Gender-Neutral Pronouns

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KrazyerKate
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Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby KrazyerKate » Tue Nov 24, 2009 12:42 am UTC

"I just met Alex. ___ seems like a pretty cool person"

How do you fill in the blank? He or She? The internet is making this an increasingly common occurrence. Whereas IRL you can see almost instantly whether the person you're talking to is male or female, it's entirely possible to talk to someone for an hour and still not know their gender. This creates an entirely new mechanic in conversations, and the english language doesn't work with it very elegantly: pronouns are now really really really awkward.
When I first started visiting chatrooms and discussion boards, I would just use the universal he, assuming that I had probability on my side anyway. A few "why-does-everyone-thinks-I'm-a-guy"s later I tried using "they". This didn't last long since there are tons of situations where it doesn't make sense at all (e.g."they likes their pizza with pepperonis"). There are several gender-neutral pronouns that people have tried to institute but it seems that there are enough different types and none of them are in common usage.
Now I'm using he/she, (s)he, or some other variant. It doesn't piss off any feminists or genderqueers and is easily understood by everyone. However, a lot of people see the question "what sex ARE you?" implied when they see he/she and feel obligated to answer, which leads to awkwardness of all sorts.

So what do you do? Is there a better solution to this?


Hey, people: Stop reading the title and immediately posting, 4 pages late, about how Language X has (or implements) gendered nouns. That's not the title, the topic or the discussion and I'm going to start deleting such 'contributions'. With prejudice.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Duban » Tue Nov 24, 2009 12:44 am UTC

Generally, in English, the masculine pronouns such as he him his, etc takes precedent for an unknown situation. It's much better then calling someone "it" and isn't nearly as pointlessly complex as having to state him/her, his/her, etc every time you wish to use a pronoun. I don't understand why someone would have a problem with using the grammatically correct "him/his/he" for an undetermined gender. At one point it may have been gender bias but now it's just the way English is, no insult meant. People should be able to understand that.
Last edited by Duban on Tue Nov 24, 2009 12:50 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby G.v.K » Tue Nov 24, 2009 12:48 am UTC

KrazyerKate wrote:"I just met Alex. ___ seems like a pretty cool person"

How do you fill in the blank? He or She? The internet is making this an increasingly common occurrence. Whereas IRL you can see almost instantly whether the person you're talking to is male or female, it's entirely possible to talk to someone for an hour and still not know their gender. This creates an entirely new mechanic in conversations, and the english language doesn't work with it very elegantly: pronouns are now really really really awkward.
When I first started visiting chatrooms and discussion boards, I would just use the universal he, assuming that I had probability on my side anyway. A few "why-does-everyone-thinks-I'm-a-guy"s later I tried using "they". This didn't last long since there are tons of situations where it doesn't make sense at all (e.g."they likes their pizza with pepperonis"). There are several gender-neutral pronouns that people have tried to institute but it seems that there are enough different types and none of them are in common usage.
Now I'm using he/she, (s)he, or some other variant. It doesn't piss off any feminists or genderqueers and is easily understood by everyone. However, a lot of people see the question "what sex ARE you?" implied when they see he/she and feel obligated to answer, which leads to awkwardness of all sorts.

So what do you do? Is there a better solution to this?


yeah, it's a shame that 'one' got lost, so that - "one likes one's pizza with pepperonis" - sounds weird nowadays. german still has the equivalent.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Captain_Thunder » Tue Nov 24, 2009 1:14 am UTC

I don't see any problem with just using he/him/his until you get confirmation one way or the other, but I also don't mind using "they" as a singular pronoun; "they like to eat their pizza with pepperonis" sounds perfectly fine to me, even if I'm only talking about one person.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 2:29 am UTC

KrazyerKate wrote:When I first started visiting chatrooms and discussion boards, I would just use the universal he, assuming that I had probability on my side anyway.

Interesting that you would link to that comic as a defense of the assumption that everyone is male. Kind of the point being made there is that this plays into a feedback effect: women aren't comfortable on boards like this when people go around treating them like they don't exist, and as a result they don't show up so often and we start to assume that they don't exist/aren't worth acknowledging.

KrazyerKate wrote:So what do you do? Is there a better solution to this?

I currently use "ze" in situations (such as this board) where I'm unlikely to have to defend nonstandard usage. I also try to use "she" where it juts against our expectations of a male default. I'm not sure if/how it would actually happen, but I think that a truly gender-neutral pronoun is desirable. "He" clearly doesn't cut it.

Duban wrote:At one point it may have been gender bias but now it's just the way English is, no insult meant.

You say this like it's how language works, and like it's the real problem with regarding "male" as the default gender. And I don't see how you can have that without gender bias.

G.v.K wrote:yeah, it's a shame that 'one' got lost, so that - "one likes one's pizza with pepperonis" - sounds weird nowadays. german still has the equivalent.

Whether people will find "one" strange depends on who is listening/reading, but in any case it doesn't have the versatility to be a normal gender-neutral pronoun. "One" only refers to hypothetical people, and maybe a few other cases I'm overlooking. It doesn't work to say "One is a really cool person" when "one" refers to a specific person of unknown gender.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby M-x shell » Tue Nov 24, 2009 2:32 am UTC

I really wish we could just drop genders altogether, and use "it". Having separate gender forms for pronouns (or - got forbid - verbs and adjectives like some other languages have) is unnecessary pain for nonnative speakers learning the language, and makes it seem like gender is the most important thing about the person being referenced. Seriously, are there any other characteristics of a person that alters the grammatically correct way to refer to them? Gendered words seem almost designed to make it impossible to think about men and women interchangeably - we have to know your sex before we can even talk about you.

That tinfoil-hat paranoia / castle-in-the-sky idealism aside, "they" serves just fine in situations where you cannot provide a gender. It's not like we don't already have plenty of words whose singular and plural forms are the same.


G.v.K wrote:yeah, it's a shame that 'one' got lost, so that - "one likes one's pizza with pepperonis" - sounds weird nowadays. german still has the equivalent.


Oh dear god no; it's not. "One" is a numeral. Reusing it as a pronoun is as pointless and grating as saying "an individual" when you mean "a person". And yes, German does have the general, genderless pronoun "man", which is ironic, since nearly everything else in that Byzantine language has a gender. Also note that "one" and the equivalent German "man" wouldn't work for the example you gave - unless you mean that people in general like their pizzas with pepperonis. If you wanted to say, "she likes her pizza with pepperonis", referring to a specific person, you couldn't rewrite that using "one". "One" and "man" are used where we tend to use "you", as in, "you set the clock back in the fall", not making a claim about any specific person, but merely describing something that people tend to do in general. For this, I also prefer the German version, but because it doesn't ambiguously overload the vocabulary, not because it's genderless. "You" is also genderless.

(Edit: TheGrammarBolshevik beat me to it)

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby G.v.K » Tue Nov 24, 2009 2:56 am UTC

@ M-x-shell

thanks for the clarification. my high school german ain't what it used to be.

i think it's fairly obvious why gender is so important - reproduction being a highly useful evolutionary function :)

if internet forums take over as the main mode of human communication, i'd expect gender words to reduce in significance.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby setzer777 » Tue Nov 24, 2009 2:58 am UTC

Personally, I usually either use "they" or "(s)he". To me "ze" and such just sound like crap (of course, I'm arguably a bad person for basing my word choice more on aesthetic judgment than possible social impact, so you might not want to follow my example).
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:00 am UTC

G.v.K wrote:i think it's fairly obvious why gender is so important - reproduction being a highly useful evolutionary function :)

That may be a reasonable explanation for the development of that standard, but it's piss-poor as a justification. Generally, people don't consider everyone they talk to/about in terms of sex and reproduction. There's no need for pronouns to continue to reflect on that.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby G.v.K » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:11 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
G.v.K wrote:i think it's fairly obvious why gender is so important - reproduction being a highly useful evolutionary function :)

That may be a reasonable explanation for the development of that standard, but it's piss-poor as a justification. Generally, people don't consider everyone they talk to/about in terms of sex and reproduction. There's no need for pronouns to continue to reflect on that.


like i said, if the need disappears, so too will the usage. language is very democratic like that.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:17 am UTC

Actually, you said that the usage would probably disappear if there were more conversations where people's gender was not clear. This does not show that pronoun genders are needed, and it doesn't show that unnecessary words necessarily disappear over time — after all, what the hell makes a word necessary?
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Carnildo » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:20 am UTC

KrazyerKate wrote:"I just met Alex. ___ seems like a pretty cool person"

...

A few "why-does-everyone-thinks-I'm-a-guy"s later I tried using "they". This didn't last long since there are tons of situations where it doesn't make sense at all (e.g."they likes their pizza with pepperonis").

I either restructure things to avoid pronouns ("I just met Alex, who seems like a pretty cool person") or use the singular "they" (*they like their pizza with pepperoni").

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Kyrn » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:31 am UTC

The problem with using gender-fancy pronouns (ze, zie, shi, hie, etc), is that they're already sometimes used to indicate herms or neuteral/asexual in certain locales on the net. I'd prefer to use "one" myself (or he/she if "one" doesn't seem to sound right).
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby G.v.K » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:34 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Actually, you said that the usage would probably disappear if there were more conversations where people's gender was not clear. This does not show that pronoun genders are needed, and it doesn't show that unnecessary words necessarily disappear over time — after all, what the hell makes a word necessary?


i didn't say just that. i assume on an internet forum that gender is usually unnecessary. yours and my gender is of no relevance to this discussion for example. in this context, gender does not need to be communicated for the discussion to continue. the OP cited examples where the gender distinction impeded the efficiency of communication. i expect that alternative pronouns which get around this problem will be selected over the status quo if the contexts in which this problem appears (i.e. internet forums) become more prevalent.

there is plenty of linguistic research on the issue of language change. langauge selects for efficiency. if things change which cause elements of language to be inefficient, chances are those elements will disappear.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:39 am UTC

So, do you have any evidence that we need to make gender part of our pronouns? Or is it just something that we're attached to? Because what I'm advocating here kinda is selecting for efficiency.

Edit: Also, "asexual" does not mean genderless, and "herms" is just not an OK word to use. And anyway, it's not like "ze" as a gender-neutral pronoun excludes genderqueer people, although it's true that it would be problematic to coopt a word that some of them prefer to refer to themselves specifically.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Kyrn » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:42 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:So, do you have any evidence that we need to make gender part of our pronouns? Or is it just something that we're attached to? Because what I'm advocating here kinda is selecting for efficiency.


One reason why we try to tag genders in a gender neutral environment, is to improve the social aspects. Revealing more about oneself and/or associating with personal particulars helps to break down the anonymity barrier that the internet often creates.

Edit: Also, "asexual" does not mean genderless, and "herms" is just not an OK word to use. And anyway, it's not like "ze" as a gender-neutral pronoun excludes genderqueer people, although it's true that it would be problematic to coopt a word that some of them prefer to refer to themselves specifically.


I know asexual isn't genderless, which is why I used neutral/asexual (because they are similar, not identical). And if we are talking about gender-neutral pronoun, "he" is technically a gender neutral pronoun. It's not just true that it's problematic, it's the whole crux of this argument.
Last edited by Kyrn on Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:46 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby G.v.K » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:46 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:So, do you have any evidence that we need to make gender part of our pronouns? Or is it just something that we're attached to? Because what I'm advocating here kinda is selecting for efficiency.


why do you (or anybody for that matter) need to be the one who decides efficiency? people using language decide efficiency. if something becomes inefficient enough, people will change their usage.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:52 am UTC

G.v.K wrote:why do you (or anybody for that matter) need to be the one who decides efficiency? people using language decide efficiency. if something becomes inefficient enough, people will change their usage.

Let me rephrase that: Since a system can be efficient in its inequity, I'm advocating a move toward gender-neutrality as a means of making gender discrimination less efficient. But, since equity also tends to increase efficiency, I think that a move toward an efficient way to be gender-neutral will also make things more efficient in general.

I think it's quite circular to say that people tend toward efficient usage but to also define "efficiency" according to usage.

Kyrn wrote:I know asexual isn't genderless, which is why I used neutral/asexual (because they are similar, not identical).

Asexual, with regards to humans, means (roughly) "without sexual attraction." It's not the same thing as gender- or sex-neutral.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Kyrn » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:58 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Kyrn wrote:I know asexual isn't genderless, which is why I used neutral/asexual (because they are similar, not identical).

Asexual, with regards to humans, means (roughly) "without sexual attraction." It's not the same thing as gender- or sex-neutral.


Asexual, with regards to gender, means a gender which is capable of reproducing by oneself. As opposed to neutral, which is incapable of reproduction. The similarity which is that neither uses functional conventional sexual organs (as far as the gender is concerned. I know some species can reproduce via both asexual and heterosexual methods, but as far as this conversation is concerned, it shouldn't be an issue).

And much as I'd like all my conversations to be tinged with sexual innuendo, I'd like to think that this topic is strictly about anatomical gender, not sexual preference.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:05 am UTC

Kyrn wrote:And much as I'd like all my conversations to be tinged with sexual innuendo, I'd like to think that this topic is strictly about anatomical gender, not sexual preference.

As this conversation is about humans, it would make sense to use words that actually apply to humans. "Asexual," in the anatomical sense, does not.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Torvaun » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:09 am UTC

Kyrn wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Kyrn wrote:I know asexual isn't genderless, which is why I used neutral/asexual (because they are similar, not identical).

Asexual, with regards to humans, means (roughly) "without sexual attraction." It's not the same thing as gender- or sex-neutral.


Asexual, with regards to gender, means a gender which is capable of reproducing by oneself. As opposed to neutral, which is incapable of reproduction. The similarity which is that neither uses functional conventional sexual organs (as far as the gender is concerned. I know some species can reproduce via both asexual and heterosexual methods, but as far as this conversation is concerned, it shouldn't be an issue).

And much as I'd like all my conversations to be tinged with sexual innuendo, I'd like to think that this topic is strictly about anatomical gender, not sexual preference.
Gender isn't anatomical. Sex is. Asexual reproduction means reproduction without sex, but asexual from a social point of view means no interest in sex. TGB already explained this, so I'm confused as to why I need to explain it again.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby G.v.K » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:10 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
G.v.K wrote:why do you (or anybody for that matter) need to be the one who decides efficiency? people using language decide efficiency. if something becomes inefficient enough, people will change their usage.

Let me rephrase that: Since a system can be efficient in its inequity, I'm advocating a move toward gender-neutrality as a means of making gender discrimination less efficient. But, since equity also tends to increase efficiency, I think that a move toward an efficient way to be gender-neutral will also make things more efficient in general.

I think it's quite circular to say that people tend toward efficient usage but to also define "efficiency" according to usage.



people communicate to exchange information. gender information is very important information in many contexts. that is clearly what people over time have thought or else we would have no words for gender. it is often very useful to know if the person being talked about is a man or a woman.

if people no longer think it important to communicate gender, those words may disappear, especially if they are getting in the way of ease of communication.

efficiency = maximum communication with minimum effort. language users strive for that overall goal, not just semantically but syntactically, phonetically etc etc.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:13 am UTC

G.v.K wrote:if people no longer think it important to communicate gender, those words may disappear, especially if they are getting in the way of ease of communication.

Yeah, and kinda what I'm advocating here is that we not treat gender as such a sacred essential aspect of a person that we can't refer to hir without it. And also that we drop the "male until proven guilty" attitude that we tend to take at the moment.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Kyrn » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:14 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Kyrn wrote:And much as I'd like all my conversations to be tinged with sexual innuendo, I'd like to think that this topic is strictly about anatomical gender, not sexual preference.

As this conversation is about humans, it would make sense to use words that actually apply to humans. "Asexual," in the anatomical sense, does not.


You've not been to said certain locales that I mentioned then. Fantasy narrative devices often dictates that non-humans are referenced.

Torvaun wrote:Gender isn't anatomical. Sex is. Asexual reproduction means reproduction without sex, but asexual from a social point of view means no interest in sex. TGB already explained this, so I'm confused as to why I need to explain it again.


Or perhaps I meant anatomical sex, if that's how you prefer your words. Sexual preference is completely offtopic, since I do not recall any pronouns which refers to anything similar to homosexuality of either gender.

For reference, anatomical gender would mean gender determined by anatomy, as opposed to gender determined by social roles.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:18 am UTC

Kyrn wrote:For reference, anatomical gender would mean gender determined by anatomy, as opposed to gender determined by social roles.

"Determined by social roles" is part of the definition of gender. I think you're looking for something along the lines of "anatomical sex," although "sex" would also do.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Kyrn » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:22 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Kyrn wrote:For reference, anatomical gender would mean gender determined by anatomy, as opposed to gender determined by social roles.

"Determined by social roles" is part of the definition of gender. I think you're looking for something along the lines of "anatomical sex," although "sex" would also do.


As far as I know, no dictionary or encyclopedia defines gender in that manner. Citation please.

For reference, Wikipedia definition of gender, and the first and second google results for gender.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:25 am UTC

Man, very first sentence of the Wikipedia link:

Wikipedia wrote:Gender commonly refers to the set of characteristics that humans perceive as distinguishing between male and female entities, extending from one's biological sex to, in humans, one's social role or gender identity.


And here's a dictionary that I'm surprised you missed:

Merriam-Webster wrote:the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby modularblues » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:32 am UTC

Carnildo wrote:
KrazyerKate wrote:"I just met Alex. ___ seems like a pretty cool person"

...

A few "why-does-everyone-thinks-I'm-a-guy"s later I tried using "they". This didn't last long since there are tons of situations where it doesn't make sense at all (e.g."they likes their pizza with pepperonis").

I either restructure things to avoid pronouns ("I just met Alex, who seems like a pretty cool person") or use the singular "they" (*they like their pizza with pepperoni").

I restructure to avoid the singular pronouns too, or use "one" wherever it doesn't sound too awkward.

Society in general tends to gender-classify to some extent, which is reflected in the first question when a baby comes out "boy or girl?" :-P and in languages of course.

I wonder if the degree of gender-differential in a language is correlated to the degree of gender perception in that culture, at least historically. Like Japanese differentiates the "I" (atashi vs. boku, plus many others of various levels of formality...) and Arabic differentiates the singular "you" (anti vs. anta).

Another curiosity is the male/female articles in Romance languages... which never makes sense to me as they apply to inanimate objects and entities which inherently have no gender. I've found a vague correlation in that objects that are stereotypically feminine would take on feminine articles, and similarly for the masculine case, but it's a rather weak correlation. I guess this is some kind of byproduct in the development process of the languages?

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Kyrn » Tue Nov 24, 2009 5:04 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Man, very first sentence of the Wikipedia link:

Wikipedia wrote:Gender commonly refers to the set of characteristics that humans perceive as distinguishing between male and female entities, extending from one's biological sex to, in humans, one's social role or gender identity.


And here's a dictionary that I'm surprised you missed:

Merriam-Webster wrote:the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex


Wikipedia wrote:Gender commonly refers to the set of characteristics that humans perceive as distinguishing between male and female entities, extending from one's biological sex to, in humans, one's social role or gender identity.


Definition of gender:
Merriam-Webster wrote:2 a : sex <the feminine gender>


Definition of sex:
Merriam-Webster wrote:2 : the sum of the structural, functional, and behavioral characteristics of organisms that are involved in reproduction marked by the union of gametes and that distinguish males and females


This selective definition game is getting irritating.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Nov 24, 2009 5:28 am UTC

I use one/singular they, since those are the gender neutral pronouns that the English language actually has.

constructed pronouns (like ze, etc.) are awkward, confusing, and sometimes viewed as derogatory.

I also think we should work on eliminating mostly useless letters, like z and x, from our language in the name of parsimonious communication, and most constructed pronoun schemes run flagrantly counter to this ideal.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby G.v.K » Tue Nov 24, 2009 6:17 am UTC

modularblues wrote:
Another curiosity is the male/female articles in Romance languages... which never makes sense to me as they apply to inanimate objects and entities which inherently have no gender. I've found a vague correlation in that objects that are stereotypically feminine would take on feminine articles, and similarly for the masculine case, but it's a rather weak correlation. I guess this is some kind of byproduct in the development process of the languages?


these are mostly just analytical tags. the title of George Lakoff's book "Women, fire and dangerous things" comes from an Australian aboriginal language which has a grammatical category that is based around the semantics of those things (see https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/wash/www/category.htm - 2nd para in particular, but the whole thing is relevant to this discussion).

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Gelsamel » Tue Nov 24, 2009 12:18 pm UTC

I typically use "They".
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Azrael » Tue Nov 24, 2009 12:40 pm UTC

Kyrn wrote:Definition of gender:
Merriam-Webster wrote:2 a : sex <the feminine gender>
If gender is only and always synonymous with sex, why are there two separate words? And why is the 'sex' definition listed second?

It's really, really common (and more than sufficiently supported by both the dictionary and other sources) that gender is used to describe the social construct and sex is the biological checklist. Sure, people mix it up all the time and are generally unclear with their language in regards to this, much like they are in regards to language on the whole. But hey, precision does happen occasionally -- and with some frequency here. Rather than continue to bicker over it, I'd suggest moving on. You will see this set of usages all the time around here.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Jessica » Tue Nov 24, 2009 2:14 pm UTC

I also use they as I find ze to be linguistically cumbersome.

Sex: Biology - Defined by many characteristics, from chromosomes, to hormonal, to primary physical sex characteristics, to secondary sex characteristics. All of these can be used as a definition of the biological sex of an individual. Generally we assume chromosomal, but get the data to determine that from secondary sex characteristics, and historical data.

Gender: Social/mental - Defined by many other characteristics, from the birth declaration (It's a boy!), to social role, to the perception of others, to how the person considers themselves. These are much less rigorously defined as it's all perception and interpretation.

Gender also is how you describe in language if something is masculine or feminine.

Cool, so with those terms, do we need gender-neutral pronouns (in the second sense)? In my opinion yes we do. If only for the simple fact that assuming male in the absence of other information is a Bad Thing. in fact, in the past, many different attempts at being gender neutral have come and gone. And since they are starting to be needed again, people are starting to look at alternatives for the current pronouns we have.

And yes, there is a need, because there are people who exist who need it. Large groups of people believe we need them, and thus there is a need. Will any one version of the gender neutral pronoun get adopted universally? No idea. But that doesn't mean we can't try and use them now, and see if they catch on.

But what about determining the sex of someone? Well, then you can use a non-neutral pronoun. If you know the gender of the individual (how they identify and present) then use a non-neutral pronoun. No harm no foul. The problem comes when you apply a gendered word to someone incorrectly. It is very annoying to be mis-gendered.

I don't really see how there's an issue here though...
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Duban » Tue Nov 24, 2009 2:59 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Duban wrote:At one point it may have been gender bias but now it's just the way English is, no insult meant.

You say this like it's how language works
.

Well isn't it how language works? You can't just declare the usage of a gender neutral word and expect it to take on instantly. There is no authority on the English language that can create, or otherwise alter the root words in a way that they deem benificial. At least there isn't any indisputable authority that can change language instantly, nor should there be. 1984, anyone?


TheGrammarBolshevik wrote: and like it's the real problem with regarding "male" as the default gender. And I don't see how you can have that without gender bias.

Ok, let me use the definition of a common word to make my point. Chair

Noun:
-seat, esp. for one person, usually having four legs for support and a rest for the back and often having rests for the arms.
-a seat of office or authority.
-the chair, Informal. electric chair.
-a glassmaker's bench having extended arms on which a blowpipe is rolled in shaping glass.

Verb:
-to preside over; act as chairperson of: to chair a committee.
- British. to carry (a hero or victor) aloft in triumph.

All of these meanings are grammatically acceptable uses of the word in English. Just because the word Chair can mean a seat when used in this context doesn't affect its other meanings. In one context it means a seat, but in another context it can mean a position of authority. The chairperson of a meeting, or overseer. It's the same way for his/him/he. Sure those words can refer to someone who's a man, but they also have a similar meaning for someone of an unknown or otherwise undetermined gender.

A word to refer to someone of an undetermined gender may catch on in the future, but for now there isn't anything like that that's acceptable in general conversation without sounding strange. It's not like you can just "declare" a word to have a meaning and expect it to catch on. Until a word does exist there's nothing wrong with using the grammatically correct meaning of the words that exist now, for better or worse. It's not like you're intentionally trying to imply any gender bias.

Also, the thought of doing away with all gender based pronouns is an interesting one. I just don't see it catching on in the next century.
Last edited by Duban on Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:24 pm UTC, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Jessica » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:03 pm UTC

But, just because you might find it sounds weird doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to use gender neutral language. Just because it's hard doesn't mean we should just accept the status quo...
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Duban » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:12 pm UTC

Jessica wrote:But, just because you might find it sounds weird doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to use gender neutral language. Just because it's hard doesn't mean we should just accept the status quo...

I understand. I think the question is "Is it worth creating awkward conversations to try to change the words, or is it better to leave it as it is for smoother conversation". Changing conversation with culture is good and all but being understandable is important too. Is it worth losing credibility and understandability while talking about other important subjects that need to be addressed too? Both are good things to seek, and which to choose is entirely personal opinion.

Honestly I would rather keep the existing words in the interest of healthy conversation and remove perception of bias behind them. Words are just words, things we use to communicate. If one doesn't see a word as biased, how can one use it to be biased?
Last edited by Duban on Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:27 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Azrael » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:19 pm UTC

Duban wrote:All of these meanings are grammatically acceptable uses of the word in English. Just because the word Chair can mean a seat when used in this context doesn't affect its other meanings. In one context it means a seat, but in another context it can mean a position of authority. The chairperson of a meeting, or overseer. It's the same way for his/him/he. Sure they can refer to someone who's a man, but they also have a similar meaning for someone of an unknown or otherwise undetermined gender.

As is typical with this discussion, you're pointing out the obvious: Everyone knows that the male gender has been the recognized gender-neutral pronoun in the English language. The etymology is not in question. (Although, it's interesting you use Chairperson instead of the classic Chairman while defending the male voice as the neutral voice.)

Anyhow, much as we all know that the male pronoun was also traditionally the neutral pronoun, we *also* all know (if we're being honest) that the society that developed around and with that usage was tremendously male-biased. Enter chicken vs. egg debate.

If a modern society attempts to remove that tremendous male-bias, how do we separate language from that cause:effect quagmire? Since the language was developed within a societal structure we wish to alter, altering the language seem appropriate as well. In fact, even your own pronoun choice earlier demonstrates that the process is already underway, and without deleterious awkwardness (one might even say it can be accomplished with relative ease).

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby Jessica » Tue Nov 24, 2009 3:21 pm UTC

Being blind to bias doesn't change it though. And claiming the word "he" is actually gender neutral is lying. Because, while it can mean something else, it also is not gender neutral. The word he is masculine.

In fact I remember a study where children were read a story, and asked who the main character was. They used the "gender neutral" he, and most of the children thought the main character was male. Even after explaining that he was gender neutral.

If you want to use current language, we do have a couple of (bad) words, like they. they is acceptable as a singular neutral pronoun in many instances, though it can be a little cumbersome in others. One works as well sometimes, but again it's also not great.

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Re: Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Postby General_Norris » Tue Nov 24, 2009 4:03 pm UTC

Society in general tends to gender-classify to some extent, which is reflected in the first question when a baby comes out "boy or girl?"


Strictly speaking a new-born has no discernible personality so it must be described by his phisical appearance so it's not reflected by the question (You are asking about sex not gender). However people is going to assing a gender based on a question about sex which is both incorrect and sexist.

Another curiosity is the male/female articles in Romance languages... which never makes sense to me as they apply to inanimate objects and entities which inherently have no gender. I've found a vague correlation in that objects that are stereotypically feminine would take on feminine articles, and similarly for the masculine case, but it's a rather weak correlation. I guess this is some kind of byproduct in the development process of the languages?


As a Spaniard who is capable of reading French, Portuguese and Italian and with some rudimentary knowledge of German I tell you this is not true. There's no correlation, it's random and the cause of grammatical gender is the ending of the word. For example in Spanish words that end in -o are masculine and words that end in -a are femenine thus "Violencia" (Violence) is feminine and "Maquina" (machine) is feminine. Hell, "Masculinidad" (Masculinity) is femenine too! In other languages the words may have a different gender so the connection to sound is more clearly seen. The word "Hacha" (Axe) is female but uses a male article so as to avoid cacophony.

The most important thing is that grammatical gender is not gender nor sex. It's an abstraction that may resemble the sex of the object but it may not. Also take into account that the differentiation between gender and sex is pretty modern while the use of "grammatical gender" is not.

I was going to make a lenghty post but everything I could say is said better here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatica ... ral_gender
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

Some people may think that the use of "he" means that men are the standard and women are different. This is, in my very sincere opinion, incorrect because, as I have said before, grammatical gender is not gender nor sex and doesn't imply anything about the gender of the reader. Most of this board speaks English as a first language so it may be difficult to understand how a word may have grammatical gender and no gender, so excuse any sexist connotation my post may have. This kind of use of "he" is not different than the use of "man" as in "mankind", the use of "one" and the use of "they" in singular.

I follow the dictionary very strictly so I will use "he" instead of a singular "they" because it makes more sense gramatically and leads to leads less mistakes.

Jessica wrote: But, just because you might find it sounds weird doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to use gender neutral language.


My reasons for opposing "gender neutral language" are the same that oppose the regularization of verbs.


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