CfP: Legislative Drafting and Language Workshop. London 7-8 July 2020 Law, Language, and Gender: the way forward 

Legislative Drafting and Language Workshop

London 7-8 July 2020 

Law, Language, and Gender: the way forward 

During the late twentieth century proposals to modernize legislative drafting have been choral and among the specific causes generally mentioned there are sentences of undue length, overuse of archaic expressions, a labyrinth of sentences and clauses, partiality of nominalizations, lack of gender neutrality. There are inherent factors that make it difficult for the drafter to convey the intentions of the legislator and ensure there are no ambiguities and misunderstandings in the words and expressions that have been chosen. This is particularly true when the legislator aims to avoid gender-specific terms. Gender-neutral language, also called non-sexist, gender-inclusive, or non-gender-specific language (UNESCO – Priority Gender Equality Guidelines 2011), refers to language which includes words or expressions that cannot be taken to refer to one gender only (OED). Many countries have pledged themselves to a gender-neutral language in legislation, and the need to reform the way in which laws have been written for more than one-hundred years has been particularly, yet not exclusively, felt in English-language jurisdictions.

At this ‘Legislative Drafting and Language’ Workshop, scholars and experts in the field of law, legislative drafting, and linguistics are asked to explore the research space around law and language focusing on the strategies adopted by drafters in various jurisdictions, who are asked to write legal sentences aiming at gender fair and symmetric representation of genders. Our ambition is to envisage ‘a way forward’ in legislative drafting and to generate ideas that might challenge prevailing practices and beliefs, to cross the traditional boundaries of disciplines such as law and linguistics and eventually to interact successfully with scholars from different fields.

1st Theme: Gender neutrality and Westminster

Gender-neutral drafting has been the norm for some years in many jurisdictions that use English language to draft legislation. In the UK gender-neutral language has been applied to all government Bills and Acts since 2007. But what exactly does a switch to gender-neutral language entail in legislative drafting? The gender-neutral language recommended by the UK Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (OPC) generally requires “[i] avoiding gender-specific pronouns (such as ‘he’) for a person who is not necessarily of that gender; [ii] avoiding nouns that might appear to assume that a person of a particular gender will do a particular job or perform a particular role (e.g. ‘chairman’)” (OPC Drafting Guidance 2018). These OPC’s provisions have recently generated an interesting debate on the applicability of some gender-neutral drafting techniques (i.e., terminology, pronouns, ‘singular they’, repetition) particularly when their application comes at the cost of clarity and precision of the statutory provisions.

Topics that could be addressed in this domain include but are not limited to the following:

  • challenging old and new trends in legislative drafting techniques. Can government cope with the problem? 
  • exploring the recent legislative drafting techniques 
  • experts’ perceptions of gender-neutral drafting. Should government be a leader or a follower? 
  • comparing and contrasting (the accuracy of) definitions of key concepts
  • proposing new research methods and developing innovative research practices

2nd Theme: Learning from other legislative experiences

Apart from a lack of noun classification, English (namely, Modern English) can be considered a ‘gender language’ which resorts to a variety of linguistic means to construct and (re)present gender-related messages in a variety of discursive and communicative sites where issues of identity and power are involved. Likewise, international organizations such as the EU have recently shown some instances of a drafting style much more inclined to gender neutrality. However, it is interesting to see the strategies taken by countries with gender grammar language (Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew,  Hindi, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Polish , Romanian, Russian, Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian, Spanish, Swedish, Welsh) in which feminine-masculine pairs are recommended in order to avoid the masculine bias.

Topics that could be addressed in this domain include but are not limited to the following:

  • convergence-divergence of practices and findings in gender-neutral drafting techniques (empirical evidence)
  • emerging real-world settings, goals and materials (empirical evidence)
  • the availability of gender-neutral policies and the extent of their implementation
  • transplanting gender-neutral language, is it possible? (Experience from other jurisdictions) 
  • neutralization, feminization and/or a combination of the two. Is language ever a barrier?

3rd Theme: Gender, language and the law       

Although gender biases exist in most, if not all, languages, they may be more or less apparent, depending on the structure of the language. In this regard, two types of languages can be distinguished: languages with grammatical gender (i.e., Italian, German, French) and languages that lack noun classification (i.e., English, Finnish, Turkish). In terms of grammatical structures, gender and linguistic gender asymmetries are much more visible in grammatical gender languages than in languages that lack noun classification. For this reason, it is interesting to explore the lexico-grammatical and discoursal strategies adopted by drafters over the last decades in different legislations (with different languages), who are asked to write legal sentences aiming at gender fair and symmetric representation of genders. 

Topics that could be addressed in this domain include but are not limited to the following:

  • assessing gender-neutral language in legislation from a linguistic point of view 
  • challenging fixed old habits in gender-neutral legislative drafting techniques 
  • discourse analysis and gender-neutral language
  • convergence-divergence in legislative drafting techniques across languages 
  • gender-based language reform and the law. Is there a dominant paradigm?

Proposals for each individual paper should be approx. 250 words long. Please send also a 150-word bio for

each participant. 

Please send your proposal by 31 March (this is still a provisional deadline) 2020 to: 

Giulia Adriana Pennisi

Costantin Stefanou

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