Biased Language and its Effect on People

Subject: Linguistics
Pages: 7
Words: 1910
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: Master

Introduction

A biased language is a language that discriminates against people based on their sex, physical condition, race, ethnicity, age, and other such attributes. A biased language is therefore unfair and hostile. It excludes certain groups of readers and fails to maintain goodwill between people (Rozakis 63). Biased language has long been used in the wider society and dates back to the creation of the universe. In the Bible, for instance, the pronoun ‘he’ and the noun ‘man’ are used extensively to refer to both genders. This is illustrated in Genesis chapter 1 verse 26 which states: “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion …,” (King James Version 1). The terms ‘he’ and ‘man’ are the most commonly used forms of biased language. However, biased language extends to almost all sectors of society including the healthcare sector, the education sector, and the business world. The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of biased language in different spheres of life such as in schools, professions, and business circles. Biased language hurts its users and addressees.

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Biased language and children’s imagery

During the last twenty years, a substantial number of research studies have been conducted to examine the effect of biased language on imagery development. The results from these studies have supported the notion that the use of masculine terms (such as he and man) to denote both genders contributes to a bias towards the male in imagery development. The majority of these studies however used samples of adults rather than children. Hyde (697-706) was among the first scholars to examine the effect of biased language on children’s imagery development. The researcher used a sample of children in grades 1, 2, and 5. The young participants were requested to rate how well women and men could execute several traditional jobs as well as a pretentious, gender-impartial occupation (“wudgemaker”). The pronouns used by Hyde to describe the occupations varied from one participant to another. Hyde (699) found that when the pronoun ‘he’ was used to refer to the “winemaker”, the children’s rating of how well women can perform the job was low. On the other hand, the children’s ratings of how well men can do the job were much higher. The reverse was also true in the case where the pronoun ‘she’ was used to refer to the occupation. From these results, Hyde concluded that the use of gender-related pronouns has a great impact on the perceptions that children develop about occupation, and especially their concepts of how successful women could perform the job. In addition, the researcher found out that the understanding of the use of the pronoun ‘he’ to refer to unknown persons of either gender increased with age because of the increase in the frequency with which the pronoun is used (Walsh-Bowers and O’Connor 106).

Biased language and English Language Learners

Substantial attention has been given in the last few years to the least biased language evaluation of culturally and linguistically diverse students who study English as a second language. The general agreement is that the administration of language examinations in English using contemporary norms is unsuitable for students whose principal language is non-English. Several reasons help to explain this agreement. First, students who are studying English as a second language have a lower chance of excelling in the language than monolingual counterparts on uniform tests that involve academic language skills, even in cases where the bilingual students are fluent in conversational contexts (Saenz and Huer 185). Examinations that are standardized in English may comprise members of diverse ethnic and racial groups. However, the proportion of culturally and linguistically diverse students incorporated in the norming groups naturally is less than that included in the population of the United States in general. In such situations, for the majority of the English standardized tests, the scores of ethnically minority students such as Asian and Latino students are still measured up to those of the middle class, ethnically predominant, and monolingual Euro-American students. As a result, such students perform worse than their peers for whom English is their native language. This however does not mean that English language learners (ELL) students are more academically or intellectually challenged than their counterparts. The reality is that the English language learners are being tested in a language that is foreign to them. In addition, the ELL students are expected to learn the subject matter of the school curriculum which is in a language they have not yet mastered. This is indeed a difficult task for students for whom English is not their first language.

A second issue concerning the least biased examinations in the public schools is the complication that arises from the fact that state or local administrative systems can spell out eligibility standards for speech-language services that involve “minimum standard scores, percentiles, or minimum standard deviations below the mean on standardized testing,” (Saenz and Huer 187) even though the utilization of standardized tests is voluntary. Due to the substantial numbers of English language learners in the public schools in many states, the diversity of the languages spoken by the English language learners, and the complications associated with obtaining interpreters for assessment, the majority of the speech-language pathologists keep on using and depending on standardized tests and their norms in English as a vital feature of their test. Possibly not inadvertently, states and communities that have greater numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse students also have an excessively high number of students who are registered in special education programs. The enrollment of ELL students in special education programs is a strong indicator of the bias with which such students are treated by their teachers and other education officials. Special education programs are created for students with learning disabilities such as autistic, hyperactive, and attention deficit disorder children. Enrolling ELL students in such programs reflects teachers’ beliefs that such students have a learning disability which in most cases is not true. The only problem that such students have is their lack of understanding of the language used by their teachers and the instructional materials. In effect, students who are referred for special education examinations are also subject to assessments using similar series of tests, even though they have different characteristics hence different needs and abilities.

Several reasons explain the steep challenges faced by ELL students in schools. The first reason is the negative opinion held by the general public concerning teaching ELL students in their native languages. The second reason pertains to the lack of patience on the part of schools and teachers to provide ELL students with ample time to become proficient in English before withdrawing language support. Language support for ELL students can be offered in the form of bilingual programs and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The reason for the withdrawal of ELL students from language support programs and their subsequent enrollment in special education programs lies in the educators’ inability to identify the differences between ELL students and students with learning disabilities. Swanson, Harris, and Graham state that, “like someone with a learning disability, an English language learner being taught in English may demonstrate poor comprehension, distractibility, and low academic performance although these traits reflect their limited knowledge of English rather than a disability,” (94).

To address the problems that English Language Learners students encounter as a result of biased language in schools, several measures should be taken. First and foremost, norms in standardized language examinations should be used with utmost care for bilingual children. Even bilingual students who have close to normal capabilities in reading, writing, and mathematics done in English have a lower chance of scoring above average on speech-language examinations that are normalized for the general population. The addition of test adjustments may not get rid of this dissimilarity, rendering test results suspicious for the majority of students who are currently supposed to be proficient in English and are being evaluated using standardized tests. A second measure involves the analysis of students’ scores on standardized academic examinations in school subjects. Even though such testing may not tackle the assessor’s matters of concern, it provides facts concerning the students’ capabilities of performing in standardized tests and particularly in areas that are associated with oral language. In addition, the testing provides information concerning students’ abilities to grasp information taught in the classroom (Saenz and Huer 188). Lastly, there is a need for education ministries to create professional development and technical support tools for educators working with ELL students. Such resources would enable the educators to identify students who need special education programs and those in need of only language support programs (Swanson, Harris, and Graham 96).

Biased language in the business world

Today’s business world is more dynamic than a decade ago. This is due to the ever-growing information technology that has made it possible for people to conduct businesses with others across the globe. Indeed, information technology has eliminated geographical boundaries that used to be one of the greatest barriers facing business people. Business people find themselves interacting and conducting businesses with people from all walks of life and all racial, ethnic, and language backgrounds. Businesses both great and small are carrying out huge volumes of sales and other transactions with clients from different continents via the Internet daily. As a result of this, the need for effective communication skills is greater today than it was a few years ago. How a person communicates and the words a person uses with fellow businessmen and clients greatly determine whether or not they will be successful in their endeavors (Rozakis 37).

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To survive in the increasingly diverse, multicultural, and pluralistic world, business managers must recognize the significance of communication as a skill prerequisite for business success. This recognition should be extended to the employees working in various business organizations because the employees are the representatives of the organizations and anything they do affects the overall performance of the organization. Besides using bias-free language when dealing with external stakeholders and clients, employees should also use bias-free language when dealing with their fellow employees. This entails paying attention to the titles used, the references made to employees with physical conditions, the references made to employees of different gender and employees of different age groups. The most effective way of avoiding biased language in the business world is to be aware of the different meanings attached to different words by different cultural, gender, and age groups. The use of bias-free language in the business world helps to maintain good relations among the employees, between the employers and employees, and between the organization and its external stakeholders and clients. Good relations in turn increase productivity and enhance the overall performance of the organization (Rozakis 38).

Conclusion

Biased language is commonly used in many sectors of the economy, including the government, business, education, and healthcare sectors among others. The existence of biased language is a result of people’s socialization and conditioning processes which most often create ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own culture is superior to the cultures of others. When used in schools, biased language can affect the academic performance of students, particularly students for whom that particular language is not their native language. When used in business circles, biased language can create misunderstandings between people and may cause a business organization to collapse due to the loss of clients. Indeed, biased language hurts its users and addressees.

Works Cited

Hyde, Janet. “Children’s Understanding of Sexist Language.” Developmental Psychology 20 (1984): 697-706.

King James Version. Wallingford: G.E.M. Publishing, 2001.

Rozakis, Laurie. The Literate Executive: How to Write Like a Leader. New York: McGraw Hill, 2000.

Saenz, Terry Irvine, and Mary Blake Huer. “Testing Strategies Involving Least Biased Language Assessment of Bilingual Children.” Communication Disorders Quarterly 24.4 (2003): 184.

Swanson, Lee, Karen Harris, and Steve Graham. Handbook of Learning Disabilities. New York: Guilford Press, 2005.

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Walsh-Bowers, Richard, and Barbara O’Connor. “A Preliminary Examination of the Effects of Gender-Biased Language on Children’s Imagery.” Journal of Educational Research 44.1 (1998): 103.