Systemic Functional Linguistics: As
an Innovative Approach to
Language and Gender Study
Second National Conference on Language, Discourse
Jan 23-25, 2013
Seyyed Ahmad Mousavi
Pame Noor University
Outline of presentation
Aim and purpose of the study
Inspirational ideas led me to do this study
Previous research and background
Results and discussion
1. Aim and purpose of the study
The purpose of the present study is to find out
whether Iranian high school English textbooks
are sexist textbooks which discriminate
between male and female students based on
their sex. To this end, four English textbooks
currently taught in the Iranian high schools
were examined for that purpose.
2. Inspirational ideas led me to do
• A conversational topic in a language institute,
when I used to teach English there: Do
teachers treat girls and boys equally and fairly?
• Despite increased awareness of gender bias
and attempt to counteract this, the problem
persists, within education as in other contexts
(Swann, 1992, p.34).
• The problem of gender bias language has been
around us for centuries and still does exist in
the dot com era(Swann, 2005).
• Generic nouns and pronouns (such as you and we)
were observed not to be true generic ones because
they are often associated with male pictures. See the
following picture which has been taken from (English
Book 2, p.13)
If you want to take a photograph, you must have a camera.
Is this fair?
4. Research questions
1. Are males more visible than females in the written
2. Are males more visible than females in the
illustrations of the textbooks??
3. Are males in the position of theme and rheme as well
as the last stressed element of clauses are more than
those of females. In other words, do males have more
social prominence than females as represented by the
4. Do male nouns and pronouns outnumber their
counterparts in all participant roles? In other words,
do men perform more and different social roles than
those of men, as it is represented by the textbooks?
In order to gain robust results and to text the
data statistically, the following four hypotheses
1. Males are more visible than females in
texts of the textbooks.
2. Males are more visible than females in
illustrations of the textbooks.
3. Males in the position of theme and rheme
as well as the last stressed element of
clauses are more than those of females. In
other words, males have more social
prominence than females.
4. Male nouns and pronouns outnumber their
counterparts in all participant roles. In
other words, men perform more and
different social roles than those of women.
Four current EFL/ELT textbooks, i.e. English Book 1, 2, 3, and Learning
to Read English for Pre-university Students
6.2 Data collection procedures:
For content analysis(frequency analysis):
(1) The frequencies of male and female mentions in texts and illustrations
were counted and tabulated .
For linguistic analysis (thematic and semantic role analysis):
(1) First, all the clauses containing at least one gender-specific noun or
pronoun (e.g. Maryam has an English book) were collected.
(2) Second, these clauses were categorized by gender and by theme/rheme
distinction. And the same clauses were examined to see if they contain last
stressed gender-specific nouns or pronouns.
3. Third, all gender-specific noun or pronouns performing particular
semantic or participant roles were counted and tabulated
6.3 Data analysis procedures:
To analyze the data the following descriptive statistics were used: a)
frequency and percentage and b) chi-square test
7. Results & Discussion
Hypothesis 1: Males are more visible than females in texts of the surveyed
Table 7.1 Frequency of male and female visibility in the text of all the four
English Book 1
26 218 100
English Book 2
31 156 100
English Book 3
29 192 100
186 29 634 100
Note 1: All percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number so that
they add up to 100% .
Note 2: F=Frequency, % =Percentage
Testing the first hypothesis:
Table 7.2 Chi-square test for males and females' visibility in the texts.
X = Chi- square test
df= degree of freedom
At the .05 level and with 1 degree of freedom, the critical Chi-square is
3.84. Since the obtained Chi-squares (108.28) is greater than the critical
value of Chi-square, we can safely accept the hypothesis that males are
more visible than females in texts of these textbooks
Hypothesis 2: Males are more visible than females in the pictures of
Table 7.3 Frequency of males and females visibility in the Pictures of all
the four text books
English Book 1
English Book 2
English Book 3
Pre-university English Book
Testing the second hypothesis
Table 7.4 Chi-square test for sex category and visibility in the pictures
The observed chi-square is larger than the critical chi-square. Therefore, the
second hypothesis is confirmed at the 0.05 level of significance
Hypothesis 3: Males in the position of theme and rheme as well as the last
stressed element of clauses are more than those of females. In other words,
males have more social prominence than females as represented by the
Table 7.5 Frequency of gender specific nouns and pronouns in all the four
Note 1: Theme = Psychological subject of a clause; rheme = noun or
Pronoun developing the subject.
Note 2: Last stressed element is the last constituent of the clause that bears
the information focus of a clause. For example: This book is Mr. Ahmadi's
Testing Hypothesis 3:
7.6. Chi-square test for sex category and
Last stressed 11
Last stressed 4
theme, rheme, and last stressed
Since the obtained chi-square is greater than that of the critical chi- square,
the second hypothesis is supported.
Hypothesis 4: Male nouns and pronouns outnumber their counterparts in
all types of participant roles.
Table 7.7 Frequency of participant roles of gender-specific nouns and
pronouns in all four textbooks
Note: Actor = a doer ; senser = a person's feeling, thinking or seeing;
token = a person having an attribute or relation to another; sayer= a
verbaliser; possessor= owner
Testing hypothesis 4
Table 7.8. Chi-square test for sex category and participant roles
The obtained Chi-square is far much greater than the critical value of Chi-square, thus
the last hypothesis was accepted at the 0.05 level of significance.
Both in texts and illustrations women suffered from underrepresentation.
Close examination of various semantic roles revealed subtle gender
stereotyping roles and females were under-represented and
overloaded with traditional stereotypical roles whereas males
appeared only as cooperative.
Theme is the most important part of the clause from the point of
view of its representation of a message in a sequence (Halliday,
2004). The last stressed element (end-focus) of a clause is also
important. These positions bear the information focus and have more
communicative prominence. Males have been found to dominate
these thematic positions of the clauses.
Results revealed that the books studied were biased in terms of all the
One implication of this study might be to raise awareness and
consciousness in EFL material developers regarding gender
prejudiced materials so as to help them initiate modifications
regarding such inequities after almost 20 years of publishing the
same gender-bias loaded materials with no change.
Material developers and curriculum designers should pay attention
to and consider the guidelines of gender-fair material development
Teachers, in addition, if made aware can deal with gender-biased
materials logically and present them in an unbiased way (Sunderland
et. al., 2001).
10. Problem solution
1. We attempt to bring these linguistic imbalances to the textbooks
writers’ attention who are responsible for designing and writing the
2. The writers of the textbooks should attempt to let more females to
function as actors, sayers and possessors.
3. let both men and women authors to have roles in writing and
4. The following rules should be observed when we write or speak.
Avoid the generic use of "He". Instead recast it into the plural
Give each student his paper as soon as he Give students their papers as soon as they
Eliminate the He pronoun
The average student is worried about his The average student is worried about
Replace the masculine pronoun with "you"
If the student is dissatisfied with his grade, If you are dissatisfied with your grade,
he can appeal
you can appeal
Replace the masculine pronoun with "he or she"
If the student is dissatisfied with his grade, Student who is dissatisfied with his/her
he can appeal
grade can appeal
Use plural indefinite pronouns (definite pronouns are always singular: anyone,
anybody, someone, somebody, everyone, everybody, one, each, every)
Anyone who wants to go must bring his All those who want to go must bring their
Use the double-pronoun construction (use sparingly)
Every person has a right to his opinion.
Every person has a right to his or her
Use de-gendered terms for both males and females.
De-gender, don't re-gender
The word "Man" and its derivations should be avoided
Camera operator, photographer
Thank you for being fair
Any questions? Any comments?