Gender-neutral Language in EU Secondary Legislation
The Case of the English Language
Keywords:EU legislative drafting, gender-neutral language, corpus-based analysis, EU secondary legislation, English language
English does not have a grammatical gender, thus having an “intrinsic predisposition towards gender-neutral forms” (Poddighe 2020, 3). Most personal nouns do not indicate a specific gender, as in the case of person or engineer. However, there are also personal nouns with lexical gender, such as king or queen (Hellinger 2001). As a result, in English there is a risk of creating sentences that are not gender-neutral.
Within the EU, the promotion of the use of a more inclusive language represents an important objective. For this reason, in recent years, various documents containing guidelines on gender-neutral language have been elaborated to encourage members of the EU institutions to adopt a language that is as inclusive as possible.
This article, therefore, provides a brief overview of gender in the English language. Subsequently, specific gender-neutral language guidelines for English and corpora of EU secondary legislation (directives, regulations, decisions, recommendations, opinions) drawn up in English are analyzed. Data are processed by using WordSmith Tools 8.0 in order to carry out the comparison of word frequencies between the corpora under analysis. The ultimate objective is to perform a diachronic linguistic analysis of the 1982-2022 period to assess whether EU secondary legislation has been drafted in compliance with the recommendations of the gender-neutral language guidelines. Specifically, the following lexico-grammar features are analyzed: the use of gender-neutral terms, the avoidance of the generic masculine pronoun and the use of alternative options.
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