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Korean EFL Learners’ Use and Perception of English Epicene Pronoun: Focusing on Generic He and Singular They

  • The Sociolinguistic Journal of Korea
  • Abbr : 사회언어학
  • 2011, 19(2), pp.51-83
  • Publisher : The Sociolinguistic Society Of Korea
  • Research Area : Humanities > Linguistics

김기훈 1

1고려대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The English language does not possess a 3rd person singular epicene pronoun normally used in a sex-indefinite or gender-neutral context, so the masculine 3rd person singular “he” has taken the role for over centuries. However, many researchers have indicated that generic he is not exclusively sex-neutral in that it evokes masculine imagery. For this reason, in English speaking countries, singular they has successfully evolved as an alternative to generic he. Nevertheless, in the Korean EFL setting, where the importance of English education has been emphasized, the actual use and perception of the English epicene pronoun has rarely been considered. In this context, this study investigated Korean EFL learners’ use and perception of the 3rd person epicene pronoun in sex-neutral contexts. The research observed that generic he was the learners’ most preferred choice of pronoun though it indeed evoked masculine images, whereas singular they was neither widely accepted, nor often used. The present study also determined to what extent the use and perception of epicene pronouns were related to and affected by linguistic and biographical variables. It was also demonstrated that simplicity in epicene pronoun use could have assumed priority over nonsexist expression among some Korean EFL learners. The present study has implications in that it contributes to epicene pronoun education in Korean EFL settings, and to build awareness in Korean EFL learners regarding the issue of sex bias in language.

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