‘To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life?’

A Discourse Analysis of English and German Reader Responses to Neutral Language in The Cook and the Carpenter


  • Christiane Luck University College London




Despite several decades of linguistic research and activism, neutral/inclusive language use is far from the norm in English and German. In this article I explore whether the encounter with neutral terminology in June Arnold’s novel The Cook and the Carpenter can prompt readers to question dominant practices and consider alternatives. Based on narrative research, my premise is that fiction can create familiarity with new terms and thereby support linguistic change. I frame my investigation with Wittgenstein’s notion that ‘to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life’, and put it to the test with a discourse analysis of English and German reader responses. The results of my study show that Arnold’s novel stimulates fruitful debate of the issue of gender and language. Based on my findings, I propose the text’s integration into linguistics education in order to further promote neutral/inclusive language use.