German Gender Disagreement

Disagreement in Germany over use of an asterisk to make gender-specific nouns seem gender-neutral

Female and male st udent in discussion while wearing face masks due to coronavirus

The Association for German Language (GfdS) is calling for end to the practice of using an asterisk to make gender-specific nouns seem gender-neutral in German, reports Deutsche Welle.

In the same way that the asterisk has been used in the U.S. to create gender-neutral words like Latinx, it has been used more and more frequently in German media and public documents to make masculine or feminine nouns gender neutral, as in Kolleg*in (colleague) or Rentner*in (retiree).

However the state-sponsored language association GfdS is claiming that the asterisk “does not conform either to German grammar or to the rules of spelling,” so it is recommending an end to the use of the asterisk, and other methods of gender neutralization, like a colon or an underscore.

The GfdS also pointed out that the asterisk does a poor job addressing words in which the spelling changes based on gender. For instance, “doctor” is spelled with an umlaut in its female form (Ärztin), but with one in the male form (Arzt). The statement also claims the asterisk and its substitutes make pronunciation difficult.

“Although the GfdS advocates for non-discriminatory language in principle, the so-called gender asterisk is not a suitable means to this end from a linguistic point of view,” concludes the Gfds.

The criticism coincides with the publication of the latest (28th) edition of Die deutsche Rechtschreibung (Dictionary of the German Language), by the Duden Publishing House which aims to be “the reliable authority for all topics relating to the German language and spelling” and “always up to date.”

Among its 148,000 keywords, the Duden includes 3,000 new words, while 300 outdated terms were removed. Included were such words such as: bee-friendly, flight shame, hate speech, Geisterspiel (sports match played behind closed doors), binge watching, cisgender, and lockdown. The new terms in Duden are a reflection of the latest social developments, like climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, social media, racism, and equality.

The Verein deutsche Sprache (VDS—another German Language Society) is also campaigning against the introduction of gender-minded language with the petition Schluss mit dem Gender-Unfug! (Enough of the Gender Shenanigans) and what it sees as the excessive use of anglicisms in the new Duden edition.

According to Deutsche Welle, VDS chair Walter Krämer said that there should “finally be an end to certain individuals condescendingly deciding how language should develop,” addeding: “Many people take what is written in the Duden at face value and will believe that gender stars and similar constructs are real components of the German language.”

Bernd Gögel, chair of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) parliamentary group in Baden-Württemberg, criticized the Duden as an “ideological aid for the implementation of left-wing politics.” Terms such as “everyday racism,” “right-wing terrorist,” or “climate emergency” are “ideological” and used by small groups, who, according to Gögel, want to tell the majority of German citizens how they should speak.

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