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Mental representations of gender-fair nouns in German legal language: An eye-movement and questionnaire-based study 


Zurück zum Heft: Linguistische Berichte Heft 237
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The present study investigates German legal texts with regard to their comprehensibility, readability, and acceptance of gender-fair role nouns. In a multimethod study eye movements were recorded while participants (N = 45) read sections of law. The sections contained role nouns in (a) the generic masculine (e.g. die Arbeitnehmer [the employees]), or (b) an alternative, gender-fair version not formally marked for gender (e.g. die Arbeitnehmenden). Eye movements and mental representations evoked by the role nouns were analysed. Participants rated the legal texts' comprehensibility and specified which version they preferred. The results indicate that, irrespective of word length, gender-fair and generic masculine role nouns differ most notably in the early stages of the reading process: Though gender-fair role nouns at first required more processing effort, grammatical gender did not affect reading in later stages. In mental representations, the analyses of reaction times showed that legal texts with gender-unmarked role nouns correlated with a significantly stronger cognitive inclusion of women than texts with generic masculine terms. The mental category man was significantly faster available in response to generic masculine sections of law, whereas the category woman was more frequently accessed after gender-unmarked sections of law. Recipients were basically open for gender-unmarked role nouns, which they rated as more comprehensible and gender-fair than the generic masculine nouns.