Gender neutral language
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Gender-neutral language, also called gender-inclusive language, is the practice of using words that don't give an idea of someone being female or male. For example, the word "fireman" gives the idea that a person in that work is male. An offer for a job as a "cleaning lady" gives the idea that only a woman should do the job. The gender-neutral alternatives are to say "fire fighter" and "janitor," respectively. Then it is easier to see that these jobs can be done by a person of any gender. Gender-neutral language is important in feminism, because changing the way that people talk can help make sexist ideas less common. For example, the sexist idea that some jobs should only be done by people of certain genders.
Gender-neutral language is also important to many people who have nonbinary gender identities. For one reason, this kind of talk helps fight against nonbinary erasure, which is the common but wrong and sexist idea that there are only two genders. Since gender-neutral language doesn't give the idea that a person is male or female, it can also apply to people who identify as other genders, outside of the gender binary. Nonbinary people can ask to be talked about in this way.
The Washington Post has reported that "Modern standard Arabic, based on Koranic classical Arabic, additionally has a dual option for nouns and verbs that doesn’t imply a specific gender. Some people therefore use the dual of they and you — “huma” (هما) and “intuma” (انتما) — as a gender-neutral alternative. Colloquial Arabic spoken today has largely done away with the dual, so this form can sound very formal to those not in the know."
- tā. Verbally all gendered pronouns sound the same, and so they technically can be gender neutral.
- 先生 (xian sheng). A gender neutral term to refer to a teacher, a new acquaintance with whom you are unfamiliar, or anyone with whom you are not on a first-name basis, though it is usually masculine-based.
- 师傅 (shi fu). A gender neutral term, though it is usually masculine-based, conveying respect to someone if you don't know their name, and it means "master."
- 老师 (lao shi). Standard word for teacher.
- 博士 (bo shi). Standard word for professor.
- 老板 (lao ban). Standard term for one's boss (say at work).
- 同学 (tong xue). Standard term for one's classmates
- 孩子 (hai zi). Standard gender neutral term for child.
- 家长 (jia zhang). Standard gender neutral term for parent.
- 服务员 (fu wu yuan). Standard word for server and/or gender neutral term for waiter/waitress.
- 对象 (dui xiang). Term that means one's romantic partner. It is gender neutral.
- 配偶 (pei ou). Term that means one's partner in marriage. It is gender neutral.
There is more information about this topic here: gender neutral language in Dutch
There is more information about this topic here: gender neutral language in English
English is one of the easiest languages to speak in a gender neutral way. One reason for this is it is in the Germanic language family, it has always had three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Another reason is that in the 1200s, English speakers stopped making gender a part of every noun, adjective, and article. Grammatical gender survived only in personal pronouns and some common nouns. On the other hand, a movement in the 18th century condemned neutral language like singular they, and insisted it sounded more educated to use masculine language like "he" instead, like in Latin. All these changes to English still have effects today, and sometimes create problems. For example, old laws are not clear about whether they use "he" to mean anybody, or men only. Linguists, feminists, and LGBT people have been working on finding the best solutions to the remaining problems with gender exclusive language. Over the past century, they created hundreds of pronouns, out of the lingering belief that "singular they" pronouns will not do. From the 1970s, they have also developed alternatives to gendered words, such as "mail carrier" rather than "mailman."
French, like other romance languages, traditionally has only two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. Additionally, according to the standard language rules, masculine is always treated as the generic gender, meaning that a mixed-gender group will always be referred to in masculine (and not in feminine, unless everyone is a woman). These rules have been established over the centuries by men and male-led institutions like the Académie Française. In 1675, talking about the grammar of the French language, abbot Dominique Bouhours stated "When both genders meet, the most noble must prevail". French inclusive language refuses such rules, and feminist and queer activists work hard to try and rid French of its sexism. They have developed over the last few decades different ways to adapt the French language to be more inclusive of women and gender minorities.
However, there is not one single way to speak inclusively in French, but rather, there are a wide variety of tools and workarounds one can use to adapt one's language. It should also be noted that the "mainstream" inclusive language used by an ever growing number or people, journals and institutions aims at being inclusive of women. These changes, albeit fairly minimal, are still very controversial with certain people. The problem of a language inclusive of the nonbinary community hasn't yet reached the mainstream debate and remains mostly confined within queer and feminist circles.
Finally, as it is not officially recognised, it is important to mention that inclusive French might not be accepted in contexts where formal language is expected; such as exams, language proficiency tests, official documents etc.
Gender neutral pronouns
These pronouns are considered neopronouns and are used to refer to nonbinary people or someone whose gender is unknown. They are not formally recognised and are not usually used in what could be called "mainstream inclusive French". There use is mostly limited to nonbinary people, feminist and queer circles as well as the internet. Because nothing is codified, there are almost no limits on what can be used, and a wide variety of options have been created and adopted by different people. Due to these circumstances, it is common for French gender non-conforming people to accept different sets of pronouns/neopronouns, or any pronouns/neopronouns. The lists below are not exhaustive.
|iel (can also be spelled ielle, yel or yelle)||The most common spelling is "iel". It is the main gender neutral pronoun used in French and is a contraction of the two binary pronouns "il" and "elle". For that reason some nonbinary people do not find it adequate and prefer to use other neutral alternatives. It is also used to refer to someone whose gender is yet to be determined.||"Iel est non-binaire. Iel n'est ni un garçon, ni une fille".
|ille||Just like "iel", "ille" is a contraction of "il" and "elle", and therefore faces the same criticism. Its pronunciation can easily sound like the masculine "il" if the last syllable is not accentuated enough, which could either be considered a problem or an advantage depending on how one looks at it. An alternative pronunciation could be \ij\.||"Ille est arrivé-e hier soir"|
|el||Just like "iel", "el" is a contraction of "il" and "elle", and therefore faces the same criticism. Its pronunciation sounds like the feminine "elle". It could either be considered a problem or an advantage depending on how one looks at it.|
|ul or ol||These pronouns are usually preferred by those who's gender identity falls mostly or completely outside the gender binary. They are the most common gender neutral pronouns after "iel".||"Ul est parti en vacance. Ol va lu rejoindre dans quelques jours".|
|ael||"Ael" also does not stem from the contraction of "il" and "elle". Although any types of agreement can be used, it is most often paired with "-ae".||"Ael est allae en Australie pendant deux semaines"|
|lea||It is the main gender neutral object pronoun. It is used to refer to nonbinary people or someone whose gender is yet unknown. It is often paired with "iel"||"Iel est arrivé-e à la gare, je ne vais pas tarder à aller lea chercher"|
|lo or lu||These neopronouns are usually used to refer to those who chose to go by "ol" or "ul".||"Ol est arrivé-e à la gare, je ne vais pas tarder à aller lo chercher"|
|ellui||"Ellui" is most commonly used as a reflexive pronoun. it is otherwise found to sound clunky or hard to understand when used as a non-reflexive pronoun.||"Iel vient manger à la maison ce soir, je ne mais pas tarder à aller lea chercher à la gare. Nous irons manger chez ellui la semaine prochaine"|
|mo and man||These result from the merging of the feminine possessive pronoun "ma" and the masculine "mon".
A commonly used alternative to these would be the "alternating approach" where one refers to somebody using "ma" and "mon" alternatively.
|"Iel est man meillleur-e ami-e depuis l'école primaire. Je lea connais depuis mes douze ans"|
There is more information about this topic here: gender neutral language in German
See also: Glossary of Hindi gender and sex terminology.
Italian, as with other romance languages, presents challenges for inclusivity of nonbinary genders in that grammatically there only exists masculine and feminine genders. Although it descended from Latin, which had 3 genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), it has since lost its neuter form. Nevertheless, different approaches may transform the way Italian is spoken to make it more gender inclusive.
Italian has masculine and feminine grammatical genders, although some nouns ending in -e (singular)/ -i (plural) hint at a suggested neutral form not dissimilar from gender ambiguous nouns in Spanish (ex. el estudiante and la gente both end in -e even though they are gendered masculine and feminine). One idea therefore may be to use these endings for nouns to neutralize language. Possible noun endings that could work:
- e, i. Already present in standard Italian
- en, is. Nonstandard and not regularly used, taking from latin endings.
- u, un, us. Nonstandard, taking from latin endings.
- @. Similar to "chic@s" in Spanish
- ə. The schwa, or scevà in Italian. In some regional languages, especially Neapolitan, the schwa is commonly found at the end of words, which can make many gendered words sound almost gender neutral. When spoken quickly, for listeners it can sound similar to removing the vowel, although it isn't because the schwa is a distinct sound.
- *. The asterisk is used at the end of words to represent gender neutral vowels. This method has been used by Queer Italian activists and even has been sported in some Italian pride media.
- Loi. Nonstandard Italian, not regularly used. (Nonbinary option as "singular they")
- Ilu. Nonstandard Italian, status of use unknown.
- Il@. Nonstandard Italian, status of use unknown.
- Lau. Nonstandard Italian, status of use unknown.
- Leu. Nonstandard Italian, status of use unknown.
The Irish language (Gaeilge) presents some challenges to creating a gender neutral way of speaking. Every noun is gendered in either masculine or feminine grammatical gender, with accompanied binary forms for adjective agreement, pronouns and prepositions.
Nouns in Irish are categorized into masculine and feminine grammatical genders, which in turn dictate the way nouns behave with the definitive articles "an" and "na", initial consonant mutations and the formation of adjectives. Gendered nouns correspond to gendered pronouns as stand ins (ex. masculine, Sé, or feminine, Sí). Nouns do seem to possess standard endings for the most part, although there are some exceptions. Irish nouns have 4 grammatical cases: nominative/accusative, vocative, genitive and prepositional.
Masculine endings include the following
- ending in a broad consonant
- occupational nouns ending in -óir/oir, -éir/eir, -úir/uir
- single syllable words ending in -eacht or -acht
- end with the masculine diminutives -ín or -án
- end with -ste
- most loan words are masculine (including derivatives using -ach)
Feminine endings include:
- ending in a slender consonant
- multiple syllable words ending in -eacht, -acht, or íocht.
- ending in -eog or -óg
- ending in -chan
- are place names ending in -lann
- most countries, rivers and languages are feminine.
(it could be argued since -eacht and -acht occur as both feminine and masculine nouns that there is some gender ambiguity/neutralized gender, and perhaps these could be neuter endings for nouns)
Pronouns in standard Irish Gaelic are as follows:
- Sé - meaning he in English, is a masculine pronoun.
- Sí - meaning she in English, is a feminine pronoun.
- Siad - meaning they in English, is neutral but a plural pronoun
Native speakers and new speakers alike have been thinking up helpful gender neutral alternatives. Some of these gender neutral pronouns include:
- Siad - though not commonly used, some people have used this in place of binary pronouns, although some a critical of using it this way because they worry it will confuse people, because of Siad being used as a plural pronoun.
- Siú - suggested from some learners in the duolingo community, it bears resemblance to Sé and Sí but stands alone as a gender neutral alternative. Not regularly used. Also bears similarity to siùd, meaning "those"
- Duí - non-standard, used in place of Sí and Sé, it derives from the word duine which translates to person. Bear in mind that the grammatical gender of duine itself is grammatically masculine in gender.
- Cí - non-standard, nonbinary pronoun inspired from Gaulish "Chí"
- Són - Old Irish pronoun meaning "This" (It's modern variant, seo, means the same)
- Intí - Old Irish pronoun meaning one/he/she
- Sin - this has been in use by some native speakers. it's literal meaning is "that".
- Ea - a gender-neutral pronoun regularly used in modern Irish, but usually restricted to certain grammatical circumstances.
Irish has three grammatical forms for personal pronouns: conjunctive form, disjunctive form and emphatic form.
The conjunctive form is used when the subject follows the verb. Standard Irish sentence structure is Verb Subject Object or VSO. Forms corresponding to the non-standard pronouns above include Siú,Duí and Cí.
Example: Ritheann siú or "they (sg.) run" Ritheann sin or "they (sg.) run" Ritheann cí or "they (sg.) run"
The disjunctive form is used when the pronoun isn't the subject or the subject pronoun doesn't follow the verb. Forms corresponding to the non-standard pronouns above include Iú,Dhuí and Chí
Examples: Is dalta sin or "they are a student" Is duine dhuí or "they are a person" Is garda chí or "they are a police officer" Buailim mé iú or "I hit them" Buailim mé dhuí or "I hit them" Buailim mé chí or "I hit them"
Emphatic form is used to emphasize pronouns and is similar to the English use of italics to give words a bit more weight. Conjunctive and Disjunctive forms exist within the Emphatic form. Forms for the nonstandard pronouns include Suisa,Duísean and Císa (emphatic conjunctive) and Uisa, Dhuísean and Chísa (emphatic disjunctive).
Examples: Is dhuísean! or "It's them'" Is suisa! or "It's them" Is císa! or "It's them"
In addition to these other forms of pronouns, The irish language has "prepositional pronouns", which create specific forms of gender pronouns depending on the type of preposition. Bear in mind the table below contains only the neutral singular versions of these pronouns---Likewise, these are proposed pronouns and non-standard forms, some of them inspired by the neuter gender endings found in Old Irish.
|ag "at"||de "off"||le "with"||roimh "before"||ar "on"||do "for/to"||ó "from"||thar "over"||as "out of"||faoi "under"||trí "through"||idir "between"||chuig "toward"||i "in"||um "around"||fara "along/ with"|
There are words that would be categorized in binary genders but could be used as neutral sounding words.
- Páiste means child, (plural páistí), grammatically masculine.
- Tuismitheoir means parent (plural tuismitheoirí), grammatically masculine.
- Mo ghra or Gra can be used in a neutral sense to say "my love" or "love" when referring to a romantic partner.
See also: Glossary of Irish Gender and Sex Terminology.
Japanese does not have grammatical gendered structures (i.e. conjugations or noun endings), but there are many gendered aspects of the language. Specific information, such as the gender of a person being referred to, is often implied through other context in the conversation. There are however, specific sets of vocabulary that are assigned to narrow demographics such as young boys (ぼく boku = "I" or "me") versus young girls versus a young woman (あたし atashi = feminized "I" or "me") or an old man (私, わたし, 'watashi' = "I" or "me"). Certain words and expressions semantically refer to only one gender group, such as (伯母ちゃん) obaachan for a grandmother or old woman.
Latin is essentially a historical language, but it is still used by a small but vibrant community worldwide. It starts to have some LGBT terminology, like "homosexualitas"/"homophylophilia" (homosexuality), "propensio sexualis" (sexual orientation), "intersexualitas" (intersexuality), "identitas generis" (gender identity) etc., but modern neologisms remain a tricky issue in the language. Also, Latin traditionally makes extensive use of generic masculine, which is thus difficult to avoid. If one is ready to use terms that didn't exist in the classical language (or had a different meaning then), but have nevertheless been in use for centuries (e.g. "persona", "individuum"), it is possible to use a mix of terms of different grammatical genders and add other words as appositions aligned in gender in order to convey gender neutrality, e.g. "homo filius", "persona filia" and "individuum filium" in order to express "child" (in the sense of offspring). For "enby", "nebinium" has been proposed.
Norwegian is a language with three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter, but they have nothing at all to do with real gender. For example, "kvinne", which means "woman", "kusine", which means a female cousin, "jente", which means "girl", and "dronning", which means "queen", are all or can be masculine nouns. There are also a few odd words, such as romkamerat, an inclusive word meaning room-mate. The word "kamerat" means male friend.
- Ektefelle: An inclusive word for a spouse.
- Barn: An inclusive word for a child.
- Søskenbarn: An inclusive word for a cousin.
- Forelder: A word for a parent.
- Seg: An extremely common, standard word for "themself" or "themselves".
- Si: The feminine possessive form of 'seg'. It indicates belonging to the subject, but not the gender/lack of gender of the subject (or even the object).
- Sin: The masculine possessive form of 'seg'. Its function is similar to the function described above.
- Sitt: The neuter possessive form of 'seg'. Its function is similar to the function described above.
- Hen: An inclusive third-person pronoun. The Norwegian Language Council (Språkrådet) is unfavourable towards use of "hen" as a general gender-neutral pronoun in formal texts (while open to change should actual language use evolve), but advises to use it when requested by a nonbinary person. At that occasion, the Språkrådet uses "hen" also as object form and "hens" as genitive form.
Other Types of Relationships
- Venn: A standard word for "friend". "Kamerat" and "venninne", the other words, are binary.
- Kjæreste: A person who is loved by another person, but not married to them.
There is more information about this topic here: Gender neutral language in Polish
Polish is a very gendered language. Some Polish nonbinary people create solutions such as gender-neutral verb endings, for example "chciałxm"/"chciałom"/"chciałx" instead of "chciałbym" (masculine) or "chciałabym" (feminine). In the novel Perfect Imperfection, author Jacek Dukaj used -um verb endings (e.g. "zobaczyłum" instead of the masculine "zobaczyłem" or feminine "zobaczyłam"). These have since become known as Dukaisms.
Another gender-neutral way of speaking or writing Polish is rewording phrases to use a non-gendered conjugation of a verb. For example, instead of saying "I saw" in the masculine form "zobaczyłem" or feminine form "zobaczyłam", one could say "Udało mi się zobaczyć" (I was able to see).
For written Polish, it is possible to combine the masculine and feminine forms of a noun, with a space in between the endings to acknowledge other genders. For example instead of the masculine "aktorzy" or the feminine "aktorki", one could write "aktorki_rzy".
Unlike English, Russian has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. While neuter allows some nonbinary people adjectives to use, this gender is not ideal for nonbinary people for grammatical reasons. The first is that most neuter nouns decline like masculine nouns. The second is that neuter animate nouns do not change in the accusative case (though there are rare neuter animate nouns that change in the accusative plural; see "лицо" in Wiktionary), while both masculine and feminine nouns do. This implies that people using neuter words are not human.
|госпожне||Plural is "госпожня". Grammatical gender is neutral, and while in the singular it takes endings similar to the masculine.|
|-евче and -овче||In Russian, rather than middle names, children have patronyms, or their father's first name with -евич/-ович (for boys) or -евна/-овна (for girls) added to the end. -евче and -овче are genderqueer endings for one's patronym. Alternatives include -евчен/-овчен (agender), -еви/-ови (multigender) and more.|
There is more information about this topic here: Gender neutral language in Spanish
As a language in the Romance family, Spanish has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, which are part of every adjective, noun, and article. This makes it nearly impossible to speak in a completely gender-neutral in standard Spanish. Feminists, LGBT people, and other activists today are creating methods to speak Spanish in a gender-neutral way when needed. Because the ending -o is masculine, and -a is feminine, it's now common for people to substitute these with a different letter or symbol to create a neutral version. The most used and more accepted is using -e. Some common examples of this are "L@s Latin@s," "Lxs Latinxs," "Les Latines," and even "LⒶs LatinⒶs."
Traditionally, the word den has been used as a gender neutral pronoun and remains widely used today. However, depending on the context, the word den can also mean it leaving it unsatisfactory as a gender neutral pronoun for many who do not wish to be seen as comparable to an inanimate object. Since the 1960s, the person pronoun hen has become increasingly popular and will, in 2015, be added for the first time to Svenska Akademiens Ordlista (the Swedish equivalent to France's Dictionnaire de l'Académie française). Its usage, however, remains somewhat contraversial and is vigorously opposed by some.
|hen||Standard gender neutral / third gender personal pronoun|
|hens||Possive form of hen|
|henom||Object form of hen|
The object form of hen is sometimes just hens. It is very individual.
See also: Glossary of Thai gender and sex terminology.
- Gender-neutral/Queer Titles. A long, continually updated list of gender-neutral or genderqueer words for family members and relationships in English.
- Language learning beyond the gender binary, by linguist Timothy McKeon, on how to be gender-neutral or gender-variant in many different languages.
- Being Non-Binary in a Language Without Gendered Pronouns – Estonian
- Berger, Miriam (15 December 2019). "A guide to how gender-neutral language is developing around the world". Washington Post. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
- Dictionary.com. "English used to have gendered nouns?! Yes!" May 16, 2012. Dictionary.com (blog). http://blog.dictionary.com/oldenglishgender/
- See here.
- "hi how to use they them in poland. próbuję ale im failing miserably". Archived from the original on 17 June 2020.
- "Czemu ludzie są Twoim zdaniem dyskryminowani przez swoją orientację seksualną?". Archived from the original on 17 June 2020.
- Winky, Kinky. "TransGrysy wyjaśniają: co robić, a czego nie robić w kontaktach z osobami transpłciowymi?" [TransGrysy explains: what to do and what not to do when dealing with transgender people?]. kinkywinky.pl (in Polish). Retrieved 1 October 2020.
- "An overview of Polish nonbinary pronouns". Zaimki.pl. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
- niski_grabieżca (12 June 2019). "Osoby niebinarne - jakiej są płci?". transseksualizm.blogspot.com (in Polish). Retrieved 1 October 2020.
- Tłumaczeń, Biuro (11 December 2015). "Gender. Płeć w języku. Feminizm w języku polskim" [Gender. Gender in language. Feminism in Polish language]. Ekspresowe tłumaczenia (in Polish). Retrieved 1 October 2020.
- Sikian. Reddit. Forum comment. 2015. https://www.reddit.com/r/genderqueer/comments/2ymn25/gender_in_language_to_all_you_nonbinary_redditors/cpdjdhi
- Sophia Gubb. "Construyendo Un Género Neutro En Español – Para Una Lengua Feminista, Igualitaria E Inclusiva." February 10, 2013. Sophia Gubb's Blog. Personal blog entry. http://www.sophiagubb.com/construyendo-un-genero-neutro-en-espanol-para-una-lengua-feminista-igualitaria-e-inclusiva/
- Schmidt, Samantha (5 December 2019). "A Language for All". Washington Post. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
- Phoenix Tawnyflower. "Nonbinary Spanish." May 24, 2014. Reflections of a Queer Artist (personal blog). http://phoenixtawnyflower.blogspot.com/2014/05/nonbinary-spanish.html