Does the brain think masculine?

Science and Avenir: Does the brain automatically differentiate between so-called “general” masculinity – applied to men and women – and so-called “specific” masculinity that applies only to men?

Pascal Gygax : No, because there is no morphological difference between the two: it is exactly the same word. When you say a sentence like: “The musicians came out of the cafeteria”, the brain intuitively considers the masculine sentence, imagining that the musicians are mostly men. Because the brain manages ambiguity very badly, especially in contexts that do not allow it to be said whether it is masculine used as typical or generic. This is the same ambiguity one finds in a sentence such as “the politician asked the researcher to recall the geneticist Emmanuel Charpentier” … The easiest and most frequent is use. For 50 years, a lot of scientific work has been interested in this semantic ambiguity and the way the brain manages it and comes to the same conclusion: the fact that the male form produces male representations, a consensus in experimental psychology. Is.

Why doesn’t the brain care?

Because of its mode of operation and the link between language and thought, as demonstrated by the Americans, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf in the early XXI century – and later psychologist Dan Slobin: The words we use reflect the way we see the world. And – in our brain – these words activate what we might say, to simplify, referring to the word “bulb” as well as its meaning. To avoid excessive energy expenditure, the brain will leave some of these bulbs (e.g. male = male), which are used most often, “on standby”, so that they do not have to constantly re-light. So, if I say “I put a beer in the car”, you would unintentionally imagine the drink as the link between “beer” and “drink” already “lights up” in your brain… and brain will have to provide. Attempts to imagine that “beer” could be a coffin. Literature studies in social psychology abound to show that these types of special associations are made to designate women and men.

Can’t we say that there is an “neuter” in French, which would use the masculine?

The problem is the notion of the impotent: I challenge anyone to understand what that word means. So, how to imagine a “neutral” person? Is this a bisexual person whose identity, or form, is neither female nor male? We sometimes speak of a mixed meaning and this meaning itself has several meanings: is it one man and 50 women? exactly the opposite? 50 men and 50 women? One man and 50 non-binary people? In short, it is psychologically difficult to conceptualize “neutral”.

Confronted with a masculine, of which it cannot yet know whether it is specific or general, is the brain not able to wait for an element of context before interpreting?

we can actually imagine that the brain is going possibly Word “go” and wait until the context makes sense to it. But it is not because – once again – the brain does not handle ambiguity well: it would like to give meaning to this masculine immediately. This is an example of a cloud in the sky: if we look at it, we see a shape. Our work in psycholinguistics – as has been done in England and the United States since the 1970s – shows that the brain tends to the simplest, most frequent and 1.Is Means learned, that is, the so-called specific masculine. Furthermore, girls who are addressed using the feminine from birth will always more quickly assimilate the masculine with another, that is, say the male. The reverse, neutral therefore, is so complex and counter-intuitive that the brain does not automatically validate this version.

Do you think that calling writing – and language – inclusive is a solution?

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Be wary of the use of the word “inclusive”, which in the minds of the majority is too limited to the use of contractual forms such as the one with a midpoint (eg student, editor’s note). It is only one tool for inclusive writing. We often hear of the “feminization” of language being spoken of incorrectly, but it is much more than the “refeminization” in question: the words authorship, medical or philosophical, were in use until the 19th century, for example.I century! It is very deliberate that they were formally omitted from the language in the XVII in the first editions of the Dictionary of the Academy.I century. We must therefore speak of a “monetisation” of language, or non-exclusive language, i.e. separating itself from the masculine by default. And we tested the effect on women’s visibility in relation to occupations. Our work – as well as that of other laboratories – has undoubtedly shown that the way we express ourselves alters our representations.

Do you mean that when we take this name as feminine we imagine more women practicing a certain profession?

Yes, but our work goes beyond that. Basically, we wanted to develop a questionnaire to find out whether people rated certain occupations more as women or men on an 11 point scale. But how do you do it? Should the profession be masculine? Woman? First the masculine position – ie on the left – and the feminine on the right? exactly the opposite? So we decided to test all possible versions to see if the stereotype would change. And what is amazing is that the stereotype changes depending on the form used! And it is when the feminine form was used on the left – and therefore earlier – and the masculine on the right, that the proportion of women seen for these occupations was greatest (an increase of about 2 to 5%). And this holds for all the trades tested. The lowest ratio appears when we only used the masculine or when it is placed first, so on the left. This effect struck us by surprise at first, because we thought, like many people, that stereotypes were stable, in other words, stable standards in people’s heads. And yet, these stereotypes vary according to the order of mention! Putting women in the first place increases the visibility of women, at least in terms of percentages estimated for these occupations. We have had similar results with children.

With these results in mind, do you have any recommendations to do?

We are scientists and we don’t have to make any recommendations. On the other hand, we can say that if we want to break out of the male prism, we must consider a change in practices and deactivate language using the various tools offered by inclusive writing. In some countries, such as Great Britain with the Sexist Act of the 1970s, certain words such as “postman” or “policeman” have been banned for example… Language is a daily and concrete tool in the fight against inequalities . One can even imagine that women become universal! The University of Neuchatel (Switzerland) thus formulates all of its rules for women with a note specifying that they apply to men as well. But if androcentric formulations persist in spite of everything, it’s because they probably still appeal to some people.

Is the introduction of the pronoun “iel” in Le Robert’s dictionary – meaning both he and she – a step in this direction?

I do not understand the debate arising from the inclusion of this pronoun in the dictionary. Isn’t the latter designed to identify words we might encounter and whose meanings we want to understand? And what about the 350 other new words introduced in the same dictionary? I’m sure some of them are a lot more problematic! There is a general misunderstanding of the political aspect of a language. So when one criticizes inclusive writing for being political and extremist, doesn’t it imply that the French may never have been? To think so is to ignore all the amendments necessary to establish certain powers. Language has always been political. Thus author is a word from Latin that existed for 19 centuries before it was removed! And Moliere wrote “Autograph”. In France, the Académie française establishes itself as a custodian of the language, but does not actually contain language experts within it. Recall that in the 1930s, it issued recommendations on grammar and was immediately “demolished” by experts. He never risked it again. So in the name of legitimacy do we listen to him?

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