Author Topic: Non gendered pronouns in other languages  (Read 3074 times)

Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« on: 19 May, 2021, 03:23:20 pm »
I'm putting this here as this is a linguistics question not a political one on the rights / wrongs or whatever. But mods feel free to move it if it causes a problem.

I saw that the singer Demi Lovato has announced that they are non binary and will now refer to themselves as "them" and "they". I find this really clunky given that those are plural not singular pronouns. I know that people have also made new words to replace he or she for this purpose but I was wondering if it there are more elegant solutions in other languages especially those that are heavily gendered with a lot of use of non gendered pronouns anyway.
English obviously has "it" and "that" but they have a curt feel and would only normally be applied to an object. 
Have any other languages simply switched to the standard non gendered singular pronouns for this usage ?

Just curious.
I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that.

ravenbait

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #1 on: 19 May, 2021, 03:43:22 pm »
Them and they have been used as singular pronouns for centuries. The OED traces it back to the 14th century:

https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/

It's not a new use of the words at all.

There are a whole host of different pronouns in use by non-binary people. The Swedish "hen" has proponents, although, as a Scot, it has other connotations for me so I don't like it.

Here is a resource for you, easily found by typing "list of gender neutral pronouns" into a popular search engine.

https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/

Sam
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citoyen

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #2 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:03:09 pm »
Just curious.

That's OK, you're allowed to dip your toe in the water before fully committing to such a major life change.

What ravenbait says is spot on. It only sounds clunky to you because it goes against what you've become accustomed to. If you embrace it, you might find it's not actually that difficult to adapt to a new way of thinking.

Also, it's just pronouns. It really doesn't matter. They don't really mean anything.
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Davef

Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #3 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:04:04 pm »
There are plenty of situations where you don’t know the gender of a person. The reader might like to make a note of  this on a piece of paper and take it with them in their handbag.

Edit: Got to go - I am expecting a visit from my new probation officer but I don’t know what time they are coming.

Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #4 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:19:26 pm »
I think everyone missed the point. The replies have all been about English, I totally get why people want non gendered pronouns and that their use will stop grating through familiarity (but probably only once everyone starts using the same ones or a small subset of the options which I guess will happen eventually).
What I was trying to get at was in other languages has there been a smoother solution and if so is it because of the way they gender things anyway.
As I said in the first post we could have gone for he/she/it in English but no one liked that. It would have scanned fine but "it" has the wrong connotations, it carries more meaning than just not he or she. But what about say German what have they done and does their solution scan better to a German speaker than any of ours right now (not in twenty years or whatever) or has it enabled most German speaker to agree on the same solution rather than the way English seems to be up in the air about what what will eventually become the accepted method of addressing this.
I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that.

Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #5 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:29:43 pm »
English used to have loads of non-gendered pronouns.

'ze', for example, is not a new word. Dates to the 19th century.
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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #6 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:33:35 pm »
But there’s nothing novel or up in the air about this use of “they” in English, so there’s no point to engage with.

Cudzoziemiec

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #7 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:36:27 pm »
I'm afraid I don't know what German or any other language has done but one obvious point is that not every language has non-gendered pronouns – French for example has only il and elle, masculine and feminine – and some languages, I think, have no gendered pronouns.
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Davef

Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #8 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:41:35 pm »
I think everyone missed the point. The replies have all been about English, I totally get why people want non gendered pronouns and that their use will stop grating through familiarity (but probably only once everyone starts using the same ones or a small subset of the options which I guess will happen eventually).
What I was trying to get at was in other languages has there been a smoother solution and if so is it because of the way they gender things anyway.
As I said in the first post we could have gone for he/she/it in English but no one liked that. It would have scanned fine but "it" has the wrong connotations, it carries more meaning than just not he or she. But what about say German what have they done and does their solution scan better to a German speaker than any of ours right now (not in twenty years or whatever) or has it enabled most German speaker to agree on the same solution rather than the way English seems to be up in the air about what what will eventually become the accepted method of addressing this.
Someone will surely solve this and they will be applauded.

ian

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #9 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:53:46 pm »
I don't think the French are ready for non-binary cats and dogs yet.
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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #10 on: 19 May, 2021, 04:56:10 pm »
Only talks about German, Spanish and Arabic though:

https://ohiofusion.com/gender-neutral-pronouns-various-languages/

Chinese has ta 他 (he/him) ta 她 (she/her), ta 它 (it), all pronounced "ta" but written differently. The female and "it" "ta" characters were a recent invention (early 20th century) anyway, I think. Apparently, in Chinese writing some have used "ta" (using the Roman letters t and a) to be gender neutral.

Cudzoziemiec

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #11 on: 19 May, 2021, 05:05:02 pm »
And having a neuter gender pronoun isn't necessarily the same as having a gender-neutral pronoun. Just like English, in many other languages you can't call a person "it". I don't any other language that uses a plural pronoun as a non-specific singular like English does, but I expect there are some.
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Cudzoziemiec

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #12 on: 19 May, 2021, 05:14:40 pm »
Only talks about German, Spanish and Arabic though:

https://ohiofusion.com/gender-neutral-pronouns-various-languages/

Chinese has ta 他 (he/him) ta 她 (she/her), ta 它 (it), all pronounced "ta" but written differently. The female and "it" "ta" characters were a recent invention (early 20th century) anyway, I think. Apparently, in Chinese writing some have used "ta" (using the Roman letters t and a) to be gender neutral.
Interesting, but I think they got this bit wrong:
Quote
For example, the Niederdeutsch (new German) dialect uses the neutral de.
Surely Niederdeutsch is Low German not "new German"?
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ravenbait

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #13 on: 19 May, 2021, 05:19:37 pm »
And having a neuter gender pronoun isn't necessarily the same as having a gender-neutral pronoun. Just like English, in many other languages you can't call a person "it". I don't any other language that uses a plural pronoun as a non-specific singular like English does, but I expect there are some.

As you probably know, grammatical gender is nothing to do with sex. It's for disambiguation. I sometimes think everyone would be happier if we got rid of the terms masculine, feminine and neuter, replacing them with quark, strangeness and charm.

Many languages have four genders. Apparently, some have twenty.

There has been a flurry of posts in the Scottish Gaelic Duolingo group recently asking for gender neutral Gaelic pronouns. Gaelic doesn't have a neuter. Everything is masculine or feminine. The only option is to pressgang the plural they/them into service.

At least in English there is long precedent.

Sam
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Salvatore

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #14 on: 19 May, 2021, 05:19:56 pm »
Finnish: hän = he or she

hän rakastaa häntä = he loves him, she loves her, she loves him, he loves her.

And there is no grammatical gender.

Quote
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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #15 on: 19 May, 2021, 05:46:41 pm »
Only talks about German, Spanish and Arabic though:

https://ohiofusion.com/gender-neutral-pronouns-various-languages/

Chinese has ta 他 (he/him) ta 她 (she/her), ta 它 (it), all pronounced "ta" but written differently. The female and "it" "ta" characters were a recent invention (early 20th century) anyway, I think. Apparently, in Chinese writing some have used "ta" (using the Roman letters t and a) to be gender neutral.
Interesting, but I think they got this bit wrong:
Quote
For example, the Niederdeutsch (new German) dialect uses the neutral de.
Surely Niederdeutsch is Low German not "new German"?
Indeed. And "the Niederdeutsch dialect" would annoy millions of speakers, who would insist that either "the" or "dialect" has to be changed. They'd say it's either a language, or a dialect continuum. It's written (or at least, some forms of it are - I've seen signs in it in Hamburg, for example), not just spoken, & has been for centuries.

My oldest surviving relative grew up speaking a Niederdeutsch (but she says Plattdeutsch) dialect alomgside her Slesvig Danish dialect, & learned official, standard, German (Hochdeutsch) at school, where use of it was compulsory. Her Schleswig Platt was incomprehensible to people from elsewhere in Germany, & she learned German pretty much as a foreign language.

She learned standard Danish at Sunday school. Her Slesvig dialect is pretty incomprehensible to the locals in Copenhagen, where she's spent most of her life.
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ravenbait

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #16 on: 19 May, 2021, 05:49:53 pm »

Indeed. And "the Niederdeutsch dialect" would annoy millions of speakers, who would insist that either "the" or "dialect" has to be changed. They'd say it's either a language, or a dialect continuum. It's written (or at least, some forms of it are - I've seen signs in it in Hamburg, for example), not just spoken, & has been for centuries.

My oldest surviving relative grew up speaking a Niederdeutsch (but she says Plattdeutsch) dialect alomgside her Slesvig Danish dialect, & learned official, standard, German (Hochdeutsch) at school, where use of it was compulsory. Her Schleswig Platt was incomprehensible to people from elsewhere in Germany, & she learned German pretty much as a foreign language.

She learned standard Danish at Sunday school. Her Slesvig dialect is pretty incomprehensible to the locals in Copenhagen, where she's spent most of her life.

Off-topic but there are similar arguments about Scots. Scots and English are separate languages with a recent common ancestor.

I read somewhere that the difference between dialect and language is political.

Sam
https://ravenbait.com
"Created something? Hah! But that would be irresponsible! And unethical! I would never, ever make... more than one."

Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #17 on: 19 May, 2021, 05:51:56 pm »
Only talks about German, Spanish and Arabic though:

https://ohiofusion.com/gender-neutral-pronouns-various-languages/

Chinese has ta 他 (he/him) ta 她 (she/her), ta 它 (it), all pronounced "ta" but written differently. The female and "it" "ta" characters were a recent invention (early 20th century) anyway, I think. Apparently, in Chinese writing some have used "ta" (using the Roman letters t and a) to be gender neutral.

Thanks that was the kind of thing I was after. I like the Chilean Spanish solution "elle", its elegant and doesn't break up the rhythm or flow of the language.
I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that.

Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #18 on: 19 May, 2021, 05:52:49 pm »
Finnish: hän = he or she

hän rakastaa häntä = he loves him, she loves her, she loves him, he loves her.

And there is no grammatical gender.

Nice and simple for them then !
I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that.

hellymedic

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #19 on: 19 May, 2021, 06:00:02 pm »
My Romanian cleaning lady refers to her husband/son/daughter as 'it' so I suspect gendered pronouns aren't used in her native tongue.

ian

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #20 on: 19 May, 2021, 06:01:07 pm »
Finnish: hän = he or she

hän rakastaa häntä = he loves him, she loves her, she loves him, he loves her.

And there is no grammatical gender.

Nice and simple for them then !

Have you seen the rest of their language?
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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #21 on: 19 May, 2021, 06:10:54 pm »
Finnish: hän = he or she

hän rakastaa häntä = he loves him, she loves her, she loves him, he loves her.

And there is no grammatical gender.

Nice and simple for them then !

But very risky when you consider how much they drink

Tim Hall

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #22 on: 19 May, 2021, 06:19:51 pm »


I read somewhere that the difference between dialect and language is political.

Sam

"A language is a dialect with an army and navy"
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Cudzoziemiec

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #23 on: 19 May, 2021, 06:20:19 pm »
And having a neuter gender pronoun isn't necessarily the same as having a gender-neutral pronoun. Just like English, in many other languages you can't call a person "it". I don't any other language that uses a plural pronoun as a non-specific singular like English does, but I expect there are some.

As you probably know, grammatical gender is nothing to do with sex. It's for disambiguation. I sometimes think everyone would be happier if we got rid of the terms masculine, feminine and neuter, replacing them with quark, strangeness and charm.

Many languages have four genders. Apparently, some have twenty.

There has been a flurry of posts in the Scottish Gaelic Duolingo group recently asking for gender neutral Gaelic pronouns. Gaelic doesn't have a neuter. Everything is masculine or feminine. The only option is to pressgang the plural they/them into service.

At least in English there is long precedent.

Sam
I'm not sure it's even always clear what counts as grammatical gender. For instance, Polish has, officially, three genders, for which masculine, feminine, neuter seem appropriate names because the grammatical gender of nouns for persons and animals is determined by the biological sex. For everything else, it's done by simple spelling rules. Simple? Not quite. Because the words for male humans behave in a slightly different way from other masculine words (including those for male animals). And then there are words which only exist in the plural and can't really be considered any specific gender; this group includes some things which are unique, eg some town names. (And getting back to the original question, the only way to refer to a person without specifying their gender would be to use a circumlocution such as "this individual".)
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quixoticgeek

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Re: Non gendered pronouns in other languages
« Reply #24 on: 19 May, 2021, 06:24:00 pm »

May I recommend this episode of the Allusionist:

https://www.theallusionist.org/allusionist/notitle

Covers things nicely.

J
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