How to make a difference: the impact of gender-fair language on text comprehensibility amongst adults with and without an academic background

Laura Mathilde Pabst, Marlene Kollmayer

Introduction: The proliferation of gender-fair language as a medium of communication that represents all genders can be considered as an exciting development in today's rapidly changing world. In this context, the use of the gender asterisk has become especially prominent in German, it being a grammatical gender language. However, critics often argue that gender-fair language makes texts less comprehensible and decreases its aesthetic appeal. The present study tests this assumption for the German language and is the first one to test the influence of an academic background on the comprehensibility of gender-fair language.

Method: A text, either written in gender-fair language using the gender star in its singular and plural form or a version using only masculine-only forms, was randomly assigned to 81 adults without an academic background and 82 adults with an academic background (77% women in both groups). Participants were asked to fill out a web-based questionnaire answering questions on text comprehensibility and on their attitudes toward gender-fair language.

Results: The results show no statistically significant difference in comprehensibility ratings between participants who read a text in gender-fair language and those who read a text in masculine-only language. In addition, attitudes toward gender-fair language did not affect comprehensibility ratings in participants who read the text written in gender-fair language using the gender star. Further, the academic background had no effect on the assessment of gender-fair language.

Discussion: To conclude, the present study suggests that there is no evidence that gender-fair language reduces the comprehensibility of texts.

Institut für Psychologie der Entwicklung und Bildung
Externe Organisation(en)
Universität Wien
Frontiers in Psychology
ÖFOS 2012
504014 Gender Studies, 501002 Angewandte Psychologie
ASJC Scopus Sachgebiete
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