LINGUIST List 7.395

Thu Mar 14 1996

Qs: Grammatical gender&feminism, Acronyms, Catalan

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  1. "Alan R. King", Discussion: Grammatical gender and feminism
  2. The Mage of Green Silences, Acronyms on the Net.
  3. EUL`ALIA DE BOBES I SOLER, Catalan data/corpora

Message 1: Discussion: Grammatical gender and feminism

Date: Thu, 07 Mar 1996 15:33:38 GMT
From: "Alan R. King" <>
Subject: Discussion: Grammatical gender and feminism

This is just a general thought that keeps coming back to me and was
provoked again by the most recent thing I happened to read. I
apologise if this issue has already been brought up here and you're
all tired of talking about it.

What I just read is an article by Pius ten Hacken*, and the part of it
that has provoked me is a discussion of present-day variations in the
treatment of gender in German, with one variety being described as
"originally motivated and adopted only by feminist linguists... [but]
now often encountered also in official and popular publications and
speech". Expressed in my own terms (rather than those of ten Hacken,
who incidentally cites others in his purely descriptive comment on the
issue; none of what follows is his fault!), traditional German usage
"neutralizes" gender distinctions, and does so by generalizing the
masculine, in cases such as the following (ten Hacken's glosses where
he gives one, and elsewhere I follow his style):

a. Hans und Monika sind Ingenieure.
 'Hans and Monika are male-engineers'

b. Monika ist ein guter Ingenieur.
 'Monika is a good male-engineer'

In what I shall slightly facetiously refer to as feminist German (ten
H. calls it "German B"), says ten Hacken, both of these sentences are
starred. In (b) the word _Ingenieurin_ 'female-engineer' must be used
in this variety. The following sentence has different meanings in the
two varieties (his example, my glosses):

c. Wegen Krankheit mussten drei Ingenieure ersetzt werden.
 In traditional German: "Three engineers had to be replaced because
of illness."
 In feminist German: "Three male engineers had to be replaced because
of illness."

To express the meaning of the first of these two glosses, the closest
that feminist German can come is (d):

d. Wegen Krankheit mussten drei Ingenieurinnen und Ingenieure ersetzt
 "Three female engineers and male engineers had to be replaced..."

So much for German, via ten Hacken. In Spanish similar things are
happening (perhaps the Spanish feminists copied their German
colleagues?). Whereas traditional Spanish uses the masculine in a
"neutral" sense, like German, so that _alumnos_ can refer to male
students or to students of either sex (_alumnas_ means "female
students"), the "feminist Spanish" preferred form where a mixed-sex
group is intended would be _alumnas y alumnos_", which in writing is
quite often abbreviated to _alumnas/os_. Owing to the recurrence of
these suffixes due to agreement phenomena, there can result written
texts that are virtually unpronounceable, e.g.

e. todas/os las/os otras/os alumnas/os implicadas/os
 "all the other students involved"

Very rarely, I have seen an orthographic usage (presumably with no
spoken equivalent) consisting of employing the character  to
represent a/o, so (e) would be spelt as in (e'):

e'. tods ls otrs alumns implicads

I don't know if anyone has looked into the grammatical implications of this
convention, but it certainly looks... well, politically correct.

Now comes my question. I have a native language (English) in which
the main (if not quite the only) linguistic difficulty for feminists
and pro-feminists (among whom I think I wish to include myself) is the
handling of third-person singular pronouns, which is troublesome
enough, as anyone who has tried to write in a consistently
"non-sexist" way knows for her/himself. So we're very lucky that, in
English, engineers are engineers and students are students,
irrespective of sex. Indeed, if we could only somehow eliminate the
gender distinction from that one darned pronominal contrast, it would
be almost plain sailing.

Secondly, I live and work in a language, Basque, that makes virtually
no gender distinctions; your interlocutor can talk away for hours
about her friend without your being able to discover the sex of the
latter other than by asking outright. Wonderful!

It seems to me that the most obvious route to making languages like
German, Spanish and English less "sexist" is via the elimination of
grammaticalized sex-related gender markers, rather than multiplying
them. Yet the multiplication of such markers, and the insistence on a
"no neutralization" policy, are what I observe in the "feminist"
varieties of German and Spanish referred to above. Surely the best
solution to the German _Ingenieur_ problem is to *avoid* any
unnecessary use of the marked derivative _Ingenieurin_, and if a
change can be made and is possible, this should be to extend the
meaning of _Ingenieur_ in the direction of further neutralization;
this would also seem to be easier to achieve. (English _chairman_
versus _chairwoman_ is a harder one, but _chairperson_ seems to be
making satisfactory headway.) It should not be to make the gender
distinction more obligatory than it presently is and insist on
*reducing* the applicability of the linguistically least marked term,
_Ingenieur_, to make it mean "male only". If gender distinctions in
these languages are a nuisance, the solution, it seems to me, might be
found by looking in the direction of genderless languages like Basque
(and many others) rather than by going in the opposite direction.

Ten Hacken also cites Rothstein** on the example of Russian, where it
seems there is a similar development to that described for German,
with the difference that there is also a third variety "where the
feminine variant is avoided altogether". Doesn't that make much more

Any appearance of political incorrectness in the above is purely


* Pius ten Hacken, _A principled approach to paradigms_ (Technical Report
95-6), URZ + IFI, University of Basel, 1995.

** Robert A. Rothstein, 'Sex, Gender, and the October Revolution', in S.R.
Anderson & P Kiparsky (eds), _A Festschrift for Morris Halle_, Holt Rinehart
& Winston, New York, p. 460-466, 1973.

Alan R. King
Gipuzkoa, Basque Country
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Message 2: Acronyms on the Net.

Date: Wed, 13 Mar 1996 20:21:48 EST
From: The Mage of Green Silences <kennyUDel.Edu>
Subject: Acronyms on the Net.

I am interested in knowing if any research has been done on the effect
of acronyms on processing time of sentences. This was brought up on a
different mail-list, when one list-member contended that acronyms slow
down the processing time, because they have to be "unpacked" and the
component parts have to be accessed individually. My hypothesis is
that most acronyms would be stored in the lexicon as a single entry,
and that they would not differ significantly in access time from other
lexical entries. Does anyone know whether this has been tested, and
if so, what the findings were?


Ken Hyde

Kenneth Allen Hyde | No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife
Univ. of Delaware | between the shoulder blades will seriously
Dept. of Linguistics | cramp his style -- Old Jhereg proverb | A mind is a terrible toy to waste! -- Me
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Message 3: Catalan data/corpora

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 16:42:05 +0100
Subject: Catalan data/corpora

Dear linguists

I'm trying to collect all the information about catalan linguistic
resources, such as word lists, dictionaries, any kind of texts or
corpora (catalan, bilingual...), and other data available in an
electronic suport (web pages, ftp sites, cd-rom, etc).

I need your collabration...any idea, suggestions, addresses, etc?

I'll post a summary if i get enough data!

Thanks in advance,

Eulalia de Bobes
| | Eul`alia de Bobes |
| | Lab. de Ling"u'istica Inform`atica |
| | Univ. Aut`onoma de Barcelona |
| | (Dept. Filologia Espanyola) |
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