LINGUIST List 4.982

Tue 23 Nov 1993

Sum: Gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns

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Message 1: Summary: Gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns

Date: Tue, 23 Nov 93 10:21:01 -0Summary: Gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns
From: <bhelmmajestix.cs.uoregon.eduS>
Subject: Summary: Gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns

GENDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUNS: A summary

Thanks to everyone who replied to my query about gender-neutral
pronouns. Here is a selection of replies giving data from languages
other than Esperanto. My question also sparked some suggestions for
resolving the gender question in Esperanto. I have relegated these
replies to a separate summary.

My original query:

> 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?

To summarize the responses:

1. A couple of languages were mentioned that apparently have both
gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns. However, this appears to
be rare. Many more languages jettison gender altogether in the
pronouns. Greville Corbett's book describes some solutions adopted to
get around the gender problem in other languages. For Esperanto, the
most relevant languages discussed are English (whose gender system
most closely resembles Esperanto) and Polish (a language well-known to
Esperanto's founder, Zamenhof). Not surprisingly, the Polish solution
(use of a neuter pronoun) is the one Zamenhof suggested for Esperanto
originally.

2. Several people corrected my misconceptions about other languages,
particularly about the geographic distribution of "they" as a singular
pronoun. Several also noted errors in my Esperanto table of pronouns.

3. Some replies described languages that are even more "sexy" than
Esperanto :-)

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


 -------------------------------------------------------------------------
1. Languages with gender-neutral pronouns and other solutions.
 -------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Date: Mon, 11 Oct 93 20:07:03 -0700
 From: donhnetcom.com (Don Harlow)

I am told that Hungarian uses a gender-neutral pronoun. Spoken putonghua
has a gender-neutral pronoun in the third person (_ta_); but the written
form uses different second radicals for men and women.

--
Don Harlow donhnetcom.com
Esperanto League (Info only) (800)828-5944 or elnanetcom.com
Turnig^as la Rado de la Tempo,
kaj postlasas multajn vojkadavretojn. (Lau^ Robert Jordan)

-----
 From: ursula.doleschalwu-wien.ac.at (ursula.doleschal)
 Date: Wed, 13 Oct 93 10:44:34 +0100

There is what appears to be a sex-neutral pronoun alongside with
sex-differentiating ones in the African language Zande, as described by
Ulrike Claudi in "Zur Entstehung von Genussystemen" Hamburg: Buske 1985.
But there are other descriptions of the language by Tucker and Gore and
Santandrea, I cannot tell you the exact references now.

Ursula Doleschal

-----
 From: Prof Greville G Corbett <lis1gcsurrey.ac.uk>
 Date: Wed, 13 Oct 93 12:42:13 BST

Dear Rob
I saw your message on the Linguist list. I gathered information
on how languages tackle the problem in:
Greville G. Corbett 1991 Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, pages 218-223.

-----
 Date: Tue, 12 Oct 93 14:26:02 +0100
 From: Colin Fine <C.J.Finebradford.ac.uk>

All the languages I can think of that distinguish grammatical
gender have distinct masculine and feminine third-person
pronouns in the singular, and occasionally in the plural.
(The languages in question are almost all the Indo-European
languages, plus Hebrew and Arabic. I don't know whether
other Afro-Asiatic languages meet this description or not).
Even Indo-European languages that have all but lost the
masculine/feminine grammatical distinction (English,
modern Scandinavian languages, and - I think? - Farsi)
retain this distinction in the pronouns.

I do not know of an example which has both these distinct
pronouns and a common one.

Colin Fine

-----
 Date: Tue, 12 Oct 93 23:25:39 +0100
 From: danatldbs.dbsoftware.com (Dan McGinn-Combs)

Colin Fine writes:
(English, modern Scandinavian languages, and - I think? - Farsi)
retain this distinction in the pronouns.

In Farsi, the pronoun catagorizes, but slightly differently. While marking
either male or female (or neither male nor female) with the single pronoun
"u,"
there is a distinction between animate (and sentient) beings and non-living
(or non-sentient) things ("an" or in the plural, "anha").
"An" and "anha" are the singular and plural forms of the word
for "that."

And this from an Indo-European language, influenced heavily by Arabic!

-----
 From: EZ-as-picup.portal.com (Bruce Robert Gilson)
 Date: Thu, 14 Oct 93 18:15:23 PDT

There may not be natural languages that
have masculine, feminine, indifferent
pronouns, but way back in the 1920's
Otto Jespersen created Novial, which
does. As is typical of all nouns that
denote persons, the 3rd person pronoun
takes the threefold ending -o/-a/-e;
lo = he, la = she, le = he/she (and
in addition lum = it, to complete the
set).

-----
 From: prin0013gold.tc.umn.edu (Gregory S Prince-1)
 Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1993 15:44:35 GMT

I can understand some resistance to the utilization of "it" in reference
to people. ;)

Actually, Italian has found something of a way around this, at least in
colloquial speech when the pronoun is to serve as the subject. Quite
simply, they leave the pronouns out. The verb conjugation is sufficient
to identify it as third person singular (or actually, any person singular
or plural). Only in the subjunctive do the forms overlap, and even there,
pronouns are frequently considered optional if the meaning is clear from
the context.

Of course, this would perhaps be more problematic in Esperanto?

greg

-----
 Date: Tue, 12 Oct 93 22:20:55 CDT
 From: CLEMENTSucs.indiana.edu

Although I doubt whether it's possible, one pronoun could be used
for both "he" and "she", as in some languages. E.g. Korlai Portuguese
el = s/he elo = they. For what it's worth.

Clancy Clements
Indiana Univ.

-----
 From: fedyaDartmouth.EDU (Ted Schuerzinger)
 Date: Wed, 13 Oct 1993 03:29:40 GMT

I've been told that in Finnish, people are often referred to by the
pronoun "se", which means "it". However, Finnish does have a pronoun
'h"an', which can mean either he or she depending on the gender of the
person in question.

--Ted Schuerzinger
Finance Director, Dartmouth Broadcasting
fedyaDartmouth.EDU
"Apostrophe's [sic] are not used for plural's [sic]." -- Anonymous

-----
 From: simonfsinfo.cs.uni-sb.de (Julia Simon)
 Date: 15 Oct 1993 14:58:19 GMT

fedyaDartmouth.EDU (Ted Schuerzinger) writes:
> I've been told that in Finnish, people are often referred to by the
> pronoun "se", which means "it". However, Finnish does have a pronoun
> 'h"an', which can mean either he or she depending on the gender of the
> person in question.

And it doesn't have two separate pronouns meaning "she" and "he", but only
this one "h"an". (As far as I know, Finnish doesn't have any grammatical
gender at all.)

 Julia 8-)

-----
 From: prin0013gold.tc.umn.edu (Gregory S Prince-1)
 Date: Wed, 13 Oct 1993 16:44:33 GMT

In article <CEtGDH.Ms3dartvax.dartmouth.edu> fedyaDartmouth.EDU (Ted
 Schuerzinger) writes:
>In article <CEsJuD.HDDnews.cis.umn.edu>
>prin0013gold.tc.umn.edu (Gregory S Prince-1) writes:
>
>> I can understand some resistance to the utilization of "it" in reference
>> to people. ;)
>
>I've been told that in Finnish, people are often referred to by the
>pronoun "se", which means "it". However, Finnish does have a pronoun
>'h"an', which can mean either he or she depending on the gender of the
>person in question.

Interesting. Along those lines, it's interesting to note that in Old High
German, the plural third person defaults to neuter, unless the group is
composed exclusively of one gender. Most languages would default
masculine.

Use of "se" in Finnish might be practical, but I doubt it would pass the
acid test..."it" tends to classify as an object rather than a person.

greg

-----
 From: lingnosthum.aau.dk (Norbert Strade)
 Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1993 16:49:32 GMT

In article <CEuHAF.2M1news.cis.umn.edu> prin0013gold.tc.umn.edu (Gregory S
 Prince-1) writes:

> Use of "se" in Finnish might be practical, but I doubt it would pass the>
> acid test..."it" tends to classify as an object rather than a person.

As I wrote earlier in this discussion, Finnish has *only* gender-neutral
pronouns (it totally lacks grammatical gender). It distinguishes however
between *persons* and *things*.
3.sg. person: h n 3.sg. thing: se
plural: he ne

Modern slang mostly uses "se" for both persons and things, thus slowly
forgetting about "h n".
Colloquial Finnish has this use quite often.
Only the written language will always make the distinction.

So, "se" = "it" and "h n" = "he, she" pass the acid test. Finnish is not an
indo-european language. Languages of the Uralic family do not mark gender,
and there are other groups that don't either.

Regards
Norbert

-----
 From: silvonenklaava.Helsinki.FI (Mikko Silvonen)
 Date: 15 Oct 1993 12:15:37 +0200

In <lingnost.34hum.aau.dk> lingnosthum.aau.dk (Norbert Strade) writes:

>Modern slang mostly uses "se" for both persons and things, thus slowly
>forgetting about "hdn".
>Colloquial Finnish has this use quite often.
>Only the written language will always make the distinction.

Actually, "se" was used for "he", "she" and "it" long before the days of
modern slang. In most Finnish dialects, "hdn" was used in contexts like:

 He said that he was ...
 Se sanoi ettd hdn oli ...

I don't know why this is not the case in the written language.
--
Mikko Silvonen ! Puhu lyhyesti ja harkitse sanasi
University of Helsinki, Finland ! Vihollinen kuuntelee
Department of Computer Science ! Kirjoita selvdsti Kdytd lyhenteitd

-----
 From: hartmutruc.dk (Hartmut Haberland)
 Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1993 23:42:35 +0100 (MET)

You should have a look at Finnish which has ha:n (i.e. a: = a-umlaut) 'he,
she', plural he 'they', but neuter se 'it', plural ne 'they'. (Finnish nouns
don't have gender.) But se/ne can also be he, she, they, so I'm a bit
confused. try to enlist a native speaker of Finnish.
Danish has a system with han 'he', hun 'she' which refers to biological gender
(I guess this must be the p.c. term) while den 'NONNEUTER', det 'it' refers to
grammatical gender. (Plural is invariably de 'they' for all genders.) Danish
nouns do distinguish nonneuter and neuter, but there is no masculine or
feminine in the standard language any more.
I don't know if this helps. Ask me more if you feel like it.
Regards, Hartmut Haberland

 -------------------------------------------------------------------------
2. Corrections
 -------------------------------------------------------------------------
ah514Freenet.carleton.ca (Manuel M Campagna) pointed out some errors
and omissions in my table of Esperanto's third person pronouns. The
corrected table is below.

Person THIRD
 _____________|________________
 | |
Reflexivity NON-REFLEXIVE REFLEXIVE
 ___|______________ |
 | | 'si'
Specificity SPECIFIC NON-SPECIFIC (himself, herself,
 | | itself, onesself,
 __|_________ 'oni' (one) themselves)
 | |
Number SINGULAR PLURAL
 | |
 | 'ili' (they)
 |
 __|________________________________
 | |
Personification PERSON NON-PERSON
 | |
 ___________|___________________ 'gxi' (it)
 | | |
Sex MALE FEMALE UNKNOWN/IRRELEVANT
 | | |
 'li' (he) 'sxi' (she) ?????

-----
 Date: Tue, 12 Oct 93 23:53:59 BST
 From: caoimhinsabhal-mor-ostaig.ac.uk (Caoimhin P. ODonnaile)

bhelmcs.uoregon.edu (B. Robert Helm) writes:
> Colloquially, speakers of
> English in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) have adopted
> "they" for this purpose.

Not just the US. Use of "they" in this manner is very common in Britain.

 Kevin Donnelly

-----
 From: craigfestival.ed.ac.uk (Craig Cockburn)
 Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1993 10:31:01 GMT

Whenever I have discussed this subject, it seems to be people in the US
who argue against using "they" as the third person singular pronoun. In
the UK, the usage seems quite widespread, and for me to use "he/she"
seems alien. There are many examples of the use of "they" as a single
person pronoun throughout the last 500+ years, including Shakespeare.
Perhaps it was a British construction which is only recently gaining
hold in the US due to "political correctness".

Craig (Edinburgh, Scotland)

-----
 From: martybvnet.ibm.COM (Martin R. Bartels)
 Date: 20 Oct 93 19:48:04 GMT

Craig writes:

> Whenever I have discussed this subject, it seems to be people in the US
> who argue against using "they" as the third person singular pronoun. In
> the UK, the usage seems quite widespread, and for me to use "he/she"
> seems alien. There are many examples of the use of "they" as a single
> person pronoun throughout the last 500+ years, including Shakespeare.
> Perhaps it was a British construction which is only recently gaining
> hold in the US due to "political correctness".

Actually, on rare occation, someone will write about this in syndicated
articles in the newspaper. Personally, I prefer "they" to he/she or s/he,
as a singular. I've pointed out to people here that it dates back to
prior to the establishment of the US - but the "politically correct" folks
often don't want to this, they want "s/he" or "he/she", which is slightly
awkward in writting, and silly in speach. The politically correct
contingent seems to ignore the origins of the "American" language, and
wants to go its own way. "Speak English the way it should be, the American
way" (intended completely sarcastically, I'm not anti-UK English at all!).
The interesting thing to me, is that "they" does resolve the sexism issue,
without inventing a new construct (I can't call "s/he" or "he/she" a "word"),
yet people seem to resist (here in the states) anyway. Oh well... Can't
have a singular verb with a "plural" pronoun, I guess... :-(

---Marty <martybvnet.ibm.com>

-----
 From: sburke1huey.csun.edu (sean burke)
 Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1993 06:27:47 GMT

In article <CEs57r.5sHfestival.ed.ac.uk> craigfestival.ed.ac.uk (Craig
 Cockburn) writes:
>bhelmcs.uoregon.edu (B. Robert Helm) writes:
[...] >>objects and persons ('tiu') as a pronoun. Colloquially, speakers of
>>English in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) have adopted
>>"they" for this purpose.

>Whenever I have discussed this subject, it seems to be people in the US
>who argue against using "they" as the third person singular pronoun. In
>the UK, the usage seems quite widespread, and for me to use "he/she"
>seems alien. There are many examples of the use of "they" as a single
>person pronoun throughout the last 500+ years, including Shakespeare.
Well, I hope you're not looking toward the US as a source for mature
attitudes toward prescriptive grammar! (Flame-retardant: read my sig)

>Perhaps it was a British construction which is only recently gaining
>hold in the US due to "political correctness".
It has /never/ occurred to me that the indefinite "they" is British, or
perceived as such by anyone.

 | Sean Burke / Email: sburke1huey.csun.edu
 | Departments of Linguistics and of Foreign Languages and Literatures,
 | California State University, Northridge.

-----
 From: simmonsbosun1.informatik.uni-hamburg.de (Geoffrey Simmons)
 Date: Wed, 13 Oct 1993 16:44:28 GMT

bhelmcs.uoregon.edu (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.

> Also [in German], the masculine and
>feminine genders apply to non-persons.

Again, this is only if the antecedent is grammatically masculine or
feminine.

Geoff

-----
 -------------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Sexy languages
 -------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Date: Tue, 12 Oct 93 14:26:02 +0100
 From: Colin Fine <C.J.Finebradford.ac.uk>

The problem is even greater in a language like Hebrew
which in many cases marks the gender of the subject
in the verb!

Colin Fine

-----
 From: bthurmanuncavx
 Date: 13 Oct 93 09:19:12 EDT

did i pick up on this too late for the note that those who want to
purge gender indications from pronouns may want to treat hebrew
first, since all the pronouns (and inflected suffixes of verbs) except
so-called 'first person' have gender indication?

p.s. 1st person must be termed 'so-called', because 1st person plural
proves practically non-existent. it's one more figment of grammatical
imagination.

note from bearded bill of asheville

-----
 From: jbmtardis.trl.OZ.AU (Jacques Guy)
 Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1993 22:02:35 GMT

bthurmanuncavx writes:

>did i pick up on this too late for the note that those who want to
>purge gender indications from pronouns may want to treat hebrew
>first, since all the pronouns (and inflected suffixes of verbs) except
>so-called 'first person' have gender indication?
>note from bearded bill of asheville

Indeed, Hebrew is a dire villain. Not only most of its pronouns are "sexy",
but so are its numerals! Further, its grammar encourages disgraceful
promiscuity: male nouns take female numerals and vice versa. So does
Arabic, by the way, but, if memory serves, Arab grammarians restored
a semblance of morals by calling male numerals female, female numerals
male, and having the female of the species wear a chador, and the male
a beard, or at least a moustache.

We should all model our respective languages on those of the Chinese
and the Klingons.

-----
 From: LUCASVORTEX.UFRGS.BR (Arthur G. Lucas)
 Date: 14 Oct 93 22:36:59 GMT

 In portuguese (my national language - I'm Brazilian) EVERYTHING have
sex! Yes, everything: a pen is feminine, while a pencil is masculine! It is
impossible think about anything like a "neutral" pronoun!

 Professor Arthur G. Lucas - Lucasvortex.ufrgs.br - Lucasbrufrgs.bitnet |
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