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Open Access Publications from the University of California

‘Sally the Congressperson’: The Role of Individual Ideology on the Processing and Production of English Gender-Neutral Role Nouns


Language and gender are inextricably linked; we regularly make reference to the genders of individuals around us, and the language used to do so recursively feeds the biases we hold about gender in the social world. What has been left under-investigated is the role that individual, rather than societally-held, ideologies about gender play in the linguistic system. In two web-based studies, we investigate the processing and production of gender-neutral role nouns such as congressperson as a function of individual gender ideology and political alignment. Our results indicate an asymmetry between the processing and production of such nouns: while individuals’ gender ideologies do not modulate processing, they do interact with political party in production tasks such that Democratic participants with more progressive gender ideologies produce more gender-neutral role nouns. We argue that these forms have become linguistic resources for indexing social progressiveness, leading to their use by Democrats and avoidance by Republicans.

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