Berlin’s new conservative mayor Kai Wegner has said he does not intend to use gender-neutral terms in his office, insisting he wants to use language “that everyone can understand”.
The 50-year-old Wegner, who became mayor of the German capital last month, initially said in an interview with Bild am Sonntag that he was considering eliminating gender-neutral terminology entirely in the city administration. “I have yet to sign any letter in gender-neutral language. What is important to me is that the administrative language is comprehensible. In private, everyone can speak as they see fit, but in the town hall I want to speak the German I learned at school that everyone can understand.” he said.
Wegner emphasized how important it is that new immigrants in Germany, who are encouraged to learn German, do not find the language more difficult than it already is. “We expect people who come to Germany to learn German, and especially the authorities really shouldn’t make learning the language harder than it is,” he said.
After a flurry of criticism accusing him of misrepresenting the real reasons for his opposition to gender-neutral language, the mayor backtracked a bit, saying in an interview with Tagesspiegel that he was in no way planning a blanket ban on gender-neutral language. “I would just like to have a language that is understandable,” he said. “Everyone has the right to speak as they wish, but I personally will continue to write as I learned in school. Therefore, I have not and do not intend to sign any letter from my office in gender-neutral language.”
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In recent years, in the light of social changes and linguistic feminism, German has begun to avoid the use of the generic masculine gender when it comes to women, adding a “gender asterisk” before the end of the word (e.g. Bürger*innen instead Bürger).
But this trend also has its staunch opponents, who complain that such modifications make the language more awkward and difficult to pronounce. A Johanna Usinger, one of the proponents of the alternative form does not agree. “Language affects our thinking. If we only use the male form, it creates a mental image that is often at odds with reality.“
For Usinger, gender-neutral language is an expression of “democratic principles and behavior” that “expresses respect for everyone, regardless of their gender.”
The campaign against gender-neutral terminology is supported primarily by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), as well as Wegner’s Christian Democrats (CDU), who argue that the use of the generic male gender did nothing to stop the chancellor’s rise Angela Merkel, who sat in the “Chancellor’s Office” (Bundeskanzleramt), but not “the chancellor’s office”. Until 2004, the term “chancellor” in the constitution (“Bundeskanzlerin“) did not even exist yet, writes the Guardian.