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Inclusive writing under the magnifying glass of science

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Feb18,2024

Inclusive writing under the magnifying glass of science

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Science has shown that the masculine default rule has consequences.

  • Danny Lemieux (View profile)Danny Lemieux

Speech synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate spoken text from of a written text.

A futile battle for some, a necessity for others, inclusive writing is a subject that leaves no one indifferent. Let’s put opinions aside to see what the science says.

Inclusive writing is the way of expressing yourself – both orally and in writing – without refer to gender. Less masculine, less feminine; we borrow more neutral formulations. We can also seek a better balance in representation, in particular thanks to the alternation between masculine and feminine.

You should know that in French, when we do not know the gender of a person, the grammatical rule tells us to use the masculine. Same thing when the composition of a group of people is unknown.

Science has shown that this rule, that of masculine by default, has consequences. We know this thanks to the work of Pascal Gygax, a world reference in psycholinguistics.

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Pascal Gygax is a psycholinguist at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, this Swiss researcher demonstrated in 2008 that the default masculine has an impact on the brain and on our perception of the world. When our brain sees or hears the masculine, it is the word man that it imagines.

That doesn't mean the brain will never see women. Studies all show that the masculine activates “men” in the brain. in a priority and dominant manner. We will qualify this representation as androcentric, a representation which revolves around men.

A quote from Pascal Gygax, psycholinguist, University of Fribourg

For Alexandra Dupuy, doctoral student in psycholinguistics at the University of Montreal and specialist in inclusive communication, this observation is essential.

From a very young age, this androcentric representation tells girls that they are not referred to in the language. Science has shown that this can have consequences on career choices and employment environments, she specifies.

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Alexandra Dupuy is a doctoral student in psycholinguistics at the University of Montreal and a specialist in inclusive communication.

If the two academics are convinced of the merits of inclusive communication, it is also because the use of the masculine by default makes invisible the women and people who do not identify with either gender.

Here's a classic example involving a group of women at an event. We write: One hundred female physicists are brought together for a congress. However, as soon as a physicist joins the group, we should instead write: One hundred and one physicists are gathered for a congress. No doubt, this rule masks reality and provides an inaccurate picture of the situation.

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Although there is only one man in a group of 101 people, the rule dictates to write the word “physicist” in the masculine plural.

We often forget that there are people behind this linguistic phenomenon, people who seek to be named in the language, who would like us to respect them. It would be good to also integrate them into the language, to show them that it is also theirs.

A quote from Pascal Gygax, psycholinguist, University of Fribourg

Pascal Gygax continues the reflection: Do we want everything to revolve around men or do we want to express other genders, other categories? As soon as we wish to change this reality, inclusive writing is no longer futile, since it will express another reality which, this time, no longer revolves around men.

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For many, neutralizing language does not go without saying, but sometimes naming gender unintentionally creates preconceived ideas. These are called gender stereotypes.

To demonstrate the power of the gender stereotype, scientists imagined an experiment, a magic trick presented on video. When volunteers are asked to judge the quality of the trick, their perception is more positive when they are told that it is performed by a magician than when it is performed by a magician.

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Participants took part in the magic trick experience presented on video.

Yet it's the same video showing the same magic trick. Here, specifying the genre of the artist is not useful. In fact, quite the opposite happens: it harms.

This association will have an influence on our perception of the person's competence, explains Pascal Gygax. If the match is unusual, you feel like this person will be less competent, regardless of how well they perform. So, with equal performance, our stereotypes will influence our way of perceiving performance.

Another example: if the masculine by default veils reality, the professions Strongly gendered texts confuse the brain. Consider this case: The building is on fire. firefighters put out the blaze. Brain imaging tests show that your brain responds to the wordfirefighter; it produces a peak of activity. For the brain, this is abnormal, because its mental representation is made up of firefighters and not firefighters.

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Various formulations are available to inclusively write the word “professor” in the plural.

Inclusive writing offers several tools to avoid these pitfalls. The most widespread strategy is epicene writing. Epicene is a term that refers to both a woman and a man, but also to people who do not identify with these two categories. For example, we can talk about the "student body" instead of talking about “students”, explains Pascal Gygax.

Can the brain imagine a neutral, genderless world? It's complicated, because we are very quickly exposed to certain associations, from a very young age, whether through our parents, through books; everything that surrounds us, ultimately. And these associations become automatic, he argues.

He adds: If the brain is overexposed to certain associations, it will give priority to these associations which will be easier to activate [when the word arises]. So it will become something very spontaneous. And this spontaneity is very difficult to break.

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It is not not usual for the brain to adopt non-gendered formulations.

Beyond science, will language bring change? In the opinion of Alexandra Dupuy, this is a step that must be taken. Inclusive communication is not the only solution for a more just and egalitarian society. However, it is one solution among several solutions, she believes. His colleague Pascal Gygax adds: Language will participate, but will not revolutionize inequalities, that's for sure.

Already, among many young people, inclusive communication is an important concept that is gradually becoming established; a trend that researchers will document. It is still early to know the real effects, but according to Pascal Gygax, the beginnings of an answer are emerging from recent studies.

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Pascal Gygax participated in the writing of the book “The Brain Does he think of the masculine?

What we see for the moment is that forms of inclusive writing tend to broaden the horizon, to broaden the mental representation. It doesn’t just activate a masculine representation; it activates something which also integrates women and, perhaps also, people who identify neither with the category of women nor with the category of men, he says.

It is also for his children and the generations that will follow that Pascal Gygax invests himself in his research. What has always been important for us is to allow children to see a much more diverse world, which is not limited to male representations, he emphasizes.

Danny Lemieux's report is broadcast on the show Découverte on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on ICI Radio- Canada TV.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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