Gender and language

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linguoboy
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Gender and language

Postby linguoboy » 2020-07-20, 20:51

Inspired by this tangential comment elsewhere:
Linguaphile wrote:Honestly, the different ways languages are adapting to become more inclusive (or not adapting, as the case may be) is a truly fascinating field of study. In Estonian and Finnish, it's entirely possible to have very lengthy interactions discussing a person without ever knowing or needing to know what gender a person is; in Spanish, you can't even get past the first adjective that way. And it gets much more nuanced than that. I've had many "lightbulb moments" when seeing for the first time how a language's grammatical structure impacts the interpretation or expression of gender issues. It's probably not the right topic for this thread since this is "what made you laugh" and this isn't something I find funny in a "haha" way - if I laugh (and I sometimes do!) it's in a startled "oh wow, I hadn't thought of it like that but that really solves an issue we have in English [or creates one we don't have in English]" sort of way, not in a "that's a good joke" way. This is not the right place to post examples so I won't, but it's just fascinating.


There have been some recent attempts to do something about the situation in Spanish. I'd recently heard about the -e termination, but not about some of these other proposals: https://nonbinary.wiki/wiki/Gender_neutral_language_in_Spanish. I find them fascinating because they represent a much more thoroughgoing attempt to shift grammatical norms than just creating a set of gender-neutral pronouns. I haven't heard of any other Romance languages attempting anything as radical.

I've been wondering for a while if there's any move to move away from gendered pronouns in Korean and other East Asian languages. The irony is that these languages historically did not distinguish gender in third-person pronouns (or--in the case of Korean--make much use of them at all) and only very recently developed such a distinction under the influence of European languages. But it only takes a few generations to make a change seem "natural" and now a contrast between 그 /ku/ and 그녀 /kunye/ is pretty firmly established. Still, it's perfectly possible to avoid using either in many cases without sounding stilted because Korean generally prefers repeating personal designations (whether personal names, kinship terms, titles, or some combination of these) to using anaphoric pronouns.
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Re: Gender and language

Postby Linguaphile » 2020-07-20, 21:56

Well, since I'm the one quoted....

linguoboy wrote:There have been some recent attempts to do something about the situation in Spanish. I'd recently heard about the -e termination, but not about some of these other proposals: https://nonbinary.wiki/wiki/Gender_neutral_language_in_Spanish. I find them fascinating because they represent a much more thoroughgoing attempt to shift grammatical norms than just creating a set of gender-neutral pronouns. I haven't heard of any other Romance languages attempting anything as radical.

Yes, but the problem with many of them, like amig@, amig*, amigⒶ, amigx, etc., is that they work fine in writing but don't have an agreed-upon pronunciation. When reading them aloud, you send up saying "amigo/amiga", and if you're going to say it that way, you might as well be writing it that way too (which has already been a norm for a long time, usually written as amigo/a). RAE's position is: "El uso de la arroba como marca de género no es ni necesario ni aceptable desde el punto de vista de la morfología del español. Si desea dirigirse explícitamente a personas de uno y otro sexo, puede usar la barra separando las terminaciones, en el orden que desee."
► Show Spoiler


With the vowels, there are several issues. Using "e" creates some homonyms ("los/las" become "les", but that already has a different use, for example), and for many words the -e ending is a masculine form already in the plural (españoles, doctores, profesores, etc.) so it's harder to view it as inclusive.
Using "u" (amigu) (and in some cases "i") is perceived as imitating/mocking an indigenous (and unfortunately, by stereotypical association, uneducated) accent in some regions - try to adapt to the needs of one group and alienate another! - although if the use of "u" for gender-neutral language became better-known the association with indigenous and/or uneducated accents would hopefully die away.

For now, though, it's all really quite complicated.

For example, here's what RAE has stated: "La morfología del género en los sustantivos que designan seres animados se basa en un esquema binario, basado en las categorías biológicas de sexo masculino/femenino, de manera que el sistema lingüístico no dispone de un recurso específico para esa eventualidad." and "El uso de la @ o de las letras «e» y «x» como supuestas marcas de género inclusivo es ajeno a la morfología del español, además de innecesario, pues el masculino gramatical ya cumple esa función como término no marcado de la oposición de género."
► Show Spoiler

They also recommend simply avoiding gendered words, such as saying things like "cada quien" in place of "cada uno". Trying to entirely avoid gendered words in Spanish in spoken language is impossible though, at least the way it is now.

Google Translate made a big deal of adding gender-specific translations a year or two ago, hyped as "eliminating gender bias" (which is a valid point, as previously it used mainly masculine forms). But it also created the awkward situation that if you type "non binary" into Google Translate, you get a little note right above the translation that says "Translations are gender-specific" and proceeds to offer you two translations: "No binaria(feminine)" or "No binario(masculine)". This was unfortunately turned into a meme supposedly claiming that Google Translate was taking a stand against gender-neutral terms. But actually this is not the case as GT also gives a definition of "non binary" which is the following: "not relating to, composed of, or involving just two things. Aristotelian ontology is nonbinary on the second level in that it allows for degrees of being 2 relating to, using, or denoting a system of numerical notation that does not have 2 as a base. The enumeration data is stored in a nonbinary format." So it is not talking about the human gender-related meaning of "non binary", at least not primarily. Anyway, they have somewhat fixed it; you still get what I've described above if you type in "non binary" as two words or joined by a hyphen, but if you write it as "nonbinary" (as one word), it gives you only one choice, "no binario" (and the masculine form is correct for the gender category, because it refers to género no binario, and género is masculine regardless of the gender of the person in question.

Another gender issue is the use of the masculine form whenever there is any man in a group, regardless of the presence of women. I once had a guy ask me why he should learn the use of the word nosotras if there is no conceivable situation in which he would ever say it, and to a certain extent he does have a point there (although he should learn it in order to understand people say it when they are referring to groups he isn't part of, for example).
But there is also a trend to go by "majority rules" rather than "male-dominated" language, by which I mean that traditionally in a group of 30, if there are 29 women and one man, everyone in the group should use the word nosotros ("we") because of that one man, but by "majority rules" then everyone in the group should use the word nosotras (even the man should use it when he wants to say "we") because there are more women than men.
It makes some sense. I've seen that logic being used in conversation but I've yet to encounter a situation in which the men say nosotros while the women in the same group say nosotras, although, to be honest, that would seem to me to be a fairly logical solution as well. :mrgreen: I think the issue with that scenario might be that by using nosotros in that situation it might sound as though the men were objecting to the women's use of nosotras for the group ("correcting" the women by using the "right" pronoun), rather than simply referring to their own gender.

This is a long (156p) but interesting read: Informe de la Real Academia Española sobre el lenguaje inclusivo y cuestiones conexas

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Re: Gender and language

Postby vijayjohn » 2020-07-21, 2:33

I'm not aware of anything having happened in Chinese, but then the pronunciation never changed in any variety of Chinese I know of anyway.

Malayalam does have gender-specific pronouns, and they are commonly used, but they are not particularly polite in the first place, so I'm not sure there's any perceived need to eliminate them altogether.

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Re: Gender and language

Postby Aurinĭa » 2020-07-21, 12:24

vijayjohn wrote:I'm not aware of anything having happened in Chinese, but then the pronunciation never changed in any variety of Chinese I know of anyway.

According to Wikipedia, this is what happened in Chinese. A change in written language, but no change in spoken language.

Following the iconoclastic May Fourth Movement in 1919, and to accommodate the translation of Western literature, written vernacular Chinese developed separate pronouns for gender-differentiated speech, and to address animals, deities, and inanimate objects. In the second person, they are nǐ (祢 "you, a deity"), nǐ (你 "you, a male"), and nǐ (妳 "you, a female"). In the third person, they are tā (牠 "it, an animal"), tā (祂 "it, a deity"), and tā (它 "it, an inanimate object"). Among users of traditional Chinese characters, these distinctions are only made in Taiwanese Mandarin; in simplified Chinese, tā (它) is the only third-person non-human form and nǐ (你) is the only second person form. The third person distinction between "he" (他) and "she" (她) remain in use in all forms of written standard Mandarin.[6]

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Re: Gender and language

Postby vijayjohn » 2020-07-21, 15:15

Yes, of course; what I mean is I'm not aware of the change in the written language having been reversed or anything like that.

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Re: Gender and language

Postby linguoboy » 2020-07-21, 15:22

vijayjohn wrote:I'm not aware of anything having happened in Chinese, but then the pronunciation never changed in any variety of Chinese I know of anyway.

Victor Mair posted in Language Log seven years ago about attempts to replace 他 and 她 with epicene "ta": https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=8937. He notes:
In any case, it is noteworthy that some native speakers feel the need to resort to using Pinyin in order to avoid indicating gender. My guess is that they do so, instead of simply junking all the concocted gendered forms of the second and third person pronouns and just going back to genderless tā 他 ("he, she, it") and nǐ 你 ("you"), because the characters seem somehow to be palpable and eternal. Once they come into existence, it is hard ever to let go of them.

I don't know if this was a blip or if it's actually gained any traction. I haven't noticed "ta" being used extensively in Mandarin texts, but then I'm not active in the sorts of fora where you might see that.
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Re: Gender and language

Postby OldBoring » 2020-07-26, 13:58

"TA" in China (I've never seen it lowercase) is used in social media and in online language, but not in official texts.


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