Ds Scholarship

Persistent gender bias found in scientific re

Two accompanying research articles published in the current issue of language She points to persistent gender bias in both peer-reviewed journal articles and study materials used in the field of linguistics. The first study examined the undergraduate textbooks commonly used in linguistics courses taught in English. The second study examined more than 1,000 research articles published in top language journals over the past 20 years. More details on the results of each article are presented separately below.

Gender bias in linguistics books

Biases are not always explicitly expressed. Oftentimes, biases are revealed implicitly in the way speakers use language—even when those speakers are fully aware of the power of language and the potential dangers of such biases. A recent study appeared in the December issue of language Written by Paula Cepeda (Stony Brook University), Hadas Kotik (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Katharina Pabst (University of Toronto), and Christine Serrett (Rutgers, NJ-New Brunswick) illustrates this pattern precisely in the field of linguistics. The full article can be read here: https://www.linguisticsociety.org/sites/default/files/03_97.4Cepeda.pdf.

Linguists study the structure and interpretation of typical sentences in order to investigate the grammar of grammar. In this article, the authors systematically examined example sentences from textbooks designed to teach undergraduate students about language structure (syntax), and asked whether the choice of words and their placement in these sentences conveys a gender bias to linguistics students. The idea in itself is not new: more than 20 years ago Macaulay and Bryce conducted a similar study in an article (1997) published in the same place. The current authors asked if anything had changed since 1997. The answer, the authors say, unfortunately, is no. This pattern has persisted in the field of linguistics for decades now, implying a deep gender bias for undergraduate students learning about the study of language as a science.

Specifically, the analysis shows that male gender champions occur nearly twice as often as female gender champions and appear in more prominent roles. The trend doesn’t stop there: men are more likely to be portrayed as having stable careers, book-dealing, and spreading violence, while women are more likely to display emotions (especially negative ones). Based on these findings, the authors argue that there is an urgent need to reconsider pedagogical materials in order to prevent the persistence of implicit gender biases in tertiary education.

Gender bias in language journals

A new study appeared in the December issue of language Written by Hadas Kotik (MIT), Rieker Dokum (Swarthmore College), Sarah Babinsky (Yale University), and Christopher Geisler (Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf) uncover persistent and widespread gender bias in scholarly articles about language that appear in leading language journals . The full article can be read here: https://www.linguisticsociety.org/sites/default/files/02_97.4Kotek.pdf.

In this study, the authors analyzed more than 15,000 example sentences published in three major language journals, including language, over the past twenty years. Their findings include the following: 1) Stereotypes about both men and women are prevalent in the data. 2) non-binary gender identities are completely absent, and 3) male protagonists are selected to appear in example sentences at more than twice the rate of non-male protagonists. They also find that these patterns are consistent over the past 20 years and persist regardless of the gender of the authors and the language being studied, suggesting that this bias is rooted in the entire field of linguistics.

The authors make concrete proposals for linguistic researchers to counter methodological biases. Among other measures, they recommend increased attention to word choices, stereotypes used, and any unnecessary use of gender language. They also suggest the use of non-gender terms and the singular ‘they’. The authors also advise educators, field workers, journal editors, and other members of the scientific community on how to avoid the pitfalls of implicit bias.

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The American Linguistic Association (LSA) publishes a peer-reviewed journal, Language, four times a year. LSA is the largest national professional society representing the field of Linguistics. Its mission is to advance the scientific study of language and its applications.


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