Does using inclusive language really matter?

inclusive language

Our copywriter has been working around inclusive language use for a while. Not just because it is her job, but also because she believes that the words you use matter. In this article, you will discover why. 

Language’s impact on thought

Ever since the 19th century, people have researched the connection between language and the way we think about the world. The most famous hypothesis dates back to the 20th century and is known as the ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’ or ‘linguistic relativity’. In short, this hypothesis says that the language you speak influences your perception and thinking. Until today, different scientists have used research to try to prove this hypothesis.

Russian, for example, has two words for the color blue that can be translated as ‘light blue’ and ‘dark blue’. Turns out, Russian speakers are better at discerning shades of blue than, say, English speakers. Another example: In Guugu Yimithirr (an Australian Aboriginal language), people do not talk about left and right, but they use cardinal directions to say where something is located. What follows is that speakers of Yimithirr can orient themselves much better. If you have fifteen minutes to spare, this Ted Talk explains everything even better. If you have more than fifteen minutes, you can call our copywriter.   

The impact of using inclusive language

When we talk about inclusive language use, we know that, at least, it impacts who feels addressed. A good example of this is gender-inclusive language. On the one hand, this questions the pervasiveness of the male norm in the language. For example, it is now preferred to use terms such as police officer or spokesperson instead of dated terms such as policeman or spokesman. On the other hand, it shifts more attention to the fact that part of the population does not identify as a man or woman, but instead as nonbinary. Therefore, airline companies, for example, increasingly address their passengers with ‘dear passengers’ instead of ‘ladies and gentlemen’.

Moreover, in job advertisements, we are seeing more ‘m/f/x’, and people are trying to use ‘they/ them’, together with ‘he/ him’ and ‘she/her’ to refer to people. If you remember these things in your marketing, you can expect to reach more nonbinary people. Furthermore, other minority groups will also relate more when you use gender-inclusive language. Of course, there are other things apart from gender you can take into account in your language use.

From inclusive language use to inclusive thinking?

Imagine that you put your pronouns in your email signature. By doing this you show that you ‘know what’s up’ with gender-inclusive language use. But if you want to make structural changes, you need to get rid of the idea that gender is binary and that you can always see how someone wants to be addressed. Or imagine that from now on, you want to write as much as possible from a ‘person-first’ perspective, which means you are talking about ‘people with a disability’, instead of reducing someone to their disability. Then, it is not surprising that you are going to be looking at the world (and your marketing) differently. In any case, our copywriter will continue to research all of this.

Do you want to further explore how inclusive language use can change the world? We will be publishing a practical guide soon! A little more patience…


Written by

Carlien Coppieters

Carlien is seriously involved with finding the right words. A fairly essential quality, as a copywriter. But when it comes to describing herself, chances are she’ll get stuck at ‘professional dad joke-maker’. Thank goodness she gets to write about other things at Allyens!
26 July 2021

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