How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

A discussion concerning replacing gendered pronouns with gender-neutral pronouns

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#21  Postby Jake » Oct 02, 2014 2:20 pm

I apologize for the confusion about the location of my actual argument. My plan was to post both threads and then link to my argument from this thread, but I did not know that these forums required approval of each topic, and I posted this thread before posting my other thread, so I had no way to edit this thread's original post to warn readers that my other thread was still being approved, and I went to sleep before this thread was approved. Anyway, the link is now in this topic's original post. I'm still reading through all of the replies to this topic, but all of the objections to gender-neutral pronouns that I've seen so far are addressed in the other thread (in the Sociology subforum).

Edit: After reading through all of the replies to this topic, I'm glad to see the discussion has moved toward linguistics and away from the original confusion. For those who objected that gendered pronouns convey information that is sometimes relevant, please see my argument.

As to whether it would be worth making the change for nongendered people, please note that I never refer to this issue at all in my argument thread, not because I don't care about those people or their struggle, but because I want to emphasize that my argument would still be just as valid in a world with only two genders.

On the issue of referring to a man and a woman with gendered pronouns, that's the only group of people that can actually be referred to using gendered pronouns. Any group of more than two people or any group of two men or two women must be referred to by the people's names, so I don't see it as a big deal to do the same for a group of one man and one woman.

I wouldn't suggest we use "he" as the default gender-neutral pronoun given that feminists would never accept it, and perhaps for good reason.

For those naysayers who simply deny that this can be done: I'm motivated, ambitious, highly rational and I'm passionate about this subject. I'd like your input and help but if you truly believe this is an impossible task, then this isn't the right thread for you. If you have constructive criticism (i.e. specific forseeable obstacles or problems that you'd like to point out), please share it.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#22  Postby Fallible » Oct 02, 2014 2:36 pm

Just so you know for future reference, Jake, the forum does not require approval of each topic. You just needed to have your own first post approved. Now that's done, you should be able to start as many topics as you like, as long as they're not duplicates of topics already here, obviously. It may be the case that your two threads are classed as duplicate threads and merged, I don't know, I haven't read your other thread yet.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#23  Postby orpheus » Oct 02, 2014 2:39 pm

:thumbup:
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#24  Postby Jake » Oct 02, 2014 2:47 pm

I think what happened was that I posted them both within a few seconds of each other so both of them required approval because I hadn't had a first post approved before posting either of them. My other thread is now visible in the Sociology subforum. That's the last I'd like to comment on the technical mishap, but thank you for clearing that up for me.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#25  Postby Fallible » Oct 02, 2014 2:51 pm

No problem.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#26  Postby Evolving » Oct 02, 2014 3:21 pm

Jehannum wrote:Yeah, we can use "he" and "his" in a gender-neutral way.

When I write, "a guitar player must look after his hands" I mean "his or her". It's gender-neutral because of the context and intention.


That is exactly the point under discussion. Traditionally, yes, languages have regarded the male as the default and the female as the exception; but some of us are worried that this has a pernicious effect on people's perceptions and expectations in real life.

Some people would write "a guitar player must look after her hands"; but other than making a point, this doesn't really help, I think. I agree with the OP that a gender-neutral pronoun is better, at any rate for statements like this, which are supposed to apply equally well to either gender.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#27  Postby Evolving » Oct 02, 2014 3:23 pm

It's like using "English" as the default for a British person. Is that "nationality-neutral because of the context and intention"? No.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#28  Postby Clive Durdle » Oct 02, 2014 4:00 pm

Is their a problem with "a guitar player must look after their hands"
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#29  Postby kiore » Oct 02, 2014 4:14 pm

Clive Durdle wrote:Is their a problem with "a guitar player must look after their hands"


I think that the use of the plural to refer to the singular has already become fairly common usage, I find myself doing this frequently especially as a way around not knowing the gender of the person referred to. When I lived in France some French people were horrified to hear me 'misuse' the language in this way, but it actually feels natural and in language evolution this probably the key to how things will change. Attempts at imposing solutions probably not effective in a globally spoken language like English, the solution will evolve maybe several versions of it even. Using a plural as singular avoids this ugly he/she/it thing because is this really neutral? The order of options defies neutrality, why not she/he/it (other than this really sounds shit) or it/she/he.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#30  Postby Made of Stars » Oct 02, 2014 8:28 pm

Agree, 'they/their' works perfectly fine.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#31  Postby orpheus » Oct 02, 2014 11:31 pm

Except...

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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#32  Postby scott1328 » Oct 03, 2014 12:47 am

Jehannum wrote:Yeah, we can use "he" and "his" in a gender-neutral way.

When I write, "a guitar player must look after his hands" I mean "his or her". It's gender-neutral because of the context and intention.

If you can explain why you chose the masculine forms as the default, and why choosing the feminine forms as the default would be rejected out of hand, then you will understand the point of this thread

From a language history perspective the merging of singular and plural pronouns into a single form has its precedence in the second person pronouns of modern English

You, ye, your (formal or polite address or plural)
Thee, thou, thy, thine (familiar, singular)

Were merged into: you, your

This solved the problem that faces many indoeuropean languages today (sometimes called the T/V distinction, or the tu/vous distinction)

Therefore I see no problem of co-opting they, them, their for indefinite or unknown gender. Many times sentences can be restructured to sound less awkward.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#33  Postby james1v » Oct 03, 2014 12:57 am

I have to admit, I've never called a spade a shovel, that's because i know the difference. Some don't.

"Arse hole" is good, we all have one, usually it stinks...Like some posts. ;)
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#34  Postby epepke » Oct 03, 2014 6:35 am

Evolving wrote:That is exactly the point under discussion. Traditionally, yes, languages have regarded the male as the default and the female as the exception; but some of us are worried that this has a pernicious effect on people's perceptions and expectations in real life.


I've heard this a lot, and I question it.

It's true in English, though English has no gender in the traditional sense. Also Spanish, where mixed groups use male forms.

In German, however, the same word is used (nominative) for she, you (formal), and they. Japanese gets confusing, although I don't speak it, it appears not to have much sex in it.

Now, let us compare perceptions and expectations in real life across English, Spanish, German, and Japanese cultures. Is there a pattern that fits? I don't see it.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#35  Postby babel » Oct 03, 2014 7:02 am

epepke wrote:
Evolving wrote:That is exactly the point under discussion. Traditionally, yes, languages have regarded the male as the default and the female as the exception; but some of us are worried that this has a pernicious effect on people's perceptions and expectations in real life.


I've heard this a lot, and I question it.

It's true in English, though English has no gender in the traditional sense. Also Spanish, where mixed groups us male forms.

In German, however, the same word is used (nominative) for she, you (formal), and they. Japanese gets confusing, although I don't speak it, it appears not to have much sex in it.

Now, let us compare perceptions and expectations in real life across English, Spanish, German, and Japanese cultures. Is there a pattern that fits? I don't see it.
Heh, I thought about this aspect driving home yesterday. Is there less gender based stereotyping going on when the language is gender neutral? I haven't seen any study about this, but my gut feeling tells me that people will still be people.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#36  Postby epepke » Oct 03, 2014 8:02 am

babel wrote:Heh, I thought about this aspect driving home yesterday. Is there less gender based stereotyping going on when the language is gender neutral? I haven't seen any study about this, but my gut feeling tells me that people will still be people.


Yeah. If anything, it seems to me that with the Kinder, Kirche, Kuche stuff, German culture hasn't been so traditionally gender-neutral or female. Nor has Japanese. If anything, English speakers have been ahead; consider the Magna Carta. Spanish is kind of interesting, because authors use their mother's last name as a last name and their father's last name as a middle name. But really, is there any consistent pattern, let along one that fits what people say about it.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#37  Postby Evolving » Oct 03, 2014 8:17 am

German certainly isn't gender neutral. The default term for a "doer" of something - a noun formed from a verb, like teacher, worker, driver, leader - is masculine (Lehrer, Arbeiter, Fahrer, Leiter); you form the feminine form by adding a suffix -in: Lehrerin etc. In this quandary, German feminists come to the opposite conclusion to their English-speaking counterparts: English feminists want to be called actors, authors etc, not actresses and authoresses; German feminists insist on the feminine form being used, so that it is now normal - in politicians' speeches, for instance - to talk about "voters and voteresses", not just voters.

As the OP pointed out, the difficulty is lot more intractable, because more deeply entrenched, where every noun, not just pronouns, has a grammatical gender. My point in the other thread about this topic was that in those languages, at the same time, it's easier to separate grammatical gender from biological sex in your mind, because it's more obvious that they are two different things.
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#38  Postby Evolving » Oct 03, 2014 8:22 am

Another "default" example in German. Say you wanted to say "Anyone coming on this trip must bring his own equipment" (or their own). In German, that would be (one way of saying it would be) "Wer auf diese Reise mitkommt, der muss seine eigene Ausrüstung mitbringen". Der, seine: both masculine pronouns; and there isn't a neutral alternative like "they" or "their".
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#39  Postby Evolving » Oct 03, 2014 8:38 am

It's a bit annoying, by the way, to have these two threads: Jake, I see why you created two of them, but it was unrealistic to expect people to allocate their contributions between those threads depending on whether they were about the issue as such or about practical ways of addressing it; and, sure enough, we haven't.

We live and learn! :cheers:
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Re: How can we entirely eliminate gendered pronouns?

#40  Postby epepke » Oct 03, 2014 8:42 am

Evolving wrote:German certainly isn't gender neutral.


But neither is any language, totally, and nobody claimed that German is. Of course, German has three genders, and none of them make any sense. Plus, they are different from the Latin languages. The genders of the sun and moon, for example, are reversed from French. In fact, one of the reasons that English doesn't have gender is that the languages that came together to form it (English essentially having been a creole) differed in their gender rules, so it got lost because it is confusing.

Which is kind of the point. What is happening here? Is gender, or sexed pronouns, actually influencing people's behaviors in some sort of consistent, male-dominating way?

Or is it that this is an idea that sounds good, and then people pick apart languages, choosing the features that support the idea?

Is the case that language always or usually influences people in a male-dominating way, or is it that this is the only case that people are motivated to make, because they prefer that conclusion?

So let's say you find a language where diminutives are feminine. Well, that's easy enough. You say that the language diminishes women. And then you find a language where majoritives are feminine. Like English, with countries and big ships and the great mother of all and mother nature. Then you can say that it's a sop, a patronization. Or, like German, where diminutives are neuter. That's a tough one. I know how to do it because it's been done. You say that it's insulting to girls to use neuter words and ignore the fact that the same is true for boys.

I'm not saying that you, personally, are doing this all the time (and I have to say this, because people around here get a bit tetchy), but what I am doing is applying skepticism to a system which seems to me guaranteed to produce the desired conclusion with no regard to the facts whatsoever, as an equally plausible rhetorical device can be produced no matter what.
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