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Comprehensive writing under the magnifying glass of science

Comprehensive writing under the magnifying glass of science

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

Inclusive writing is a way of expressing oneself – orally and in writing – without reference to gender. Less masculine, less feminine; We borrow more neutral compositions. We can also strive for a better balance in representation, in particular thanks to the alternation between masculine and feminine.

You should know that in French, when we don't know the gender of a person, the grammatical rule tells us to use the masculine. It's the same when the composition of a group of people is unknown.

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

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

Photo: Radio-Canada

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

This does not mean that the brain will never see women. All studies indicate that the masculine activates “men” in the brain in a primacy and dominant manner. We will describe this representation as androcentric, a representation that revolves around men.

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

From a very early age, this masculine representation tells girls that they are not referred to in language. Science has shown that this can have consequences for career choices and work environmentsspecify.

If academics are convinced of the merits of inclusive communication, it is also because the use of masculine by default renders women and gender non-identifying people invisible.

Here's a classic example involving a group of women at an event. We write: One hundred female physicists gathered for a conference. However, once a physicist joins the group, we should instead write: One hundred and one physicists gathered for the conference. There is no doubt that this rule hides reality and presents an inaccurate picture of the situation.

Drawing of a female physicist and a physicist.

Although there is only one man in a group of 101 people, the rule requires that the word “physicist” be written in the masculine plural.

Photo: Radio-Canada

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

Pascal Gygax continues to think: Do we want everything to revolve around men, or do we want to express other genders and other groups? Once we want to change this reality, comprehensive writing is no longer absurd, because it will express another reality, this time no longer revolving around humans.

Neutralize language

For many, neutralizing language is not intuitive, but sometimes naming gender inadvertently creates preconceived notions. We call them Popular opinion about races.

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

However, it is the same video showing the same magic trick. Here defining the type of artist is not helpful. In fact, it does just the opposite: it is harmful.

Pascal Gygax explains that this connection will have an impact on our perception of a person's competence. If the pairing is unusual, you will feel that this person will be less competent, no matter how well they perform. Therefore, with equal performance, our stereotypes will influence how we perceive performance.

Another example: If masculinity clouds reality by default, then high-quality occupations cloud the brain. Take this case: The building is burning. Subordinate Firefighter Put out the fire. Brain imaging tests show that your brain responds to the word Firefighter; It produces peak activity. For the brain, this is unnatural, because its mental representation consists of… Firefighter And not from Firefighter.

Eight shapes are illustrated.

There are different ways to write the word “professor”, including the plural form.

Photo: Radio-Canada

Comprehensive writing provides many tools to avoid these pitfalls. The most common strategy is epic writing. Ibsen is a term that refers to both women and men, but also to people who do not belong to these two categories. For example, we can talk about “student body” instead of “students.”“, explains Pascal Gygax.

Can the brain imagine a neutral, genderless world? It is complicated, because we are very quickly exposed to certain associations, from a very early age, whether through our parents, or through books; Everything that surrounds us, ultimately. These links become automatiche maintains.

Add : If the brain is overexposed to certain associations, it will prioritize those associations that will be easier to activate [quand le mot surgit]. So it will become a very spontaneous thing. It is very difficult to break this spontaneity.

Beyond science, will language bring about change? Alexandra Dupuis believes that this is a step that must be taken. Inclusive communication is not the only solution to a more just and equal society. However, it is one solution among many, she believes. His colleague Pascal Gigaix adds: It will share language, but it will not revolutionize inequality, that's for sure.

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

Book on work desk.

Pascal Gygax co-authored the book “Does the Brain Think Masculine?”

Photo: Radio-Canada

What we see at the moment is that inclusive forms of writing tend to expand the horizon, expand mental representation. It not only activates masculine representation; It activates something that includes women as well, and perhaps also people who are neither women nor men.He said.

For the sake of his children and also the generations that will follow him, Pascal Gygax invests himself in his research. What has always been important to us is allowing children to see a more diverse world, which is not limited to male representation.Confirms.

Danny Lemieux's report airs on the show Discovery Sundays at 6:30pm on ICI Radio-Canada Télé.