Linguistic Sexism in The Times—A Diachronic Study

  •  Tarutuulia Laine    
  •  Greg Watson    


This paper discusses aspects of linguistic sexism in the British newspaper, The Times. Our approach is diachronic: we study occurrences of different types of linguistic sexism in The Times’ World news section that have occurred during the past five decades (1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, & 2005); more specifically, the following types of linguistic sexism and their non-sexist equivalents are investigated: male-as-norm (e.g., writer…he, writer…he or she), irrelevant reference to gender (e.g., chairman, police officer), irrelevant reference to domestic relationship (e.g., Mrs, Ms), and inappropriate forms of address (e.g., lady, boy). In addition, we investigate possible sexist discourses that may exist in The Times. The research method for the first four categories is quantitative, but for the fifth category it is qualitative.

Our hypothesis is that there has been a gradual decrease in the occurrences of linguistic sexism, but some forms, such as agent nouns with man suffix (e.g., chairman, spokesman), have been more resistant to change than others (e.g., generic he and man). We expected to find some forms of linguistic sexism, including sexist discourse, from all the decades under investigation. We also expected to discover an increase in the occurrences of non-androcentric generics (e.g., he or she), equal agent nouns (e.g., police officer), and the non-sexist social title Ms.

The results of this study show that masculine generics, especially generic he, were most open to change, they were almost non-existent by 2005. The most dramatic decline in this usage occurred between 1965 and 1975. Agent nouns that reveal the gender of the person in question were most resistant to change. The use of non-androcentric generics has not, contrary to our hypothesis, increased significantly in The Times. However, the use of equal agent nouns has increased significantly since 1965. The results of the categories irrelevant reference to domestic relationship and inappropriate forms of address were indecisive. Each decade, except for the data from 1985, included some instances of sexist discourse.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1923-869X
  • ISSN(Online): 1923-8703
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: bimonthly

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