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July 04, 2012


In the case of he digby example it would be possible to simply drop the verb and pronoun: '[so completely right][so full of it], as usual.'
Interestingly over here angels, unless specified otherwise (like by giving the name), are intuitively perceived as female. At Christmas Santas-for-hire are often accompanied by angels, exclusively female.
On webfora/blogs/etc. I am often able to think gender-neutral. It only becomes a problem when I have to use a pronoun. If I have no way of finding out, I try to reformulate the sentence. A special case I have here on this very blog. I knew a lady in Texas named McKinney, so I have to remind myself regularly that 'our' McKinneyTexas is male (and not related).

Where did "zie/hir" come from anyway? The places I frequented, the usual gender-neutral pronoun was the Spivak pronoun ("ey/em" or "e/em").


Yes, one can re-arrange the sentences to avoid having to pick a pronoun, but sometimes IME that's a horribly, ugly pain.

When you think of "Das Kind", are you imagining a boy or a girl? Or does it have a real gender-neutral quality?

angels, unless specified otherwise (like by giving the name), are intuitively perceived as female

I think that's probably very common for modern Christians, because we look at old pictures of angels and see feminine gender-markers, though they were originally (hundreds or even thousands of years ago) intended to appear gender-neutral.

As far as I know in English, only boys are given the names of specific angels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, etc.).

I remember zie/hir from my old Usenet days. I thought they were dumb back then and my opinion of them hasn't changed much in the intervening two decades. They and their are perfectly good, gender-neutral pronouns. Using them in the singular is technically incorrect, but I much prefer that to making up words because you feel like it.

Of course it's not just gender that gets assumed/determined. I'm always building mental pictures of people I interact with on the interwebs which often turn out to be hilariously wrong.

Back when I used to read the old Tacitus blog, I assumed that Tac was some crusty, old patrician and I was shocked as hell to find out he was just some snot-nosed kid putting on airs.

I think the bible thinks of angels as exclusively male. Those named definitely are and visiting angels in the OT are referred to as (young) men before their identity is revealed. The winged ones in Hesekiel's vision have no gender markers though.
As far as Das Kind is concerned, I tend to imagine a very young child where the gender is not immediately obvious. For me the word is indeed fully neutral.
I know that pronoun avoidance tends to look extremly awkward but personally I find it preferable to an embarrassing mistake most of the time (I am a bit of a Discworld dwarf there). What helps to cover for that is my known tendency towards deliberately stilted prose with high doses of irony (not on the Count's level).

For the sentences I would use "they" as the gender neutral pronoun. No idea where that came from - possibly usenet somewhere, possibly just a local usage - but that's not uncommon and doesn't sound wrong to me. Yeah it can be plural - but so can "you", and we cope with that OK.

Sweden just adopted a gender neutral pronoun. I quite like "hen" as a pronoun! No idea how common in actual usage it is of course, it'll probably take some time to come in. Incidentally I'd never heard of "hir/zie" until about two years ago - obviously the internet places I hang out are either more gendered, or just use "they" a lot.

I can't tell you much about chat based Japanese communities, the speed at which they move is a huge barrier (for me) to overcome. I also think that gender is woven into age and relative status in Japanese that even though, grammatically speaking, it is easier to separate it out than it is in English, even when it is not there, it is attended to. The example I gave at CT of how boys are given the -kun suffix and girls, the -san suffix is just one example of that.

A lot of this is related to Confucianism, which goes back to China. This paper on covert sexism in Mandarin is interesting in that regard, and the bibliography lists a number of the important early works about gender in English.

"Have French, German, Spanish, or other gendered Indo-European languages developed any kind of pronoun for use in referring to a specific or known person of unknown or unspecified gender?"

In French, you would say he (il) if you don't know the gender. Masculine always wins ;-)

As I'm coming from a language community where there are no gender-specific pronouns, the gender ambiguity causes no issue for me. On the other hand, for translators it is a true pain-giver. For example, the Song of Songs in the Bible needs to be translated with clear marks in front of the words: "Maid:" and "Youth:". In the original Hebrew language, the gender of the speaker and the addressee was clear but in the Finnish translation, it becomes totally ambiguous. A translator tried using an artificial female third person pronoun in his translation of Joyce's Ulysses published this spring, but he was criticised quite a lot for this innovation which, being unnatural, makes reading more difficult.

On the other hand, this means that most love poems in Finnish can be used by either sex. In Finnish vocal music, it is quite typical for male bands to play covers originally performed by female artists and vice versa, without any queer implications. Usually, no change in lyrics is needed.

In one relatively recent case, however, they changed the lyrics descriping a love scene "myrskyn alle jäin, olit vahva sylissäin" to "myrskyn alle jäit, olit vahaa sylissäin", meaning "I was caught in a storm, you were strong in my embrace" to "you were caught in a storm, you were wax in my embrace". Naturally, the original artist was a female, the cover artist male. For the meter used, the change works very well, although it reduces the mutuality of the original expression.

Singular "they"! Good enough for William Shakespeare, good enough for Steven Pinker, good enough for me.

"For the sentences I would use "they" as the gender neutral pronoun. No idea where that came from - possibly usenet somewhere, possibly just a local usage"

Actually, it's extremely old, we find it in Shakespeare, and it is likely far older than that.

There is a nice scene in one of Weber's Honor Harrington books ... were two officers are discussing the probable actions of the Captain of an enemy ship ... the male officer refers to the unknown Captain as 'he' ... and the female calls her 'she'. Like you said ... one just needs practice

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