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Man-Made Language [Paperback]

Dale Spender
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: CDN$ 32.95 & FREE Shipping. Details
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4.0 out of 5 stars interesting, yet constrained... Dec 16 2002
By S. Lee
Format:Paperback
Along with such titles as Robin Lakoff's Language and Woman's Place or Deborah Cameron's Feminism and Linguistic Theory, this book is on the essential reading list of students of language/sex research. Her claim is rather bold: "English language is "literally" man made and it's been in male control since the beginning." Its uncompromising adherence to the simple thesis, to the extent of being crude, makes this book comparable to one of the classics in the women in literature studies, that is, Kate Millet's Sexual Politics: both are constrained in their approach and methodology, but yet both are thought provoking and read well.
Although there are some unconvincing claims even to people with no linguistic training, Man Made Languae will certainly raise the awareness about how language can be sexist by those who intend to keep it that way. One of the sexist rules of English Spender examines is 'semantic derogation of women', through which any terms related to women eventually go through a change in meaning that makes them derogatory to women. There are many interesting examples, and unlike most of Ph. D. dissertations, it is readily accessible to non-specialists.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting, yet constrained... Dec 16 2002
By S. Lee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Along with such titles as Robin Lakoff's Language and Woman's Place or Deborah Cameron's Feminism and Linguistic Theory, this book is on the essential reading list of students of language/sex research. Her claim is rather bold: "English language is "literally" man made and it's been in male control since the beginning." Its uncompromising adherence to the simple thesis, to the extent of being crude, makes it comparable to one of the classics in the women in literature studies, that is, Kate Millet's Sexual Politics: both are constrained in their approach and methodology, yet both are thought provoking and read well.

Although there are some unconvincing claims even to people with no linguistic training, Man Made Languae will certainly raise the awareness about how language can be sexist by those who intend to keep it that way. One of the sexist rules of English Spender examines is 'semantic derogation of women', through which any terms related to women eventually go through a change in meaning that makes them derogatory to women. There are many interesting examples, and unlike most of Ph. D. dissertations, it is readily accessible to non-specialists.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The word is 'humankind' Aug. 31 2013
By Natasha Holme - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have long been fascinated by the topic of this book: how sexist language shapes our consciousness, our reality.

Published in 1980, this is not a light read, rather academic in style. Much of it was engaging, some of it was repetitive.

We learn of the many ways in which women have been silenced throughout history (the taking on of husbands' surnames, that women have been forbidden from discussing marital affairs with other women, that expressing an opinion isn't feminine, the letting slip 'out of print' of numerous works by female writers, etc).

The consequent muting and invisibility of women has allowed men to be viewed as the primary sex (with women as 'other' or 'deviant'). Reality for both women and men then is seen from the male perspective which, in turn, has shaped language.

Now that language describes male reality and not female reality, it can hold the patriarchy in place because it seems like the norm, and even women defend it. Females who object are seen as whining and unreasonable, whereas those females are simply suggesting that men be reasonable and give back what they have taken.

Men (and often women) insist that the terms 'mankind,' 'man,' and 'he' encompass women, that they refer to 'people.' But if we compare these two sentences, we see the lie:
--Man goes to war with his enemies
--Man breastfeeds his children

Up until recently sexual language (as well as all other language) was based on the male point of view. For example:
--Penetration. This is what the man does. The same act, from the heterosexual female perspective, could be described as 'enclosure.' That this seems absurd highlights the issue.
--Rape: The word means 'seize.' Rapacious (meaning 'greedy') comes from the same Latin root. This word conveys nothing of the painful, terrifying experience for a woman.

When the expressions 'sexist' and 'sexual harassment' entered the English language, this was ground-breaking. Women at last had some words they could use to describe their experience in their own terms.

This book didn't make me as angry as I'd expected (maybe because women are more liberated since 1980), but I'm still pissed off.

Natasha Holme
Author of 'Lesbian Crushes and Bulimia: A Diary on How I Acquired my Eating Disorder'
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