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Approved by the LSA Executive Committee, May 2021.

This document corresponds with the LSA's statement against linguistic misgendering and provides a brief guide to practical ways to make written and verbal communication in linguistics (with colleagues and students) more gender-inclusive and identity-affirming.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of the United States, as upheld by the Supreme Court, discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexuality constitutes harassment, and is illegal when it creates a hostile or offensive work environment (see the EEOC on sex-based discrimination). Under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexuality constitutes harassment in education settings that receive federal aid and includes protections for students of linguistics, as well as faculty and staff. Additionally, misgendering speech is not protected under U.S. law (Meriwether v. Shawnee State Univ. 2020). In a professional setting, misgendering someone is one form of discrimination based on gender that may constitute harassment, and this is compounded when such harassment is combined with professional hierarchical asymmetries (such as faculty-student or supervisor-employee power disparities).

Here are some ways you can improve your professional communications (e.g., scholarly articles, teaching materials, emails, interactions with students) to avoid misgendering:

  • Choose gender-neutral terms whenever possible when talking or writing about collective or generic subjects.
  • Avoid unnecessarily binary terms (e.g., men and women, he or she) when a gender-neutral one will do (e.g., students, they).
  • Always use an individual’s appropriate name, title, pronouns (and/or other gendered morphology). If you don’t know what gendered language a person uses, find out by consulting their website or official biography, or by asking.
  • When talking about people whose pronouns you do not yet know, using they may be a temporary solution. However, if you learn the appropriate pronoun is something else, use that (even if that pronoun is a neopronoun).
  • Use avoidance strategies (e.g., only using someone’s name, using pronoun-drop, using 2nd person instead of 3rd person, or others) only as a last resort.
  • If you notice a colleague misgendering someone, especially a student or other subordinate, correct them, even if the misgendered person is not present to witness it.
  • Avoid explicitly gendering students in class discussions with “Mister” or “Miss,” “ladies” or “gentlemen,” or “guys” and “gals” as terms of address. Learn and use your students' preferred names; lobby your institutions to allow students to indicate their preferred names and pronouns on official rosters.

If someone’s gendered language is not currently grammatical for you, don’t worry: evidence has shown that people are able to acquire various features of the grammar over time (see Ackerman, Riches, & Wahlberg, 2018; Konnelly & Cowper, 2020). Everyone makes mistakes when learning new ways of using language (even their own). A willingness to learn and accept correction gracefully will go a long way. In the Resources section below, we link to Kirby Conrod’s blog series which addresses many strategies for practicing particular pronoun uses.

This document cannot feasibly discuss all possible interactions and social situations that you may encounter as a professional linguist. See the Additional Resources and Further Reading for more in-depth information and examples.

Resources

Guidelines Drafted By: 

COZIL Pronoun Statement Sub-Committee: Sunny Ananthanarayan, Evan Bradley, Kirby Conrod, Archie Crowley, J Inscoe, Lex Konnelly, and Lal Zimman.

References

Ackerman, L. (2019). Syntactic and cognitive issues in investigating gendered coreference. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 4(1). http://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.721

Ackerman, L., Riches, N., & Wallenberg, J. (2018). Coreference dependency formation is modulated by experience with variation of human gender [Conference presentation]. 92nd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Salt Lake City, UT, United States.

Bjorkman, B. M. (2017). Singular they and the syntactic representation of gender in English. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 2(1), 80, 1–13. http://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.374

Conrod, K. (2018a). Changes in singular they [Conference presentation]. The Cascadia Workshop in Sociolinguistics, Reed College, Portland, OR.

Conrod, K. (2018b). Pronouns and gender in language. In K. Hall & R. Barrett (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of language and sexuality. Oxford UP. http://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190212926.001.0001

Conrod, K. (2018c). Pronouns and misgendering [Conference presentation]. New Ways Of Analyzing Variation, New York University, NY. October 18–22, 2018.

Conrod, K. (2019a) Language, gender, and harm. Invited panel: Diversifying Linguistics. Georgetown University Round Table in Linguistics, Washington D.C. March 29–31. Slides, blog post.

Conrod, K. (2019b). Pronouns raising and emerging [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Washington. UW Link.

Corbett, G. G. (2013). Sex-based and non-sex-based gender systems. In M. S. Dryer& M. Haspelmath (Eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at http://wals.info/chapter/31, Accessed on 2020-09-08.)

Grant J. M., Mottet L. A., Tanis J., Harrison J., Herman J. L., Keisling M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Kibbey, T. (2019). Transcriptivism: An ethical framework for modern linguistics. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America, 4(45), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v4i1.4535

Kiesling, S. F. (2004). Dude. American Speech, 79, 281–305. https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-79-3-281

Konnelly, L., & Cowper, E. (2020). Gender diversity and morphosyntax: An account of singular they. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 5(1). http://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.1000

Kotek, H., Babinski, S., Dockum, R., & Geissler, C. (2020). Gender representation in linguistic example sentences. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America, 5(1), 514–528. https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v5i1.4723

McLemore, K. A. (2015). Experiences with misgendering: Identity misclassification of transgender spectrum individuals. Self and Identity, 14(1), 51–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2014.950691

Miltersen, E. H. (2016). Nounself pronouns: 3rd person personal pronouns as identity expression. Journal of Language Works-Sprogvidenskabeligt Studentertidsskrift, 1(1), 37–62.

Papadopoulos, B. (2018). Morphological gender innovations in Spanish of genderqueer speakers [Bachelor’s thesis].University of California Berkeley.

Papadopoulos, B. (2019). Morphological gender innovations in Spanish of non-binary speakers [Conference presentation]. Hispanic Linguistics Symposium 2019, University of Texas, El Paso, TX, United States.

The State of Linguistics in Higher Education Annual Report 2017. (2018). https://www.linguisticsociety.org/sites/default/files/Annual_Report_2017_Final_2.pdf

Zimman, L. (2017). Transgender language reform: Some challenges and strategies for promoting trans-affirming, gender-inclusive language. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 1(1), 83–104. https://doi.org/10.1558/jld.33139

Zimman, L. (2018). Working with transgender communities. In C. Mallinson, B. Childs, & G. Van Herk (Eds.), Data collection in sociolinguistics: Methods and applications (2nd ed., pp. 49–52. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315535258

Zimman, L. (2019a, Jan 4). Listening to trans+ voices (part 1 of 2): Trans-inclusive theory and practice for research on sex, gender, and the voice [Conference presentation]. 93rd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, New York City, NY, United States.

Zimman, L. (2019b, Jan 5). Listening to trans voices (part 2 of 2): Envisioning a trans linguistics [Conference presentation]. 93rd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. New York City, NY, United States.