Inclusive Language, Biased Language

neighbor welcome sign for a Washington, DC neighborhood neighbor welcome sign for a Washington, DC neighborhood

What is Inclusive Language? Biased Language?

Inclusive language (aka biased language) is language that is respectful and sensitive to ageism, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic and, the values, beliefs, symbolic practices of others.

The absence or presence of inclusive language affects

  • the tone of the message
  • the writer’s, speaker’s, or knowledge worker’s voice and, perhaps, persona.

Related Concepts: Audience; Diction; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning

What Does Inclusive Language Matter?

Audiences will not read your work or will dismiss your ideas if your language is unfair and biased.

Inclusive Language meets legal, ethical, and professional standards of conduct.

Inclusive language contributes to the credibility, the ethos, of the writer, speaker, knowledge worker . . .

Language that is sensitive to the values, beliefs, and customs of others creates a a professional tone that meets ethical and legal standards.

Just as writers hope their audience will be willing to respect their perspective and point of view, they need to respect the diverse and sometimes competing ideas of others.

a woman speaks into microphone while others listen
“Unconscious Bias in Recruiting Panel” by jurvetson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Types of Bias

  • Age, Ageism
    • older adults instead of the elderly
    • people over 65 instead of seniors
  • Disability
    • persons with disabilities instead of handicapped, challenged, disabled, or retarded
    • visually impaired instead of blind
    • persons with hearing loss instead of deaf individuals
    • mentally ill instead of crazy, moron, or loony
    • those with arthritis instead of arthritis sufferers
    • people with diabetes instead of diabetes patients 
  • Gender
    • he or she or they instead of he
    • men and women instead of males and females
    • humankind instead of mankind
    • garbage collector instead of garbage man
    • server instead of waitress
  • Racial & Ethnic Identity
    • African American instead of colored or Negro
    • Asian instead of Oriental
    • American Indian or Native American instead of Indian
    • Native Alaskan or Inuit instead of Eskimo
    • Hispanic instead of Spanish
    • Latino instead of Mexican
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Socioeconomic Status

Bias-Free Language. American Psychological Association, 4/20/21.