LINGUIST List 7.587

Sat Apr 20 1996

Sum: Grammatical gender

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "Alan R. King", Sum: Grammatical gender

Message 1: Sum: Grammatical gender

Date: Thu, 18 Apr 1996 15:07:28 BST
From: "Alan R. King" <>
Subject: Sum: Grammatical gender
A month and a half ago I contributed a discussion item concerning
"grammatical gender and feminism" (7.395). Unfortunately for me, the
moderator saw fit to prefix the subject line "Qs" rather than "Disc", as I
intended. As a result, I have been deluged with responses, which I am now
placed in the unenviable and unsought situation of having to summarise.
Nonetheless I am pleased to see that an open discussion on the subject is
now underway on the list, so I shall publish my summary of the postings that
came direct to me, asking that *any further correspondence go straight to
the list rather than to myself*, PLEASE!


My original posting on the subject was stimulated by someone else's written
comments on 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". It was stated that traditional German
usage "neutralizes" gender distinctions to some extent by applying the
masculine (as the unmarked option) to persons of either sex, e.g. in:

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

and even (for some speakers at least):

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

A distinction was described between what I referred to as (a) 'traditional'
German (as exemplified above) and (b) 'feminist' German. In the latter,
according to the author I was quoting throughout this part of the piece,
both of the above sentences are starred; in (b) the word _Ingenieurin_
'female-engineer' must be used in this variety of German.

I also commented on Spanish, where similar things are happening. Whereas
traditional Spanish uses the masculine in a "neutral" sense, like German,
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_. Very rarely, I have seen an orthographic usage (presumably
with no spoken equivalent) consisting of employing the character  to
represent a/o, as in:

 tods ls otrs alumns implicads

I then pointed out that in English we are relatively fortunate in that the
main (though not only) linguistic difficulty for feminists is the handling
of third-person singular pronouns; engineers are engineers and students are
students, irrespective of sex. In many other languages (e.g. Basque), there
are virtually no such grammatical distinctions at all. I suggested that the
optimal 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, which is what feminist varieties of
some "gendered" European languages seem to be doing at present. Surely, I
argued, 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. 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".

Finally I mentioned the example of Russian, where a similar development to
that described for German is reportedly underway, with the difference that
there is also a third variety "where the feminine variant is avoided
altogether". I was of the opinion that this makes more sense, while
inviting others to express their views.


Thank you to the following people who wrote to me on the subject:

Nancy Ackles, Michael Betsch, Glenn Bingham, Sue Blackwell, Peter Daniels,
Dan Ding, Hartmut Haberlaand, Paulina Jaenecke, Patricia Kilroe, J"org
Knappen, Liz McKeown, Catriona McPherson, Ellen F. Prince, Deborah D. Kela
Ruuskanen, Sharon L. Shelly, Melanie Siegel, V.Vassiliev, John te Velde,
Theo Vennemann, Margaret E. Winters, Deborah Yeager. (whew!)

To avoid repetition (and make my life easier), I shall make no reference
here to comments on the same subject appearing under the "Disc:" rubric on
the list. I have numbered the ideas and comments cited with a view to
facilitating possible future discussions on the list. Obviously, the
quotation of ideas and assertions here implies nothing about whether or not
I agree personally, except where signed [ARK]. The order of quotations
within each section is entirely arbitrary.


*** German:

- - -> IngenieurInnen...

(1) [ARK]
The main point brought to my attention is that speakers, and in particular
writers, of "feminist German" have devised a further mechanism that was not
mentioned by my earlier source. In writing this consists of using a capital
letter "i" in the middle of the word "IngenieurInnen" to mean "male/female
engineers", and so on. The capital letter distinguishes this form from
(traditional) "Ingenieurinnen" meaning "female engineers". The two words are
also distinguished in pronunciation by means of typical German prosodic
contrasts involving stress placement and use of the glottal stop.

The descriptions or analyses of this phenomenon that I received vary
slightly; the above summary is my own account derived from what I have been
told. Some direct quotes follow:

>>It is pronounced as if it were a compound word out of `Ingenieur' and
`Innen', thus different from the female-only form. I have heard this
kind of pronounciation even on the radio.<<

>>Another solution (for written language) that was discussed and is
wide-spread in Germany is the introduction of the 'I':

"Wegen Krankheit mussten drei IngenieurInnen ersetzt werden."

A German newspaper follows this strategy.<<

>>Instead of _die Student / die Studentinnen_ 'the male-students'/
'the female students' (often written as die StudentInnen)[...]<<

>>The socalled "feminist German" has invented a slight variation on such
forms in an effort to avoid redundancy, verbosity and male-bias. That
variation on your example would be: IngenieurInnen (with a capital i [I]
after the [r]), meaning both male and female engineers. Of course, this
is an unhappy solution, which I predict will not ever be entered into
any official dictionary by the Institut fuer deutsche Sprache. It is
surprising, however, how popular it has become, even among teachers of

>>regarding *feminist* German there is another variation.
Instead of using the masculine form, the feminine form is used. In writing
the aspect that both men and women are meant is done via the use of a
capital I, e.g. IngenieurInnen. In speech a glottal stop before the I is
employed to make the distinction.
This is not standarized yet, but I hear it quite frequently, at least in the
university context. Although it is a bit hard to get used to it, I think
it's a good alternative, since it includes both men and women and a
distiction can be made if either no men or no women are involved.
There is as far as I know no solution found for the singular.<<

>>Feminism has introduced a graphical means of showing gender-neutrality,
namely usage of the feminizing suffix, but with a capital I (thus:
Ingerieur = male engineer, Ingenieurin = female engineer, IngenieurIn =
male or female engineer), especially in plural forms such as StudentInnen =
male and female students. This graphic symbol is used primarily in
left/feminist milieus, e. g. often among students. It has the inconvenience
that it can't be distinguished in pronounciation from the feminine form.
Job offers prefer graphisms like "Assistent/in" (allowing both readings).
The suffix -in has the advantage of being applicable to nearly every
masculine noun denoting human beings and it serves no other function than
forming feminine equivalents. (It is used to design female animals as

- - -> Other aspects of German

>>Instead of _die Student / die Studentinnen_ 'the male-students'/
'the female students' (often written as die StudentInnen) you will often
see _die Studierenden_ 'those who study'. Too bad this won't work for

>>Of course, German also has a neuter. What's stop people saying _das
Ingenieur_ when they want it unspecified for sex, besides (of course) the
fact that it is completely ungrammatical and makes one cringe.<<

>>The article you cited gives the example:

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

IMHO current usage in this case is "Monika ist eine gute Ingerieurin".
(Grammatical agreemant for gender). Neutralized masculine forms are, IMHO,
used primarily when you talk about persons whose sex you don't (yet) know,
e. g. when you need one (Ich muss zum Zahnarzt), or you know the sex, but
don't want to be specific about it. Traditionally this applies also to
laws, constitutions etc. (because they concern people irrespective of their
sex), but this is contested by feminists (they claim that usage of
masculine forms e. g. in a town constitution supposes that the offices
described should be filled by men).<<

>>From aquaintance with Germans from the former GDR I learned that there used
to be a greater tendency to use masculine forms applied to women in the
GDR. No women teacher, e.g., in Western Germany would have referred to
herself as "Lehrer" instead of "Lehrerin", but a friend of my parents in
Leipzig did so. This may be attributed to influence of the Russian
practice, I think.<<

>>I agree with your proposal. It so happens that in the former GDR (DDR),
I remember female job-holders applying to themselves the non-gender
marked name of the job, e.g. Ich bin Facharbeiter. I do not know how
wide-spread this was, but I always thought that that was the right way to
go. Perhaps this usage is still alive, perhaps it has vanished together with
other good things, such as turning right on red (California-style).<<

*** Dutch

>>The language I
know best besides English is Dutch, which has virtually abolished the
distinction between masculine and feminine, leaving only two genders:
"common" (M/F merged) and "neuter" (the "het" words). Thus Dutch
doesn't have the same problems as German, which still has all three.
There are still feminine endings on occupational terms, though.<<

*** English

- - -> Singular "they"

>>I have enjoyed watching a
new pronoun enter the language as people avoid having to say him/her.
The natural choice of people who aren't linguists or presciptionists is
"Every one must decide for themself." I've heard it on radio ads and in
lots of conversations. <<

>>I have started a
campaign to reinstate Dr. Johnson's (of "Dictionary" fame) usage of
"they" to mean both he and she in the singluar, taken together, so that
we would have things like "the translator...they" with the assumption
being that "translator" is a collective plural containing both sexes and
should be given a "plural" pronoun. this would of course also allow the
"everyone should open their books" as a correct usage. If it was good
enough for the educated 18th century English aristocracy, it ought to be
good enough for us. It is just a matter of getting the prescriptivists
(who are often conservative in other matters than language use) to come
off their hobby horses down into the muck with us.<<

>>English now has a set of four third person singular pronouns. In the
nominative there

			he masculine
			she feminine
			it neuter (but not appropriate for reference to any hu
man over the age of 1)
 they neutral sex

The full set of cases exists, but one form has not yet "shaken out."
Objective "them"
and possessive "their" work fine, but the reflexive/intensive still
alternates between
"themselves" and "themself." The form is a bit off-beat in agreement since
it takes
the zero forms of verbs and "are" form of "to be." Cf: "I want one who knows,
whoever they are. They know they're the one I want." [Note: Both second
singular and second person plural use "are" forms, so "are" is not strictly

So come back to earth. . . well, at least visit the USA. . . and find out
that tods have
discovered a way to keep todas happy--at least in the pronoun department.<<

(17) [ARK]
It seems clear that the use of "singular they" is not an invention of
feminists (although possibly some feminists might wish to adopt or favour
this options among those existing), and also that it is not peculiar to
America. I distinctly remember noticing as a young boy (over thirty years
ago) in northern England that my even younger brother, perhaps six years old
at the time, sometimes used "they" to refer to a single individual when not
knowing their (!) sex. He even had a usage with "they" as subject and the
verb "was" agreeing in the singular, e.g. something like:

 If you saw someone that you didn't know who they WAS...

but I don't know enough about the local dialect (which I don't actually
speak) to be sure of a correct analysis of this. Obviously there was
nothing conscientious, far less feminist, about such spontaneous usage in
his case. The trouble is, it is doubful whether this mechanism is available
(in spontaneous English at any rate) when the speaker manifestly knows the
sex of the referent, e.g. (with "they" coreferent with "friend"):

 ?I told a friend of mine and they said they're interested.

and certainly it isn't where the speaker and hearer both clearly know:

 *I told Lucy and they said they're interested.

- - -> Lexical aspects of English

>>In many universities, by the way - mine for example - the term of preference
is simply "chair" - non-sexist and not as odd in many ways as "chairperson".
Since one of my jobs is to approve department and college policies, I push
it, but it was around before I was in any position to influence language on

>>btw, in the us at least (and i would imagine in the uk as well), there ARE
other problem areas -- words like _actor_ which SEEM gender-neutral, at least
morphologically, but which have a feminine counterpart, _actress_. i don't
think there are any young actors today of the female persuasion that would call
themselves _actresses_. definitely out.

waiter is another one -- been largely replaced by server or (yuck!) waitperson.

don't know how young princesses and duchesses in the uk feel about all this...

*** Polish

>>Polish ressembles Russian in this respect. Only low-prestige occupation
have feminine forms used. There are even words which can distinguish
low/high rank by usage or non-usage of a feminizing suffix, the masculine
form, when applied to a women, being the more prestigious. (dyrektorka
might mean the female head of a primary school, the female head of more
prestigious institution being called dyrektor). Some suffixes are allegedly
unpopular because they serve also to denote female animals (but in German
this didn't prevent the popularity of derived feminine forms). By the way,
another problem in Polish are family names of women. Traditionally they are
derived from husband's or father's name using different suffixes depending
on whether they denote a married or single women, stem consonant etc.
sometimes involving consonant change (e.g. Sapieha: married Sapiezyna,
unmarried Sapiezanka - sorry for lack of necessary diacritics!) Nowadays
feminine family names formed by derivation are almost unused, the only
Polish names that regularly have distinct feminine forms being adjectival
names ending in -ski / -cki.<<

*** Czech

>>Czech seems to be more ready to use derived feminine forms. Family names
are regularly feminized (Czech uses only one suffix -ova, so derivation is
much less complicated than in Polish), and feminine occupational terms are
apparently often used. (The Charles University's staff register lists all
women as doktorka, professorka, docentka, i. e. with derived feminine
terms, contrary to Polish or Russian usage where only the non-derived
doktor, professor, docent etc. would be used). Contrary to Russian, the
head of a department (vedouci) is feminine when denoting a woman. (Although
nominative case is identical, the oblique cases are different and when
applied to a woman, the feminine forms are used.) Some terms, however, show
oscillatins, e. g. tajemnik/tajemnice (the latter is the feminized form and
both are applied to women; the term means "secretary" as a leading

*** Russian

>>The russian situation is discussed also in Bernard Comrie and Gerald
Stone, The Russian Language since the Revolution. Oxford University Press
1978, c. 6: Sex, Gender and the Status of Women. (pp. 159-171).
There are some difficulties in Russian with forming feminine equivalents.
Russian has several suffixes, none of which, however, is purely restricted
to the formation of feminine equivalents. One widely used suffix (-ka) is
often blocked by the fact that there are already words derived with this
suffix, but with a different meaning (stolyar = joiner, stolyarka =
joiner's workshop).
There is also a marked tendency to use feminine forms only for occupations
with low prestige, so masculine forms are almost exclusive for high ranks,
even if the feminine equivalent could be easily derived. (Comrie/Stone cite
the term "zaveduyushchiy" = head, which is an adjectival participle and
fully regularly allows the formation of the feminine "zaveduyushchaya", but
"the head of a department in a university is, irrespective of sex,
zaveduyushchiy kafedroy." - p. 162/163)<<

*** Hungarian

>>I briefly studied Hungarian, which completely lacks grammatical gender.
_Tana'r_ 'teacher' is a completely neutral form grammatically speaking. Do
they revel in this freedom? No! Instead, they create compounds such as
_tana'rno''_ 'teacher-woman' to carefully encode the sexism. There is
no equivalent _tana'rember_ 'teacher-man'. Thus the unmarked form becomes
male. So much for non-sexist usage, even when it is perfectly

*** Finnish

>>I too live in a linguistic environment where the pronouns are not marked
for gender - Finnish has only one set of pronouns for humans, and one
for not-human (including animals, except pets which become honorary
humans, babies are not-human unless they are your own babies). However,
Finnish had (still HAS, but it is seldom used) a feminine ending, -tar,
which was stuck onto professions. The lack of pronouns has not kept
Finnish society from being extremely patriarchal nor from having its
share of male chauvinists even today. BUT the -tar has dropped out
almost completely, so that we don't have opettaja (male) and opettajatar
(female), or laulaja (Male) and laulajatar (female) - note that it was
stuck onto the male form to make the female. What we do have is the
assumption that most teachers, nurses, etc are female, and that
engineers and computer programers are male, - you know the drill. So we
are back to Suzette Elgin's "Native Tongue" question: does changing the
language change perceptions or does language change follow the change in

*** French

>>As for solutions, I tend to agree with you, but we are going against
the trend at present! I think French PC usage is like German and
Spanish - I saw a sticker recently which called for something or
other - free education, probably - to be available "pour tous et

*** Chinese

>>I share your preference for a gender-neutral language. I am a native Chinese
speaker. In Chinese, there is no distinction whatsoever beween genders for
nouns or pronouns. You can talk about any person for as long as you want withou
revealing his or her (here it comes in English) gender. People don't have to
worry about whether a usage is a sexist example of somthing. I would definitely
cast my vote for eliminating any distinction in form in any given language. <<

>>I have recently returned from several years of teaching English in China,
where I have had the greatest difficulty in training my students to
use 'he' and 'she' appropriately, since spoken Chinese does not have
this distinction, using 'ta' for both (although the written forms are


Here is a digest of other remarks I received:

>>The problem in German would be, 'what is the grammatical gender of
sex-neutral 'Ingenieur''? What is so bothersome is that nouns in German have
obligatory gender, and that this gender (and it's reflections in agreement
phenomena (like with anaphoric pronouns) and governmant (if that is what
nouns do to accompanying adjectives and articles, according to Eisenberg) is
the real nuisance, not that of some derivative suffix. <<

>>And yes, the current tendency of german is to show the women explicitly in
speech, rather than to abolish the female form at all.<<

>>A couple of years ago a position description posted to the LINGUIST list
caused quite a bit of discussion: a Canadian university (Laval or
Universite' de Montre'al `a Que'bec) was looking for "professeur ou
professeure". The French speakers of France said (to paraphrase weeks of
discussion) that this was silly - all the more so because the -e in the
feminine was not pronounced - since the word "professeur", although
grammatically masculine, could refer to women or men. The Que'becois, on
the other hand, insisted that non-sexist language dictated a new, clearly
marked feminine form.

Where to go with this? I'm not sure except to note different approaches to
righting the (linguistic) wrongs of the ages!<<

>>re the suggestion that lgs with grammatical gender simply give up the
gender-specific nouns, i don't see what that would solve -- the artices and
adjectives would still have to be marked.<<

>>there has been a lot of discussion about the problem you mentioned in
Germany in the last 15(?) years. You are right to say that it is
awkward to always write "Ingenieurinnen und Ingenieure". But I think,
it is not a solution to simply forget the female part, for kognitive
reasons. 'Of course', everybody who hears "Ingenieure", thinks of male
ones. 'Of course', "Sekretaerinnen" (secretaries) are female.<<

>>Another strategy is, to sometimes just use the female and sometimes the
male version. <<

>>I found your recent posting to LINGUIST very interesting, and I was
especially intrigued to learn of the gender-neutral nature of Basque
grammar -- an enviable situation! (I suppose the next question to ask
would be, is Basque culture accordingly less sexist than, say German,
English or Hispanic??)<<

>>It's all very well to suggest that (grammatically male)
names of professions, for example, be semantically broadened to include
members of both genders... And that can work nicely in some cases, as you
point out for English "engineer", "professor", "student", etc. But in many
cases the standard form obviously includes _semantic_ gender markings:
"chairman", "mailman", "salesman", etc. As you say, it is often easy to
coin a new, gender-neutral term ("chairperson" or "chair",
"letter-carrier", "salesperson", whatever). Language mavens like Safire
always scream bloody murder at this, but I think many of these forms are
creeping inexorably into the language.

Meanwhile, surely the current discomfort with "male nurse" shows that
semantic gender-marking can be very subtle: although the word "nurse"
doesn't _look_ like it's necessarily marked for gender, it's awfully hard
for native English speakers to envision a man in the role! Personally, I'd
be all for semantically broadening the term, but I have a strong suspicion
that most MEN will prefer coining a new word!

I think the situation is even tougher in languages like Spanish and French
(which is the one I know best), when supposedly purely-grammatical gender
markings have also come to have semantic content for most speakers. For
example, a French mailman is a "facteur", and while the word contains no
overt equivalent of "man", that -eur morpheme just screams "male" at native
speakers. Deciding to call a group of woman postal workers "facteurs" will
just sound funny to most native speakers, whatever their political feelings
about it. Unfortunately, so does "facteuses", for whatever reason. So as
more women enter the profession, people find themselves either (a) assuming
that it's still really a male domain, into which a few (probably abnormal)
females have been allowed; or (b) casting around for some entirely new
coinage that would describe the job in gender-neutral terms.

I think the case of Spanish "alumnos" is similar. It's all well and good
to say, "Oh, well, that form includes men _and_ women," but in fact -os
says MAN to native speakers, and there will continue to be an underlying
connotation that this is _really_ men's territory, with a few straggling
femi-nazis grudgingly admitted....<<

>>How about this: Spanish, French, etc. can avoid multiplying gender
distinctions by moving to a feminine-only system. That way, the
neutral, gender-inclusive items will no longer seem to leave women
out. The men, who have long insisted that the male "neutral" forms
are inclusive, will be perfectly okay with this, as they will know
that they are not being left out when feminine forms are used
inclusively. Or, they can be the ones to wonder whether they are
in fact being included or excluded.<<

>>I was interested to see that you used two terms "feminist" and
"pro-feminist". I don't know what a pro-feminist is, and the only clue
from your posting is that you might be using it to mean a male feminist.
Shouldn't you by your own argument call male feminists simply
"feminists". I don't think any female feminists with their heads
screwed on and their hearts in the right place could possibly object to
this - I know I don't. If "feminist" becomes a sex-neutral term it
might just be prevented from turning into a short-hand for "ugly,
man-hating, hysterical, baby-eater".<<

>>It's hard to get inside the issues when you aren't a native or near-
native speaker of a language with grammatical gender.<<

>>The greatest absurdity I have encountered was a female university teacher
saying (out of spite?) that she had 25 Studentinnen in her course, meaning
25 students.<<

>>I agree with almost everything you say. However, English has still a lot
of political incorrectness, especially in informal language. While the
media and education are easily controlable and seem to have adopted
political correctness as inevitability, informal speech of English
speakers abounds in sexist usages, and I understand special efforts
should be made by school in order to explain to schoolchildren that
using 'cattleshit' must be preferred in all instances to the sexist

>>When I stayed in the US for a year, I was really shocked to discover
the Political Correctness issue which includes fight against sexism. At
one point my research in public administartion was censored by the
Academic Advising unit that demanded that I replace the word "foreign"
with "international" when referring to stud ents (I conducted a poll
of foreign students with the university police). Being a foreign student
myself, I never minded the word, yet, of course, I had to make the
necessary changes.
 That led me to the conclusion that political correctness is similar to
Stalinist ideology, and that it will force people to look for 'enemies'
and to disclose them in a perpetual process. [...]
 The agenda, to my greatest surprise, has involved linguists, and the
previous heated discussion on the Linguist startled me even more. There
are three basic points I'd like to make.
 My native language has three genders, and you must have gender with any
noun. Thus I do not usually associate gender with sex (can you think of
the third sex?). That's why I do not understand any accusations against the
languages that employ one of the genders (which is generally unmarked,
thus applies to any gender generically) in the official style. Any
attempts to alter grammar to make it politically correct will result in
what Orwell described as Newspeak. [...]
 The only solution that might satisfy feminists is using neuter gender
in languages like Russian and German. If you try, I will not have any
responsibility for the consequencies after you see the speakers' reaction.
 The second point is that language is not exactly what we have in front
of us on our desks. It does not belong to linguists, nor officials, it is
the property of the speaking community. In a way, language is the
ultimate expression of individual freedom within a society: you can use
the collective property in whatever way you like, yet you must not impose
your will on anyone else, or rather you can propose something in your
language creativity, but it's up to the community to accept (and
understand) you or to reject your innovations. [...]
 Thirdly, there are in fact dangerous consequences of the polical
correctness. I met a number of academics and public officers in the USA,
and I was astounded by their self control. They live in fear lest they
might say something that will be interpreted as racists/sexist/antigay
etc. This may create conditions for a totalitarian regime which is
largely based on thought control (and thinking and language are
inseparable). I only hope that in the Western society they will get over
this childish diease of overeaction to the past discrimination, and
things will settle down. However, some 20 or 50 years from now a student
of languages might have a really good laugh reading today's discussion.<<

>>A sociologist friend of mine (whose book I edited for the University of
Chicago Press) writes (in English) "Latina/o" for (essentially) Mexican-
Americans. Whikch brings the worst features of "linguistic feminism"to
the fore in macaronic fasihion!<<


I will allow myself to conclude with two remarks of my own, picking up from
a couple of the recurrent themes alluded to above:

(43) [ARK]
Some of the quotes (33, 36, 39) suggest (with variations) a solution of
either using masculine and feminine forms indiscriminately or of using
feminine ones throughout. Like some other writers, I have done my portion
of experimentation along such lines, but some tough problems still remain.

Adopting the consistently-feminine policy is okay from a feminist viewpoint
when talking about engineers:

 Each engineer must state her name...

but it sort of backfires when in fact you are talking about, say, school
teachers or secretaries, in which case this policy gives the appearance of
reinforcing the undesired stereotype:

 Each secretary must state her name...

One way out is for the author to choose actively whichever gender seems to
contradict the undesired stereotypes best:

 Each secretary must state his name to an engineer when she asks him...

Apart from certain processing difficulties (perhaps deriving from deeply
rooted biases, I'm not sure!), it is also a problem for the author to decide
how to apply such a policy, which involves rather complicated and somewhat
subjective decisions. In any case, from a cynical point of view, it can be
said to consist of negatively re-encoding, but not neutralizing, existing
prejudices: "if I say 'he' I mean 'she'...". And random scrambling doesn't
seem to solve anything either...

(44) [ARK]
As other respondents observed (32, 35), the basic problem is in the society
(or the individual's cognition, if you like), not in the linguistic system;
this only reflects (partially) biases existing in the culture, at best
(read: worst). I think we must take care not to lose sight of this. For
one thing, I agree entirely that Basque (Finnish, Chinese...) society is not
necessarily any more feminist just because these languages lack grammatical
gender, and so, conversely, it does not seem likely that languages with
highly-developed grammatical gender correlate with more-than-averagely
sexist culture in any systematic way. This is not to argue against
attempting to engineer our languages, but it is to warn against naive
expectations or assumptions relative to such endeavours.

For instance, Welsh has two grammatical genders, feminine and masculine.
There are two words for "secretary", masculine "ysgrifennydd", feminine
"ysgrifenyddes". Logically, the choice of word should simply depend on the
sex of the referent. However, further semantic specialization has in
reality taken place; in short, each word for "secretary" tends to be
associated with a different "kind of secretary". Masculine "ysgrifennydd"
is associated with "secretary" as in "the General Secretary", while feminine
"ysgrifenyddes" brings to mind the kind of secretary most people associate
with the phrase "the boss' secretary". Since I am male, and once worked
part time as the secretary (as in "boss' s.") of an academic department in
the University of Wales, much fun was had by all owing to constant
confusions of various types that I'd love to tell you about. Some other
time perhaps. As a non-native speaker of Welsh my impulse was to describe
myself as a "male ysgrifenyddes" which seemed to be more informative than
"ysgrifennydd", at least out of context; but native speakers objected.

My point is that all this trouble was not the language's fault at all
(except that life would have been simpler with a language that was entirely
genderless); rather, people's assumptions, embedded in their existing
culture, were exclusively responsible for the confusions that occurred.
Language is powerless to eliminate such assumptions as long as they persist
in the society. (So, I fear, is trendy "Political Correctness", but that's
another kettle of fish.) Language serves the (de facto) culture, not vice

End of summary

Alan R. King | EMAIL:
Indamendi 13, 7C | [or if all else fails]
20800 Zarautz | FAX: +34-43-130396
Euskal Herria / Basque Country (Spain)
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