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3.3. Stereotypes

Speaking of concepts, there have been numerous ways of defining them. It used to be considered that a concept equals an icon, i.e. a mental image, but a more recent view suggests that a concept is a definition (see also Connolly et al. 2007, 2). The third view, being the most recent one, suggests that a concept is a stereotype (ibid.). Andrew et al., however, disagree with these three definitions and explain how some concepts may have stereotypes, but do not equal stereotypes (ibid.). What triggers stereotypes is not conceptualization itself, but categorization and generalization. Even though these two linguistic processes are linked to the mastering of language (see also Burghgraeve 1976, 183), they can also generate negative connotations, thus potentially leading to stereotyping.

What is a stereotype?

According to Hinton, “stereotypes are generalizations” (2000, 8) and “a feature of prejudice”

(2000, 14). They tend not to be subject to change (see also Hinton 2000, 9) and are maintained regardless of new information (see also Hinton 2000, 12). Many linguists identify a stereotype as an (over)generalization that ignores individual differences (see also Hinton 2000, 11-12). One of the main characteristics of stereotyping is assuming that all members of


a category are the same (see also Hinton 2000, 4). In other words, “stereotyping ignores the variability within a group of people” (ibid.). Therefore, as Hinton concluded, stereotypes are a form of inaccurate judgement (2000, 11), or as Lipmann simply put it, they are incorrect (qtd. in Hinton 2000, 9).

Lippmann (1922) was the first to introduce stereotyping within the frame of social sciences (qtd. in Hinton 2000, 8). He described stereotypes as “simplified pictures in our head of people and events in the world” (ibid.). He explained how we form these pictures in our head because the reality of the world is too massive and fleeting for us to grasp (ibid.). According to him, these pictures are often molded by our culture (ibid.) (analyzed in more detail in 3.1.2.). Because of its simplifying aspect, stereotyping is often identified with simple-mindedness (see also Hinton 2000, 19). Oftentimes, we are not even aware to what extent language and culture mold our thinking, which elicits the question: “Are we blind to our own limits?” (Underhill 2012, 19).

3.3.1. Language and Stereotypes

Many linguists, such as van Dijk, argue that prejudice, and thus stereotyping, are acquired and transmitted through communication (qtd. in Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). As Maass and Arcuri put it, “although stereotypes may take very different – verbal and nonverbal – forms, language is probably the dominant means by which they are defined, communicated and assessed” (1996, 193). Language helps transfer and maintain the existing stereotypes, often in such a subtle way that neither the speaker nor the listener are completely aware of its effect (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 220). Even though the way we use language does not alter reality, it does, however, alter our perception of reality (see also Hays 2000, 159). It helps us to take the world into our own consciousness (see also Underhill 2012, 22).

Furthermore, we use language as a means of social interaction (see also Günther 2016, 111) and words as social tools (see also Lupyan 2019, 154). When we are conveying cultural


ideas, language has a key role (see also Enfield 2000, 131), which is why we should always be aware that “words are not innocent” (Underhill 2012, 9). What and how we say something reflects our thinking, attitudes, and beliefs. Furthermore, as individuals, we are part of our community and our beliefs create our community's beliefs; our stereotypes feed our community's stereotypes. Therefore, we should be aware of the power words have when it comes to molding our perception and, ultimately, our community's perception.

3.3.2. Culture and Stereotypes

According to Hinton (2000, 9), stereotypes are oftentimes incorrect. What makes stereotyping inaccurate is its ethnocentrism or cultural absolutism which promotes that our view of the world is the correct view and that the norms imposed by our culture are accurate (Brown 1965, qtd. in Hinton 2000, 13). Along these lines, Hinton pointed out that stereotypes are the result of our limited cognitive activity and our culture-imposed knowledge and perception of the world (2000, 9). We often accept the normative influence imposed by our environment, i.e. by our social group made up of our family, friends, teachers, colleagues, media, and more (see also Hinton 2000, 19), and we consequently absorb ways of thinking we see among the members of our community.

Media and Stereotypes

Not rarely are subtly implanted stereotypes, oftentimes imposed by mass media, used as a tool for manipulating society. The source of prejudice often originates from textbooks, media, news reports, and even common talk (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). One example of socially imposed stereotyping is connected to discrimination based on gender, i.e. media's tendency to portray men and women in traditional and stereotypical ways. For example, in 1988, Kruse, Weimer, and Wagner analyzed the differences in the representation of women and men in German magazines (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). The conclusion was that the perception of gender roles in media still follows the traditional stereotypes; while men are presented as more logical and active, women are portrayed as more emotional and


passive (ibid.). Furthermore, Kirchler noticed the presence of stereotypical language in German, Swiss, and Austrian obituaries, which prevalently characterized male managers as intelligent and knowledgeable, while women were described as likable, adorable, and committed (ibid.) Moreover, data analyzing phraseology confirmed that in English, the phrase ‘(a) real man’ is used more often than ‘(a) real woman’ (see also Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014, 41). However, the phrase ‘(a) typical woman’ is more commonly used than

‘(a) typical man’ (ibid.). Besides these phrases, words such as womanly, motherly, childlike indicate that these roles are assigned certain gender-based stereotypes (ibid.).

Upbringing and Stereotypes

While mass media are linked to mass communication, the influence of language on stereotyping can occur on an interpersonal level as well, such as parent-child or teacher-student communication (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 195). Research conducted by Fagot and Leinbach, which focused on gender stereotypes, revealed that children with more traditional parents were more prone to gender stereotypes than their peers with less traditional parents (see also Maass and Arcuri 1996, 196). Gender stereotyping may also influence one's perception of family roles, which can ultimately affect how one perceives the category 'family'.

3.3.3. Stereotypes and Prototypes

What we choose as prototypical members of a category reflects our psychological processes of deciding if an item belongs to a category or not (see also Taylor 2008, 41), which can be a good indicator of our beliefs and ways of thinking. As mentioned in 3.2.6., a person can identify a prototype of a category they have learned, without directly being exposed to the prototype in question (see also Taylor 2008, 45). This is where stereotypes often come into play. We sometimes tend to have prejudices towards certain entities without ever being exposed to them. We build our beliefs based on the beliefs of our community; both consciously and subconsciously. We do not question the meaning and the power our words


have because we are part of a community that has imposed the meaning in question as a general truth. Blinded by our culture's perception of reality, we tend to forget that we are ultimately in charge of molding our thoughts.

3.3.4. Breaking Free From Imposed Thinking

Metalinguistic awareness is a linguistic category that enables an individual to reflect upon structural linguistic features (see also Zhou 2000, 346). “Metalinguistic awareness frees speakers from the conventional thinking and behavior dictated by their native languages”

(Zhou 2000, 360). Even though people find comfort in the linguistic rules imposed by their speech community, people themselves are, after all, the ultimate rulers of language (see also Trabant 2000, 41). Even though one might feel constrained by the community's implanted norms, “there is always an escape from the trap of one's language” (House 2000, 79).