LINGUIST List 6.1089

Sat Aug 12 1995

Disc: Sex/Lang, Re: 1079, response

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. , Disc: Sex/Lang, Re: 1079

Message 1: Disc: Sex/Lang, Re: 1079

Date: Sat, 12 Aug 1995 12:59:37 Disc: Sex/Lang, Re: 1079
From: <>
Subject: Disc: Sex/Lang, Re: 1079

H. Stephen Straight writes:
In our focus on the epicene pronoun that doubles as the masculine pronoun,
and the generic noun (e.g. Man) that doubles as the masculine form, we
sometimes let logic, and the theory of markedness, overwhelm psychology.
The evidence, I believe, strongly supports the claim that even in clearly
non-specific contexts these items trigger masculine prototypes in

I agree with this generally for the present state of standard English. But
the "triggering", to some very important degree, is in the mind of the
historical beholder. Right? The 'psychology" part I disagree with because of
its unspecified universal implications, perhaps better: "overwhelm
semantics". Most people, except gender separatists, would be particularly
untriggered to a masculine reference to words such as "sportsmanship" and
"penmanship". I liked the construction of one of the First Lady's publicist
who said of her, "She is her own best salesman".

"Man" and "he/his/him" have differing semantic domains over time. In middle
English "he was a fair wife", "two men were made for the Garden", etc. If in
the modern mind these constructions trigger male associations, it might make
all the more necessary the study of historical change. In my Middle English
work with pronouns, some contexts can be found where "he that..." in
proverbial use, with sometimes-plural verbs, has the weight of proverbial
"they who", and is related morpholgically to the feminine, not the masculine.
A radical idea I wish someone would challenge me on. Also, "him" and "his"
were not only masculine, they were also neuter -- "neither one or the other".
 To understand the modern paradigm, we have to study the history it grew out
of, including the ProtoGermanic and IE paradigms. I wonder if H. Stephen
Straight has read my comments and quotations on "the mark" in recent
 All of us, men and women alike, can be described in some capacities as
"generic people". Isn't this what we mean by "society"? One veiw of the
HALF-GLASS sees that we, as generic people, desire to give females
preferential treatment, and have distinct words for those of us who are
female (she, women), but parallel words for males are, lacking, are
tautonyms. We, those of us who are male, are relegated to use a word also
used for everybody else. "Masculine" is only sex-distinct in contrastive
position with the "feminine". The reason for generic pronouns doubling with
the masculine is because men are, in our "psychology" thought of more
frequently as generic people. Females have long been accorded special
priviledges in western society -- we don't execute murderesses, we create
conditions for those of us who are women to live 10% longer than men, we
exclude them from the military draft, old women commit suicide at a rate less
than 1/12th that of old men, etc. That is not to say that everybody doesn't
have it rough once in a while. Men do not externalize their victimization to
a metaphorical "daddy". I personally think that women should go on being
afforded special status and privileges in language and society. The turning
wine to venom these passed decades has shown the dark side of our society.

the writer says
 "Every one of the members of the Boys and Girls Club loves his
parents." "The cultures of the world provide ample testimony on the
extent of man's capacity to adapt to different environments." No matter
that the situations logically embrace both sexes (and all genders :-),
the damage is done.

It is the "logic" of an intuitive sort, and is NOT based in boolean and
identity operations of the human mind. The "logic" is no more than a
rule-base in the configuration of gender/case/number of the MODERN PRONOUN
PARADIGM. Use of the word "logic" by many of us who discuss language is off
the mark. I use "everyone... their", and wonder about the linguistic timidity
that holds others of us back. Damage? Does this mean exclusion from semantic
space :-)

the writer continues,
Yucatec Maya, by the way, has no grammatical gender and, to the best of my
knowledge, exhibits no morphological or semantic tendency toward treating
either sex as the unmarked member of the pair. H Stephen STRAIGHT,
Anthro/Ling/Lgs Across the Curric, Binghamton U (SUNY) Box 6000, Binghamton
NY 13902-6000 Tel: 607-777-2824 Fax: 607-777-2889

This seems counter to the idea that says universal male cultural dominance is
seen in male dominance in language constructions -- that Alexis Manaster
Ramer postules in slightly more qualified form. It sure would be nice to have
other examples, pro and con, from around the world.
- ----------------------------------------------------------------------

Lydie Meunier writes

Question raised in answer to Alexis Manaster Ramer who writes:

>SO what it all boils down to, again, is that I maintain that
>it makes no sense whatever to discuss the origin of the
>epicene he phenomenon in the context of the story of
>English prescriptive grammar, but only in the context of
>the way in which perceptions of sex roles have informed
>the structure of language (as of any other institution).

Have perceptions of sex roles informed us on the structure of language, or
does the structure of language enlighten us on socially acquired yet still
subconscious sexist behavior of today's Homo Sapiens? Lydie E. Meunier /
Department of Languages University of Tulsa / Tel: 918 631 2813 (O) / Fax: 918 744 1902

The "contructivist" view of sexuality is widely held in academia, but the
view has the hauteur of an "in" religious tenet, and has no well-reasoned
position, and only endures because its opposite can't "really" be "proved".
The only proof-evidence I have ever seen consists of some embarrasingly poor
analogies with animal behavior. Where's the good evidence? I'll post sometime
soon the interesting things -- in support of my side -- that Jane Goodall has
to say about sex roles and chimps.

The "constructivist" view of sexuality goes back to the 1960s -- (to Kate
Millet in Chapter 2 of her famous book ?) when those of us who were
differentially sexed -- like Millet later affirmed to herself be --became
preoccupied, and still are, with passive and active sex-related roles. The
constructivist view is a spoiler-view assault on traditional morality.
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