It might be confusing, she says, but many languages don't have gender pronouns at all. “For example, in English, there are multiple nouns that I can use to classify myself (partner, student) without making reference to gender, whereas in German I’m supposed to say the feminine form of many common categories into which I fit, like student (Studentin), and have to explain myself when I refuse.” Genderless languages: Chinese, Estonian, Finnish, and other languages don’t categorize any nouns as feminine or masculine, and use the same word for he or she in regards to humans. But I had the impression that people outside the queer world (not LGBT but ‘queer’ as in challenging gender binaries) had an even harder time with the idea of a gender-neutral pronoun than with the idea of someone ‘crossing’ gender lines (i.e. A few gender pioneers, however, have co-opted it. What if you spoke a language that didn’t even have separate words for “him” or “her,” like Estonian? She also thinks this is why other gender-neutral pronouns like ze pronounced zee and its variations: zir, zem, and zeir, have not caught on in everyday language. I do not mean pronouns like He, She, It. For example, 'he/him/his' with men and 'she/her/hers' with women. A table and tree are it, and only people are he or she. Though Estonian people using the term tema may not specifically picture a man or a woman, they invariably picture either a man or a woman, not anyone else in between. Those who don’t know why I use that case either question it, or they think I think I’m a guy, or they just ignore it. We’re always open to additions, corrections and newly coined words! To start looking at the effects of language spoken on pronoun preferences, it’s important to understand grammatical gender, a method of categorizing nouns in a language, typically as masculine, feminine, or neuter. However, some languages don’t have gendered pronouns at all, so grammatical context clues are used to determine the speaker’s gender. In languages with a neuter gender, a neuter pronoun is usually used, as in German es regnet ("it rains, it's raining"), where es is the neuter third person singular pronoun. I’m constantly misgendered, or I’m misgendering myself in order to be understood.” Free-form, optional gender pronoun field on Vox Media job application, including examples. Header image: Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia [Credit: maigi under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence] “When I was using gender-neutral pronouns in English, it was almost impossible to get anyone who wasn’t in the queer community to use ‘they’ for me consistently. Russian is a gendered language that does feature a neuter third-person pronoun, оно [it]. Tosha, a young Russian who identifies as agender, told me: The Académie Française, France’s ultimate language authority, issued a furious statementright after the book’s release. In French, there is no neutral gender like in some other languages, like German, so every noun has a grammatical gender, including the ones who describe things without a natural gender. In Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, authors Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman emphasize the politics of language itself and of having “the agency to have our own words and definitions of them, and insist upon them to linguistic passers-by.” A natural gender language with a history of borrowed words, like English, has the flexibility to create pronouns to suit how a person feels inside. Note: in Slavic languages marked with an asterisk (*), traditionally only masculine, feminine and neuter genders are recognized, with animacy as a separate category for the masculine and feminine (in East Slavic languages) or masculine only (elsewhere); the actual situation is similar to Czech. Gender Across Languages Volume 4, published in 2015, notes the appearance of the term tema-ke or ‘little him/her,’ in use in newspapers and online to force a feminine aspect; the 2013 Spike Jonze movie Her, for example, is called Temake in Estonian. Key words: gender, gender-specific pronouns, gender-neutral pronouns, language, social identity. (Spotted by @antimytheme) 5. Language and Power in Politics: A Gender Stereotype Game; Using Language to Examine Power and Gender Gradients Between YouTube’s Influencers; Man Up! Some languages without noun class may have noun classifiers instead. [In] German I struggle a lot with language and [I am] often very unhappy with the situation of [the lack of] German gender-neutral language. A young Estonian agender person interviewed for this article who prefers the name Paul does find “tema,” the genderless Estonian pronoun, helpful. But are they enough? Paul writes: “Usually people use the gender-neutral ‘tema’ [when] talking about any person, and because it’s the most common way to refer to a person, there is no issue with which pronoun to use. Being Non-Binary in a Language Without Gendered Pronouns – Estonian. Female lawyers are called just that: female lawyers. Erin Crouch lives in Tacoma, Washington and Tallinn, Estonia. In English, these terms include they as a singular, ze/zir or zie/zir, ze/hir or other variations, and Mx. That the language is very gendered is a big problem in my life.” Story at a … Tosha also notes that there’s the option to use a plural pronoun when referring to agender people. One participant wrote: Polina Ravlyuk, a Russian blogger who runs an information portal on gender and gender identification, wrote to me in an email: Because of the language barrier, that doesn’t feel unnatural for me, and besides, [i]n Russian almost all the verbs and adjectives have gender, and in English it’s not like that. By . But you know what’s interesting? Pronomen. The document signed by the academy’s 40 members — only five of whom are women — de… A school textbook promoting a more inclusive version of French had been released, making purists fly off the handle. A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed. In principle, it refers to all lawyers, but in practice, it refers only to male lawyers. A version of this article appeared in The Establishment and is used here with permission. Would you care less about the pronouns for yourself? Lily’s book … Women in American Sitcoms; I Hate to Interrupt, but… Examining Interruptions, Face-Threatening Acts, and Banter in Mixed-Sex Two-Person Conversational Style Sports Interviews ‘Homosexual propaganda’ is still a fineable offence in the Russian Federation…” Too many options can feel a bit creepy, and people may feel like … This binary reference of gender no longer applies to the increasing broadening nomenclature of gender identities and expressions. “I think after some time I’ll be able to do the same for myself [in Russian].”, It’s clear that, not surprisingly, natural gender and gendered languages pose problems for identity expression. In English, one can say they are a teacher with a partner, and no one’s gender is revealed; French and German lack that luxury. use “he/his” when referring to a generic individual in the third person. © Deep Baltic 2018. I mean like in german,, sun is masculine, door is feminine, and grass is neutral. In the same survey, transgender French respondent #171 was clear and succinct: Half of millennials in the United States think that gender isn’t limited to male and female, and in the U.S., Facebook offers 56 custom options to select for gender. What can we take away from all this? It shapes how we are thought about and sometimes contributes to social dysphoria. The aim is to enhance the language by making it easier to speak about a person without specifying their gender, though some Swedish speakers are trying to promote the use of hen as a replacement for male and female pronouns; meaning everyone would be referred to without their gender being specified. You want to make it as simple as you can, so you don’t overwhelm users with options. And notably, English as a language is mostly without grammatical gender). Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, 1996. p.437, http://babel.ucsc.edu/~hank/105/Esperanto16.pdf, Biak: Description of an Austronesian Language of Papua, https://web.archive.org/web/20070904225112/http://www.latrobe.edu.au/rclt/StaffPages/aikhenvald%2Bdownloads/ClassifiersELL2published.pdf, https://scholar.harvard.edu/mpolinsky/files/Dyirbal.pdf, https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/data/UQ_11037/rpopt.pdf?Expires=1495704752&Signature=f5dJsIP1bJ4D3ICf4UTKiBehPDgx4Q8AUj~SIe4tL1-2n-fkAHl7fKtYDxYQ918mu0UUKM9OfGxw~DC3I-T~QRiGWHUhtl~RnJ4hH5TZNFO7RFouVpXeaBlRRd1fT0t8I7sTswoT9qjwZ3zqV3O-fGfOHUoblz4Aayl7U5IsPGK6sXpacpkketqOf~bXayFbg9C~kj~QJkm-naqsAdVeQkngzUw1~hymGbd2rNcVnGXxeq4g6S04aoF2idHVfE8JAlJ1ov6~MG83dp6BhqtRRzCxV396TyyUjc4AdHqUZrsvchvpYnjPBqNH5MKMfKD8CKGDG7Fgtf9fBgTAiBz2qg__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJKNBJ4MJBJNC6NLQ, https://www.africa.upenn.edu/NEH/rwlanguage.htm, "The Augment in Kirundi: When Syntax Meets Phonology", https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324224169_The_Ha_Language_of_Tanzania_Grammar_Texts_and_Vocabulary, "Difficult Languages: Tongue Twisters - In search of the world's hardest language", https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_languages_by_type_of_grammatical_genders&oldid=999834645, Articles with unsourced statements from February 2019, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. To find out how one’s native language and gender identity intersect, I spoke with people from several countries who have come out as genderqueer, nonbinary— gender-questioning in some way—and their answers reveal the importance of grammar in the expression of gender identity. Turns out that genderless languages can include “seemingly gender-neutral terms” that do in fact have a sneaky male bias, just like natural and gendered languages. To put it simply, choosing the right pronoun is a big deal. If I can’t use she or ze, this kind of sexist/gendered assumption can be even more difficult to notice and correct. But that’s maybe because the people I talk to in English are not native speakers. Generally, French pronouns don’t have a proper gender or number, they inherit from their referent. In many such languages, what is commonly termed "animacy" may in fact be more accurately described as a distinction between human and non-human, rational and irrational, "socially active" and "socially passive" etc. Gender (le genre) is an intrinsic characteristic of nouns : they are grammatically either masculine or feminine.. A personal pronoun diagram for Russian and Estonian learning. Gender neutrality and gender nullification lead to cleaner, more elegant sentences. Does Estonian offer a natural home for the nonbinary? We don’t have gender-specific pronouns. Some languages of the world (including most Austronesian languages, many East Asian languages, the Quechuan languages, and the Uralic languages [7]) do not have gender distinctions in personal pronouns, just as most of them lack any system of grammatical gender.In others, such as many of the Niger–Congo languages, there is a system of grammatical gender (or noun classes), but … Maybe someday I could use them, though. This pronoun is not typically applied to people; instead it is used only for objects with neuter noun names. “When I don’t know someone’s gender, I talk about them in the plural,” they say. In Estonian there is no gender in pronouns, but there are marker words like ‘tüdruk’ (girl), ‘preili’ (Ms.), or ‘neiu’ (a young woman) that I don’t identify with, but which are used by older people addressing me. In Spanish, moon is feminine, and dress is masculine. It’s worth noting that the issue isn’t widely discussed [yet] in Russia, because in my opinion society isn’t ready to accept gender on a spectrum. Certain language families, such as the Austronesian, Turkic and Uralic language families, usually have no grammatical genders (see genderless language). In English when I use ‘they’ to refer to a person, most people don’t notice it. This was at an early stage of me asking them not to use ‘she’ (the pronoun I was ‘assigned’ at birth), so I think people were still getting used to the idea of any pronoun other than ‘she’ for me. But what about genderless languages? That is because I am not really out as non-binary. In my own family, it’s been difficult for most of them, though my friends, mother, and grandmother easily adjusted to using masculine pronouns to refer to me. Gender in European languages. However, when the referent doesn’t exist (in the case of the nominal pronouns) or if it has an indefinite gender, then the pronoun takes his masculine form. These terms are undoubtedly beneficial, helping to allow for expression of gender fluidity. Plural or ‘neuter’ cases in Russian aren’t comfortable for me. Men are the standard and everything else is the exception. “We don’t have a gender-neutral pronoun [for people]… Agender people use feminine or masculine pronouns according to their personal preference. There’s no “him/her” or “he/she” either. but at least in English, one can use female or other pronouns or nouns to, as the book Gender Across Languages put it,  “emphasize women’s [or other’s] presence in the world.” In a language that can’t grammatically distinguish between he, she, and ze, androcentricity—or male bias—can be even more insidious. Some languages that do have gender-specific pronouns have them as part of a grammatical gender system, where all or the vast majority of nouns are assigned to gender classes and adjectives and other modifiers must agree with them in that; but a few languages with gender-specific pronouns, such as English, Afrikaans, Defaka, Khmu, Malayalam, Tamil, … In the mid-1500s, William Lily declared in his Latin textbook that “the masculine gender is more worthy than the feminine, and the feminine more worthy than the neuter.” (He was speaking in the context of grammatical gender, rather than biological sex or socially-constructed gender roles in humans. Others, meanwhile, have genders for nearly everything, even objects. Many of the world's languages do not have gender-specific pronouns. Be ready for a complex answer . This page was last edited on 12 January 2021, at 05:18. If it seems like English-speakers are dissatisfied, the situation for speakers of gendered languages—which stipulate strict gender distinctions for both humans and objects—is far worse. Transgender German respondent #98 added: “The options that English presents work reasonably well for me and I can express my gender identity and use preferred pronouns […]. We don’t have gendered pronouns, so a regular person might call a cis man a she by accident, and not be corrected, because we are not native speakers.”. I somehow identify more with neutral or masculine marker words, and names. Depending on the context, there are several solutions with more or fewer labels. Having just one pronoun for humans doesn’t equal perfect equality in society, though. Find out more at our Patreon page. Friends and close acquaintances call me ‘Paul,’ which I really like to be called. I use masculine pronouns, even though they don’t suit me very well. Or what if just about every noun in your world was masculine or feminine—seemingly at random, like in Russian? In Filipino, mostly Tagalog, we only use “siya” or “them” to refer to a person. It only takes a minute to sign up. To put it simply, choosing the right pronoun is a big deal. I did see that there is a writing system for ASL, Dragon, but #1 writing isn't practiced that much, and #2 this article is pretty much based on spoken languages without gender pronouns. But what if you needed all those choices because of the English language? Certain language families, such as the Austronesian, Turkic and Uralic language families, usually have no grammatical genders (see genderless language). In my opinion, the language plays a pretty large role in how agender people feel about themselves, because [Russian] isn’t flexible enough for us. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during the first session of the 117th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. in written forms. Misgendering in a gendered language was explained by another respondent: Jan Bułhak – the Man Who Captured Turn-of-the-Century Vilnius, Photographic Notes on Latvia's Capital – Ģirts Raģelis, Copyright © 2021 Deep Baltic. And some Republicans are predictably, ignorantly, unnecessarily mad about it. For example, Seroe Fioletovoe [Gray Violet]—a transgender Russian activist who is part of the artist collective Война [War], best known for spawning punk activists Pussy Riot—uses “оно” to describe themself. “I planted him in the forest, where he will grow very tall!” Anybody can ask a question Anybody can answer The best answers are voted up and rise to the top Home Questions Tags Users Unanswered What is the possessive pronoun for a person whose gender we … In a 2016 survey—Bucking the Linguistic Binary—20% of monolingual, transgender English speakers said, yes, English gender-neutral language allows me to express my identity; 31% said no, it does not allow for adequate identity expression; and 19% said “yes and no.” 4% specified that they felt that it currently did not allow them to express their identities, but, “the situation was improving and that they were hopeful that time and advocacy would lead to increased acceptance of the language that would allow them to express their identities.” This article lists languages depending on their approach to grammatical gender. So there is some slip of pronouns going on unintentionally, especially with Estonian people speaking in English. Traditionally, many languages use gender binary pronouns and suffixes. On November 2017, France was caught in the middle of a heated debate over the future of its own language. These factors would be the reason for why it wasn't included on the list, sweilan1. These are typically borrowed words like кафе (cafe) that do not take a masculine or feminine case. by Erin Crouch, TALLINN  English has many false generics (male nurse, anyone?) Introduction. Without my clarification, most people will picture a male CEO. Those who answered “yes and no” detailed both positive and negative aspects. Tema is used only for humans, and when used in a sentence, it is neither masculine nor feminine. In these languages, animate nouns are predominantly of common gender, while inanimate nouns may be of either gender. This is common in East Asian languages. All rights reserved, Between Two Shores: A Visual Love Letter to the Curonian Spit, An Eccentric Cold War Education: Revisiting the Lithuanian Gymnasium in Germany, Fiction: Saulius Šaltenis – Diary of a Jewish Girl, Searching for Nikolajs Hercbergs: the Mystery Man Who Photographed Riga, Sillamäe: Inside a Former Soviet Secret City in Estonia, [S]peaking a gendered language as an agender person fuckin’ sucks, one can use female or other pronouns or nouns. English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of languages: [Image courtesy of Eesti keele õppimiseks]. , optional gender pronoun nullification would be the reason for why it was included. Diminutive, something small and cute more with neutral or masculine marker words, and dress is masculine, is! ’ to refer to a generic individual in the third person especially with Estonian people speaking in English I. 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