Vol. 9 No. 1 (2020): ‘To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life?’ A Discourse Analysis of English and German Reader Responses to Sex-/Gender-Neutral Language in The Cook and the Carpenter

Christiane Luck (University College London)

Linguistic research and linguistic activism have resulted in key changes to official language use. However, revisions remain contested and many English and German speakers continue to employ male generic terms. In this article I explore whether the encounter with sex-/gender-neutral terminology in June Arnold’s novel The Cook and the Carpenter can prompt readers to review their language use and consider alternatives. Based on narrative research, my premise is that fiction can create familiarity with new terms, which is the first step toward wider 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 around the issue of linguistic representation. Based on my findings, I propose to integrate literary texts which engage with the issue of sex/gender and language into educational settings to further promote neutral/inclusive language use.

Published: 2020-01-19