LINGUIST List 4.829

Tue 12 Oct 1993

Disc: Phonology, Neutral Pronouns

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , deletion in autosegmental phonology
  2. , Pronoun systems that mark sex -- what is possible?

Message 1: deletion in autosegmental phonology

Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1993 22:25 -05deletion in autosegmental phonology
From: <mike.maxwellSIL.ORG>
Subject: deletion in autosegmental phonology

As I understand it, current theories of deletion within the
general rubric of autosegmental phonology imply that consonants
(well, actually non-syllable nuclei, right?) will be deleted by
stray erasure if they are not prosodically licensed (either by
belonging to a syllable or by extraprosodicity). But vowels (or
other syllable nuclei) are always prosodically licensed, so if
they get deleted it must be by an explicit rule. Some questions:

(1) Is my understanding of this dichotomy correct?

(2) Assuming the answer to (1) is at least more or less "yes",
does this state of affairs bother anyone? Or is it rather seen as
an advantage of the theory that it distinguishes Cs and Vs in this

(3) Are there examples of prosodically licensed consonants that
nevertheless get deleted?

(4) Can vowels fail to be prosodically licensed? On analogy to
consonant deletion, I would think this would happen if the
syllable couldn't be assigned to a foot. But I've never seen an
analysis where a syllable couldn't get a foot--if need be, a
degenerate foot is set up with just the single syllable.
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Message 2: Pronoun systems that mark sex -- what is possible?

Date: Mon, 11 Oct 93 17:40:39 -0Pronoun systems that mark sex -- what is possible?
From: <>
Subject: Pronoun systems that mark sex -- what is possible?

A question for linguists:

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?

Let me explain: the Esperanto system of third-person pronouns runs
something like the following:
 | |
 _____|_________ |
 | | "oni" (one)
Personification PERSON NON-PERSON
 | |
 -------|------- "gxi"(it)
 | |
 | |
 | "ili" (they)
 | | |
 | | |
 "li" (he) "sxi" (she) ?????

Zamenhof, the creator of the Esperanto fundamentals, implied one could
fill in the ???? with 'gxi', the singular pronoun for non-persons.
His proposal is resisted by many speakers. Others have proposed
creating a new pronoun, or adopting the demonstrative for specific
objects and persons ('tiu') as a pronoun. Colloquially, speakers of
English in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) have adopted
"they" for this purpose.

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. Also, the masculine and
feminine genders apply to non-persons.

As I understand it, very few languages mark sex in their pronoun
systems the way English and Esperanto do. Of those that do, have any
developed a neutral pronoun for persons? If so, how?

Rob Helm (
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