LINGUIST List 4.1066

Thu 16 Dec 1993

Sum: Gender-neutral Pronouns: The sequel

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  1. , Gender-neutral pronouns: The sequel

Message 1: Gender-neutral pronouns: The sequel

Date: Mon, 06 Dec 93 11:56:26 -0Gender-neutral pronouns: The sequel
From: <>
Subject: Gender-neutral pronouns: The sequel


Below are some replies to my query about gender-neutral pronouns that
didn't make it into my first summary.

That original query was:

> People on the Esperanto mailing lists are talking about purging their
> language of sexism. One aspect of this is a search for a sex-neutral
> third-person singular pronoun. I am curious: what pronoun systems
> mark sex, but that also incorporate a neutral pronoun for persons?

B. Robert HELM Email:
Department of Computer and Information Science,
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403 (U. S. A.) Tel: +01 (503) 346-1382


 Date: Tue, 23 Nov 93 16:29:40 PST
 From: serwinsdcc3.UCSD.EDU (Sean Erwin)

Malagasy has a gender neutral 3rd person 'izy,' and the normal 2nd
person form is 'ianao,' but there are also specialized 2nd person
forms 'ialahy' used to address males, and 'indriaku' used to address

In addition, there are different words for some kinship terms,
depending if speaker is female or male:

'rahalahi'--brother, spoken by male
'anadahi' --brother, spoken by female.

Source: Anderson and Keenan, "Deixis" in Shopen 1985.


 Date: Wed, 24 Nov 1993 15:06:44 -0500 (EST)
 From: Robert D Hoberman <>

Modern Aramaic is pervaded by gender (masculine vs. feminine, no neuter)--every
noun is assigned to one or the other. Verb inflection in most tenses marks
gender of the subject and (under certain circumstances) object in the singular,
along with person and number. Independent pronouns, too, distinguish gender in
the second and third person singular, in most dialects. However, in some
dialects, such as the one described by Irene Garbell in THE JEWISH NEO-ARAMAIC
DIALECT OF PERSIAN AZERBAIJAN (The Hague: Mouton, 1965), the pronouns do not
show gender (pronouns, Garbell p. 58). Thus:

 qemen qeman 'I rise'
 qemet qemat 'you rise'
 qem qema 'he/she rises'

 qimli = qimli 'I rose'
 qimlox qimlax 'you rose'
 qimle qimla 'he/she rose'

 ana = ana 'I'
 at = at 'you'
 o = o 'he/she/it'

(Other dialects have forms like:
 ahit ahat 'you'
 awa aya 'he/she')

Robert Hoberman

 Date: Wed, 24 Nov 93 19:59:19 EST
 From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>

I did my dissertation on epicene pronouns in English, and so have a
more than passing interest in the topic. From what I understand about
the languages Corbett refers to, the pronouns in question are not so
much epicene, as have generic referents. You have to look closely, in
what he says there, as it's not very clear, but that seems to be
what's going on. In my dissertation, I argue that that is exactly
what is happening in English too with singular THEY. I would go so
far as to say that 'epicene' is not a natural linguistic category; if
a paradigm contains a male reference pronoun and a female reference
pronoun, it will not have a pronoun that refers to indistinct gender
functioning at the same number level. I have yet to see a counter
example. Why isn't THEY oper- ating that way in English? because on
one hand you get cases of singular THEY with referents of known sex,
while on the other, there are referents of unknown sex that are not
naturally refered to with singular THEY. I have a collection of cases
of the first type--from novels, newspaper articles, and TV shows. The
other involve cases where the reference is to a real person, but the
speaker does not know that person's sex. For example:-"I can't wait.
My favorite writer, Chris Rodriquez is coming to my house. -Who's
Chris Rodriquez, I never heard of him/her/*them.


> Date: Thu, 25 Nov 1993 21:19:16 -0500 (EST)

" (B. Robert Helm) writes:
" >In languages like German, there is a neuter grammatical gender, but
" >this is different: the neuter pronoun "es" can have a referent whose
" >sex is known to be (for instance) female.
" This is only correct if the antecedent of the pronoun is grammatically
" neuter, and even then, "es" is often only used for a brief time. For example,
" "das Maedchen" (girl) and "das Frauelein" (young, unmarried woman) both
" have female referents but are grammatically neuter. German speakers will
" generally use "es" within one or two sentences after these words are used,
" but often go over to "sie" (the feminine pronoun) in a longer discourse.
This is also true of Modern Greek, which has certain
grammatically neuter words:
 To paidi = lit. "the child" from Ancient
 Greek o pais (grammatically Masc).
 This is also used
 colloquially to refer to a
 person/people of any age.
 To agori = "boy, young man"
 To koritsi = "girl, young woman"
 To atomo = "person"

Animals often have masculine, feminine and neuter forms

There are countless other examples in dialect. Interestingly,
in Cypriot Greek o anthropos (grammatically masculine) = "man"
whereas in standard MG = "human being".

For these and other queries relating to Modern Greek, write to
the mailing list of the Modern Greek Studies Association at:

Ben Petre, Grad student
Department of Linguistics
Monash University
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