests this claim. They had around 350 participants read texts that used masculine-only language and gender-fair language, and then rate the comprehensibility of the texts. They found that the use of gender-fair language did not affect participants’ perception of how easy or difficult it was to understand a text.

This means that whether you’re a researcher writing a paper or human resource manager writing a job description, you can use gender-fair language with a bit more peace of mind.

To learn more, read Fredrich and Heise’s full study.

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