New Research Finds Persisting Gender Bias in Linguistics Textbooks

A 1997 research project studied the content of 11 syntax textbooks published from 1969–1994 and found that virtually all of the authors exhibited a gender bias. A group of researchers decided to see if anything had changed since that study.

Their study looked at six textbooks studying the scientific structure of language, published between 2005-2017, to determine if the selection and placement of words conveyed a gender bias. They found that gender bias has not changed in more than 20 years even by language experts who are aware of the potential dangers of such prejudices, according to the authors.

According to the data, male protagonists occurred almost twice as often as females in the textbooks and appeared in more prominent roles in stories or examples. Men were more likely to be portrayed as having stable occupations like a doctor or professor, handling books, and spreading violence, whereas women were more likely to exhibit emotions, especially negative ones such as anger or unhappiness.

“There is a pressing need to revisit educational materials to prevent the perpetuation of implicit gender biases,” said study co-author Kristen Syrett, an associate professor and undergraduate program director in the department of linguistics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “A move toward more inclusive language is urgent not just for linguists for the benefit of our field but more generally in a broader social context.”

Dr. Syrett joined the Rutgers University faculty in 2011. She is a graduate of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where she majored in elementary education. Dr. Syrett holds a master’s degree in education from Loyola University in Baltimore and a Ph.D. in linguistics from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

The full study, “Gender Bias in Linguistics Textbooks: Has Anything Changed Since Macaulay & Brice 1997?” was published in the journal Language. It may be accessed here.

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