Feminization of language

In linguistics, feminization has two mutually independent meanings.

First, it refers to the process of re-classifying nouns and adjectives which as such refer to male beings, including occupational terms, as feminine. This is done most of the time by adding inflectional suffixes denoting a female (such as the standard suffix -ess in English, and its equivalent -a in Spanish).[1]

In some languages with grammatical gender, for example Dutch, there is a tendency to assign the feminine gender to certain – in particular abstract – nouns which are originally masculine or neuter. This also happened to some words in Middle English (which, in contrast to Modern English, had grammatical gender) which denoted virtue and vice.[2] In Modern English, in spite of it being a gender-neutral language, certain non-human things that are usually neuter are still sometimes feminized by way of figure of speech, especially countries and ships (see also Gender in English § Ships, Gender in English § Modern English).

In feminist theory

Feminists believe the use of the generic masculine to refer to someone who's gender is unknown erases women and should be abolished.[3] There are a number of arguments against such prescriptive rules however.[4]

Feminization in various languages


Double gender marking is prevalent in radical political pamphlets and manifestos. This is difficult to track, however, as these types of publications are written by many groups and tend to be published by organizations that don't keep detailed records of their activities.[5]


Female members of a profession can be referred to with the masculine ending -e (eg. presidente) or the feminine -essa (eg. presidentessa). A 2001 study by Mucchi-Faina and Barro showed that women professionals are more persuasive when using the masculine ending while a 2012 study by Merkel et al. show there was no difference in perception.[6]


Noun declension is asymmetrical in Russian. Women can be referred to with suffixes of the first or second declension but men can only be referred to with first declension suffixes.[7]


Man is commonly used to mean 'one' and is frequently used in general statements. It is similar to English indefinite "you" or "one." Feminine job titles are usually created by adding -in to the grammatically masculine word in question. Informatiker (singular or plural). The feminine form is Informatikerin (singular) and Informatikerinnen (plural).

See also


  1. ^ Müller, Peter (2016). Word-Formation: An International Handbook of the Languages of Europe. Walter de Gruyter. p. 145. ISBN 9783110379082.
  2. ^ Jacek Fisiak, Akio Oizumi (1998). English Historical Linguistics and Philology in Japan. p. 144. ISBN 9783110157918.
  3. ^ Mucchi-Faina, Angelica (2016-06-30). "Visible or influential? Language reforms and gender (in)equality". Social Science Information. 44 (1): 189–215. doi:10.1177/0539018405050466.
  4. ^ Parks, Janet B. (1998). "Contemporary Arguments Against Nonsexist Language: Blaubergs (1980) Revisited". Sex Roles. 39: 445–461. doi:10.1023/a:1018827227128 – via Plenum Publishing Corporation.
  5. ^ Abbou, Julie (2011-02-01). "Double gender marking in French: a linguistic practice of antisexism" (PDF). Current Issues in Language Planning. 12 (1): 55–75. doi:10.1080/14664208.2010.541387. ISSN 1466-4208.
  6. ^ Merkel, Elisa; Maass, Anne; Frommelt, Laura (2012-05-16). "Shielding Women Against Status Loss". Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 31 (3): 311–320. doi:10.1177/0261927x12446599.
  7. ^ Gurevich, Olga (2006). "Lexicon and Context in Feminization in Russian". Russian Linguistics. 30: 175–211. doi:10.1007/s11185-006-0702-x.

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