Grammatical Gender and Politics: A Comparison of French and English in Political Discourse

(1) Saint Theresa of Lisieux CHS, Richmond Hill, Ontario L4C 0E8, Canada

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Grammatical gender systems are prevalent across many languages, and when comparing French and English the existence of this system becomes a strong distinction. There have been studies that attribute assigned grammatical gender with the ability to influence conceptualization (attributing gender attributes) of all nouns, thus affecting people's thoughts on a grand scale. We hypothesized that due to the influence of a grammatical gender system, French political discourse would have a large difference between the number of masculine and feminine nouns used. Specifically, we predicted there would be a larger ratio of feminine to masculine nouns in French political discourse than in non-political discourse when compared to English discourse. Through linguistic analysis of gendered nouns in French political writing, we found that there is a clear difference between the number of feminine versus masculine nouns, signaling a preference for a more “effeminate” language. This preference can be attributed towards the utilization of the conceptualization of nouns in swaying public opinion. We examined the ratio of complex words (two syllables or more) to the total number of words across both English and French political and non-political writing. When comparing these four categories, we found a significant increase in complexity from non-political to political writing in English, all of which were more complex than French writing. This suggests that, due to a lack of a grammatical gender system, English resorts to grand but vague language that hinders delivery and clarity in political discourse.

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language grammar gender politics english french linguistics