'Chancengleichheit unter den Bürgerinnen und Bürgern'? A study of how the German basic law and the German version of the Swiss constitution exhibit and avoid sexist language

Victoria Lamb, Filippo Nereo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

With reference to Hellinger's (2006) definition of sexist language, this article investigates how the latter is exhibited and avoided in the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany and the German version of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, in order to establish the impact on German legal texts of recommendations for non-sexist language usage put forward by feminist linguists such as Guentherodt et al. (1980), and to demonstrate the extent to which the promise made in both documents of equal treatment for the sexes is realised in their language. Our research serves to update Guentherodt's (1984) findings on androcentric language in legal texts. Whilst both texts show evidence of both sexist language and avoidance thereof, it was found that the Basic Law, in comparison to the Swiss Constitution, exhibits more instances of the generic masculine. The Swiss Constitution also employs more strategies for neutralising the sex of the referent, such as long splitting, that is, listing both the masculine and feminine forms of human nouns, for example Arbeitgeberinnen und Arbeitgeber. Sexist language is therefore avoided more successfully in the Swiss Constitution than in the Basic Law. Neither text features instances of economical splitting, for example liebe Wähler/innen, unsere LeserInnen, reflecting its morphosyntactic and phonological limitations. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2012.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-126
Number of pages17
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Volume65
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012

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