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Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

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He, she or s/he? Should languages be made gender neutral or be left on their own to preserve literary integrity?

My wife hates to be called an actress. She prefers ‘actor’ despite being reminded that semantically actor is not a gender neutral word. She maintains that words like author, actor, and doctor stress primarily on profession not gender.
I have a sneaking feeling she is feminist.
Feminists have long argued that sexist language can have real world consequences for gender relations and the relative status of men and women, and recent research suggests that grammatical gender can shape how people interpret the world around them along gender lines.
But language is as much a communication tool as literature. Some argue that steward and stewardess are distinct but equal terms and dropping one for another takes away the beauty of literary expression.
Interestingly there are a number of genderless languages, genderless in the less that these have no grammatical gender but have specific words to recognize gender. There are also natural gender languages which have evolved through a constant process on conscious neutralization of grammatical genders.
Things start to get serious when studies of Jennifer L. Prewitt-Freilino, T. Andrew Caswell and Emmi K. Laakso on the gendering of languages come to fore where after investigating 111 languages of the world their findings suggest that countries where gendered languages are spoken evidence less gender equality compared to countries with other grammatical gender systems. Furthermore, countries where natural gender languages are spoken demonstrate greater gender equality, which may be due to the ease of creating gender symmetric revisions to instances of sexist language.
Norway and Sweden show Global Gender Gap Indices of .82 and .81 (1 being ideally gender equal) and both these countries have natural gender languages. Yemen scores a GGG index of .46 with a gendered language.
Do you agree with this co-relation?

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Closing Statement from Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

If language is supposed to be anything that reflects human consciousness, it needs to account for the discrimination towards women at one point or other. Societies may work consciously to change it towards gender neutrality or simply gender neutrality should impact it in meaningful ways. It may not be conclusive at this stage what changes what but this discussion leaves ample indications that it may not be wise just to ignore it.

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    Apr 1 2013: It is not the language that holds the bias but the users.
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      Apr 2 2013: Exactly. That is why users change, manipulate and discriminate the semantics. The user mindset is retained in languages.
    • Apr 7 2013: This seems sort of true, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone demonstrated that a gendered language can conduce gender bias. If you're using a language that correlates different things to different genres, that's likely to have some sort of influence. Perhaps especially on children.
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    Mar 20 2013: In response to a bunch of the comments in this thread, I think this is worth considering: Our languages shape our identities and how we perceive the world, so our labels are extremely important. I always write "their"/"they" and my more progressive professors (several of them have very postmodern-derived approaches, which is wonderful) take no issue with it, because languages are continually growing. Not everyone identifies as "male" or "female" so these terms exclude people who do not shove themselves into either of the two linguistically available boxes, nor are all who identify as "female" identical. It is a lot like saying "black" and "white" when these terms mean noting essential as no two people who fall under the category "white" have identical skin colouring, and that "grey area" between albino and ebony encompasses just about everyone. Basically, to use language to assert that difference is important maintains the social significance of difference, and therefore sexism and racism and every other bigotry are permitted to persist. I would certainly not advocate for changing it in books already written though, because our history shapes who we are, it's nothing to be ashamed of unless we don't grow from it.
  • Mar 19 2013: Most of the languages prevalent in the world were evolved and developed many years ago. Sociological and cultural factors might have played an influential role in shaping these languages. As a result, we have a wide array of languages with diversity. Some have different verbs for different genders(e.g. Marathi/Hindi), some have different nouns/adjectives for different genders(Sanskrit), some are indifferent(Japanese).The beauty of languages lies in their differences and it should be retained.There must be a certain specific reason why these languages evolved this way. Unless the words are offensive or disrespectful, they should not be changed. So I think, it is not about language but attitude of society to perceive people on the basis of their gender. It's the question of gender inequality and not of the language.
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      Mar 19 2013: Good point Amruta. May I give you two points of thought?
      1. Evolution is an ongoing process. So it is supposed to be working on languages today. It is not that languages evolved many years ago and then froze.
      2. Evolution normally does not carry forward junk. Which fails by evolution gets extinct. Why that should not be applicable for languages?
      • Mar 20 2013: Agree. Some languages become extinct because they are not flexible or too difficult to learn. Languages should evolve as per the changing times. But essence of languages -say, some basic grammar rules or some basic expressions/words should not completely be lost in this process. There must be some experts studying languages and changes occurred to them in different levels of evolution. So even if the language becomes extinct or not spoken by many any more,we can have knowledge of how a specific language was when in its original form.

        In the above "He, She or S/he context", I think, all languages should evolve in the way that users will have the option to use either gender related words or neutral words.
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        Mar 21 2013: Pabitra and Amruta,
        You write Pabitra..."Evolution is an ongoing process. So it is supposed to be working on languages..."

        Does the process of evolution actually "work" on any particular element of evolution? Or do things simply evolve, as Amruta suggests...."Languages should evolve as per the changing times".

        I agree with you Pabitra, that the process of evolution probably does not "carry forward junk", and, "which fails by evolution gets extinct". Don't you think that automatically happens with words and language use?

        Like, you know like, we have new words becoming like dominant, like all the time, like you know???
        LOL:>)

        I'm noticing that students coming to the U.S from other countries, are picking up the filler word "like", as a normal part of English!
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          Mar 21 2013: Colleen, evolution can be seen both ways. When the focus is on the system and it's state and we look for a reason why it changed, evolution comes as a process; distinct from the system. But when we focus on the change the system can be said to be evolving. I'd prefer the first view simply because in that view system and environments are recognized as separate entities and we become careful as part of the system, civilization in this case, how we interact with it.
          When language is a system it's changes are attributed to the environments and it's evolution can preferably seen as a force acting on it, changing it bit by bit, by trial and error, keeping the 'useful' and rejecting the 'useless'.
          Things get complicated, however, when both the system and the environment start to modify each other. We call evolution 'natural' when the influence is from environment to the system so when both elements start modifying each other, the evolution cannot be called natural.
          Amruta argues in favor of retention of diversity whereas in reality we are seeing homogenization of cultures. I have a feeling languages are changing subtly towards homogenization. The core of my debate wants to examine if the conscious neutralization of genders in languages will interfere with the natural evolution of language. I mean should we change language to facilitate a social gender enlightenment or rather leave language on its own and expect social gender enlightenment to work on language, which is a normal or natural way how languages evolve.
          Sumana minds being called an actress on account of her certain experience in social context which she possibly dislikes. But if there is enough social enlightenment along gender lines may be Sumana's great grand daughter will not mind being called an actress. If by then we have neutralized the language along gender lines she will be left with neutral words like blogger, consultant, doctor and actor.
          Will you consider that a loss or good riddance?
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        Mar 22 2013: I am aware of evolution Pabitra, and I agree that it is a process. I believe, and it seems to be thought of, as a natural process.....as you insightfully say...it changes bit by bit...trial and error...keeping the useful and rejecting the useless.....I totally agree.

        I do not perceive Amruta arguing in favor of retention of diversity. In fact, Amruta clearly states..."Languages should evolve as per the changing times", which seems to be the same thing you are suggesting?

        Your question, as stated...."Should languages be made gender neutral or be left on their own to preserve literary integrity?", and your question above..."should we change language to facilitate a social gender enlightenment..." suggests to me the idea that the language is manipulated to "make" something happen....maybe awareness of equality?

        When we try to "maike" something happen, rather than allowing something to take a natural course, it doesn't seem like evolution, because I do not perceive natural evolution as being manipulated. Besides that, I am a very practical person and cannot imagine the time and energy it would take to change ALL languages!!!!! That seems VERY overwhelming!
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        Mar 22 2013: Pabitra, my dear one, are we talking about language? Or climate change?

        I think/feel if a country chooses to change their language, that is fine. The last time I checked, I didn't have much influence with the world leaders, so if that is their choice....so be it.

        You asked..."
        " Should languages be made gender neutral or be left on their own to preserve literary integrity?"

        I believe that if a country wants to change their language, it is a choice they make, and I respect their choice. I believe my language is evolving, and if someone, somewhere is intent on changing the language, I will adapt:>)
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    Mar 18 2013: I understand the history of oppression and inequality which must end. But doesn't making a deal out of these issues make the language awkward? Doesn't this mandatory use of s/he in our language only remind of the inequality? When will people stop getting offended and stop paying attention to these things?
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    Mar 31 2013: This debate is not about English language's gender bias but about gender bias of languages as a whole and about the propriety of conscious neutralization of that bias in the context of linguistic integrity. But since we cannot discuss all languages in detail and English is the language of communication here, most discussions are veering around it, which I don't find unnatural.
    We see men and women as different and distinct. That is a biological truth. Socially, however, seeing such difference/distinction runs the risk of discrimination towards one, and I contend women. Sexist language is one expression of that risk. For English, sociolinguistically, there are clear expressions of discrimination towards women in as much as the language statistically exhibits more references of women as inferior to men than contrary.
    I would have been happy if I could see 'sexual distinction' in English as simplistically as Paul Lillebo did. Unfortunately, I see it right from the morphology of the language. Morpheme prefixes and suffixes such as -ess or -ette are used to derive feminine genders of words which enjoy the right to own the context with masculine bias. This reinforces my belief that linguistic expression of English language attests the biologically unfounded belief : women came from men or derived from men.
    Interestingly such derived feminine gendered words, by rule, do not imply just a difference and therefore equality. Semantically, the gendered pair words Master - Mistress, Governor - Governess, Call boy - Call girl are not of equal social meaning. I hope one will not dispute the degeneration of social class and importance of the feminine gender in each case.
    Even Man and Woman are not equal in meaning. I bid you to check the dictionaries to confirm the higher, broader and more powerful connotations of the word 'Man' compared to 'Woman'. If this is not bias, I don't know what is.
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      Apr 1 2013: Labeling my contribution as "simplistic" certainly simplifies the task of evaluation for our fellow debaters. Strange, for one whose claimed mission is to rid our syntax of biased semantic labels.

      About your presumably non-simplistic recitation above, you say that the fact that the terms "Man and Woman are not equal in meaning," with "more powerful connotations of the word Man," shows conclusively that this is a result of bias. ("If this is not bias, I don't know what is.") But you haven't at all proved that these differences are the result of bias, only that they are different. The reason could perhaps be bias, but it could as well be experience and assessment. What investigations have you done to show that the uses of the words, over thousands of years, are not based on experience rather than simply bias?
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        Apr 2 2013: Dear Paul,
        I am sorry if you didn't like my assessment of your argument as 'simplistic'. I would humbly draw your attention to the fact that here in TED there is provision for such assessment by anybody by way of clicking 'Thumbs up (Well argued!)', so I have not breached any any code of conduct, I suppose. I respect your contribution but like every one retain the right to assess it too. Kindly do not take it as anything personal.
        I am also sorry that you express your inability to elucidate the biological basis of your assertion, despite declaring your authority as a biologist. I am not one but love the subject and consider myself a student of it.
        As regards my investigation, I am also limited by character limitation here. But for you and anyone interested I propose an easy enough test. Take four authentic dictionaries like Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Cambridge and Macmillan; look up 'Man', count the contextual meanings (definitions) including idioms and note. Do the same exercise for 'Woman'. Compare.
        I find it very difficult to accept 'man' as representing human race on the basis of experience.
  • Mar 28 2013: Languages changes overtime. They are very dynamic, so in my opinion any attempt to preserve literary integrity are stupid.

    For those of you who are feminist, instead of calling an actress an actor. Why not calling an actor an actress?
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      Mar 28 2013: Good point. But poets are very stupid then. i write poetry, I am stupid too. :)
      I am least perturbed to admit that I have stopped living my life solely on reason and logic. I put this debate to resolve a personal dilemma. In one part I think language should change to appreciate and express the social changes - gender equality in this case. In another part I shall miss words and usages that make me inspired to be a literary artist.
      I am possibly seeing the ray of hope, still a feeling basically, that the change may bring new beauty.
      If you give me good enough reward and respect for acting, I have no, repeat NO, problem to be called an actress. And i am no feminist.
      Cheers!!
  • Mar 27 2013: The only place gender language actually has a role is in the doctor's office. Outside of that, it's a leftover mechanism from an archaic part of the mind - one that can only group things into a few simple containers.

    Gender itself is really just a mix of personality traits that are linked to the reproductive role of that organism. The problem with us is that, in relations to gender, is that we always attempt to stuff 7 billion people into just two of them, even though the variety of 'genders' increases every day.

    Variety is hard/scary to deal with, so it's much easier to place everyone into two 'roles' and expect them to act accordingly. Are you a big, muscular woman? Are you a short, skinny male? Do you act according to what your culture dictates for your sex? Does your sexuality match the preferred norm? It doesn't matter who or what you actually are, because at the end you're still just 'he' or 'she', and those two terms invoke certain connotations that are 'expected' to be acknowledged and conformed to, or in the case of a reader of the terms, invoke a certain image.

    That is the real debate. Conformity and codependency to a term that's used to describe oneself, even though the definition of it might hardly be 'you' in reality. You also see great amounts of anger when males are females are considered with more equal terms, usually from the male population.

    Why does it matter whether I know the sex of the person delivering my mail? The only thing in your body that cares is the sexual reproductive parts of it. That's the part of human beings that actually wants gender language to remain in place.

    The languages that assign genders to items illustrates this all that well. They have set connotations/expectations for males/females and assign those attributes to items that they feel mimic them. Why? Because that's the only way in which they can (currently) think - with stereotypes.

    Replace the word "gender" with "personality" and you start to see how silly it
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    Mar 27 2013: Language is a key element of our culture and there seems to be proof that it influences our world view.

    For example see Keith Chen's talk 'Could your language affect your ability to save money?'
    http://www.ted.com/talks/keith_chen_could_your_language_affect_your_ability_to_save_money.html

    There are other folklore examples which seem to make similar connections between language and identity. In Europe we tend to associate cultures which have 'Romance languages' (e.g. French, Italian) with being more 'romantic' than those which have Germanic languages.

    So as our culture changes it makes sense that our language should change with it. Personally I would not like to see all language differences disappear.

    A social mono-culture could be as risky as an agricultural one.
    • Mar 27 2013: It wouldn't be socially mono though. You'd just start seeing a gigantic variety in personality and thoughts, compared to the two that we're currently being told to stick to. Personality and individuality essentially replace the two current molds of 'she' and 'he'.

      In other words, human beings start dividing themselves in other ways, outside of what's simply between their legs. You foster variety rather than stifle it (as how it mostly is now, especially in the poorer/more war-driven countries).
  • Mar 25 2013: I have "gender issues" or "gender identity issues" or whatever, and that literally stops me from learning Spanish, which would be really useful in my area. I could never call myself by the "appropriate" gender ending in classes. I use gender neutral terms when speaking about myself. To have to constantly refer to myself as a specific gender in everything I say... makes me a little nuts.

    I like English because it lets you (mostly) pick your battles. Sibling is useful but a little generic. "Sister" or "brother" actually relevant sometimes. I sometimes wish we had a gender-specific word for cousins. "Actor" not as relevant. "Doctor" Not relevant at all.

    In case you haven't noticed... I avoided stating a gender either direction. :D
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      Mar 26 2013: That's great actually. The languages never acknowledge various shades between male and female.
  • Mar 24 2013: I think we must remember that words are symbols or maps of reality and not reality itself. This said, every word, offensive, colorful, kind, or "..." has value and should be cherished and preserved.

    Language is the artistic medium for each and everyone of us. We paint our experiences using a palette of words.

    Let's not start eating our crayons lest our images become too monotone.
  • Mar 23 2013: This is a massive question that becomes increasingly difficult to answer the more we try to understand what it actually asks.

    Is it possible it's more a culturally conditioned issue than a condition of gendered language? Does language influence culture or did culture influence language? It would take a very cleverly designed study to parse the distinction, I'm thinking a retrospective cross cultural meta analysis of the etiology of modern languages for several countries with disparate gender equalities. The control would have to be from a language which developed in a country where there has been equality from the beginning. A huge undertaking.
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      Mar 26 2013: This study "a retrospective cross cultural meta analysis of the etiology of modern languages for several countries with disparate gender equalities." is an EXCELLENT idea Andrew. Is there a country where there has been equality from the beginning?
      • Mar 26 2013: Carolyn Mcauley (posted below this reply) may be able to lend directions.
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          Mar 27 2013: Interesting - marked for further study -Thanks Andrew :-)

          "There is already a people who are gender neutral regarding words...they are in Zaire, Africa: Mbuti tribe ....The Mbuti tribe only have one word for elder,peer and child." This next part shows they are really smart: " They advocate competition as unacceptable as it isolates the winner and saddens the losers "

          5 Languages spoken in Zaire: French, Lingala · Kongo, Swahili · Tshiluba

          A sample of the language is:
          Bantu bonsu badi baledibwa badikadile ne badi ne makokeshi amwe. Badi ne lungenyi lwa bumuntu ne kondo ka moyo, badi ne bwa kwenzelangana malu mu buwetu.

          " All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. "

          Beautiful !!
      • Mar 27 2013: I chuckled when I read "Brotherhood" and can only assume their gender neutral word for that interpersonal relationsip doesn't directly translate to English, though camaraderie might work :P
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          Mar 28 2013: You are right!! That is funny :-) ....It seems English is the one needing to be upgraded....it'll take time but we can fix it. What word can we use to improve our language?

          " All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of _______________ - (Insert your better / best word?)

          I do like camaraderie...
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    Mar 23 2013: Words are POWERFUL things. They can inspire or they can hold us back. For too long, the words "He" and "She" have been used against the "She" persons. There is a place for them, but there is also a NEED for gender neutral words.

    have you seen the TED talk where a linguist discovered a correlation between savings rates in countries with a language that use a future tense and those countries with languages that don't have them. i.e. Some languages say "It will rain tomorrow" whereas others say "It rain tomorrow". Those persons speaking languages that do not include a future tense have far higher savings rates than those who use languages such as English.

    Words are powerful unto themselves. Words have meanings. If there is no word to convey meaning, then people are harmed. Such as women in situations where gender is meaningless but used as a weapon anyhow.
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      Mar 23 2013: It looks though many believe here that languages are results of our thoughts and not vice verse. I find it difficult to accept. Some argue that gender neutrality in a language is no measure of gender equality in the countries/societies where such languages are spoken. I have noticed that it was argued a conscious gender neutralization of languages is only a cosmetic dressing over the fissure across the gender lines.
      I think there is a lack of understanding regrading how a conscious gender neutralization works on a language. Such processes are not disruptive but incremental and works over huge spans of time, even centuries. I think such long and deep process cannot possibly be academic experiments but rather manifestation of societies' urge to shake free from gender discrimination. If English is not sufficiently gender neutral even today it might mean lack of true will by societies/countries to see women as equal where the language is spoken natively.
      I am not very fond of so called feminism which appears to seek special attention to women rather than true equality and I like women being different from men. I mean steward and stewardess are equal words - but what is the stress here? On stewardship or the gender of the person?
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    Mar 23 2013: Gender neutral and sexist language are distinctly different issues. The former is a question of designation. The latter is a grossly inappropriate bias.

    The implementation of gender neutrality in language will no more eradicate sexism than a fresh coat of paint on a slum will eradicate poverty. To object to unique designations is to infer that one designation is greater than the other. Gender specific titles actually promote equality by creating a platform to discuss the underlying bias.
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      Mar 23 2013: Thank you for your opinion. But that gender bias and sexist language go hand in hand is not a matter of speculation anymore. I have cited peer reviewed research publication that concludes that grammatical gender in languages can shape how people interpret the world around them along gender lines. Also that the gender gap is smaller in countries where languages have been naturalized.
      • Mar 23 2013: Gender bias is different than gender neutral language.

        I'm suggesting the language didn't create the bias. The underlying bias defined the language. Eliminating the language denies there is a difference between genders.

        What needs to be eliminated is the belief that one gender is superior or inferior to the other. If the language is neutralized so is the discussion...so the bias of the past will be supplanted by a denial of the difference. I don't believe either is a healthy position to adopt.
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    Mar 22 2013: There is already a peoples who are gender neutral regarding words..they are in Zaire,Africa. They are the Mbuti tribe and only have one word for elder,peer and child. They also advocate competition as unacceptable as it isolates the winner and saddens the losers. It practices an evnviormental religion . For me,once again history has swept good ideas under the rug called "primitive" when the word could be essential or primary.
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      Mar 23 2013: Thanks Carolyn. That's interesting. Tribes are proto-societies. Can you please tell us more about the language of Mbuti?
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    Mar 21 2013: I am with you wife on this. Changing the English language to gender-neutral would be a leap for mankind. It would greatly speed up the process of ending oppression and inequality, which must end if we wish to move forward . People in society are there to work and a lot of energy and time has been wasted by seeing their gender instead of their contribution, all at the expense of progress and economic growth.

    Literature and poetry, are free to be as they always are in a different class. And, getting a job, labor and being a contributing member of the economy is not the poetry part of life. Literary integrity and gender integrity and human integrity will all benefit from this change to a neutral language. Everyone should be able to get a job they are trained and fit for and earn their living.
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      Mar 21 2013: Thank you Juliette. I like your straight forward honesty. :)
      But wait now, how come ladies here are standing beside my wife? :D
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        Mar 21 2013: we are all one......and when we stand on her side, we are automatically on yours (and vice versa ;-)❥
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    Mar 20 2013: Language evolves, language always reflects the culture that created it.
    Our languages in the western culture have gone through ages where men and women had their specific role and place in society. These days, that's very rare, everybody is considered equal, and should get a fair possibility to apply for any job. So yes, adapt the language, let it reflect the culture we stand for, and so make it a natural gender language!
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    Mar 20 2013: G'day Pabitra

    I think you’re as a big a worry as me somehow, you would fit in fine obviously & don't worry about the beauties chasing you just worry about the bronze Aussie blokes after your misses. :)

    Love
    Mathew
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      Mar 20 2013: That's a distinct possibility Mathew. However, I have enough worries of that kind here :)
      After head banging for 20 years together, I honestly wonder why she put up with me this long. May be women feel safe with men of lesser caliber than theirs. Or may be she just loves me.
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        Mar 20 2013: Haha.....I'm in the same boat as I keep saying to my misses why do you put up with it maybe you should find yourself a newer model!!
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          Mar 21 2013: I would advise your misses to stick to old, safer and trusted model as long it is functional ;)
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      Mar 23 2013: "For who can always act? but he,
      To whom a thousand memories call,
      Not being less but more than all
      The gentleness he seemed to be,
      But seemed the thing he was, and join'd
      Each office of the social hour
      To noble manners, as the flower
      And native growth of noble mind;
      And thus he bore without abuse
      The grand old name of Gentleman."

      —Tennyson.

      Without good role models during developmental years (ages 10-18), reaching that degree of dignified chivalry is a struggle. Then at adulthood and marriage, young men have to wing it. So it would be helpful when fine gentlemen , like Matthew and Pabitra, would write books, to reach out to them and be that healthy figure for the young men of the world to emulate.
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        Mar 23 2013: G'day Juliette

        Quite a nice & exact poem but it certainly doesn't refer to me for the main reason I couldn't put myself in my uncles shoes who was a true gentleman.

        Maturity is a funny word to use because I wouldn't say that I was mature as I can be quite a nutter at times however not usually to the bounds of carless immaturity. I’m afraid most blokes are or seem to be self-centred especially when they get with their mates & once mixed with immaturity this combination can become quite unbecoming but if we also add in a little macho-ness we have a cocktail of self-deprivation in one’s mannerism, (Bohemianism).

        Love
        Mathew
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          Mar 23 2013: Hi Mathew,

          Maybe you can write about your uncle!! I am sure anyone who has a long standing 'living' marriage qualifies to contribute to the mentoring of our youth. We have a joke here about six-degrees of Kevin. Amongst other things, it means that we are six people removed from knowing Kevin; a gentleman ;-)lol.

          I totally agree with you, it is best to steer clear of that cocktail all together. In the end of the day, it won't do anyone any good. Actually, it won't do anyone any good at any time of the day!!

          Meanwhile we need another column now for new definitions for words like " maturity "...will include responsible, thoughtful, kind, honorable, fun, fair, flexible & right amounts of nuttiness!! lol.
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    Mar 18 2013: Removing gender differentiation in language and in the society are two completely different things.
    While there has been some evidence to show that the mother tongue one speaks may influence some of the cognitive processes in the mind (I suggest and recommend reading Guy Deutscher's book "Through the Language Glass" for a thoroughly insightful analysis of this phenomenon), it remains limited only to certain areas of the human experience, and logical reasoning is certainly not one of them.
    Admittedly, the linguistic system may influence one's associations about objects and people, but it is only one of the factors to determine the general social position of a person or a group of people. Historic development, contemporary social trends, influence of religion, etc. all work their way into our perception and judgment.
    So, to sum up, I do recognize that language can in fact influence how we think about people, but even if it were possible to instantly switch to a universal gender-neutral linguistic system, it would most likely still not solve any of the burning issues that sparked this discussion in the first place.
    • Mar 19 2013: is removing gender differentiation in society desirable? to me it's quite clear that men and women are different - equal, but different - and i see no problem with acknowledging this obvious fact in language or anything else. what's wrong with referring to a woman as she? it's the female equivalent term to 'he', and denotes no inferiority.
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      Mar 19 2013: "Removing gender differentiation in language and in the society are two completely different things." I am not sure. I shall try to get the book. Meanwhile can you please explain why you think so?
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        Mar 19 2013: It is known that if a language does not have a word for a certain phenomenon, it does not mean that its speakers cannot comprehend it. For example, there are languages with only two words for color (roughly corresponding to "light" and "dark"), and yet, its speakers are perfectly capable of distinguishing all the colors of the visible spectrum.
        In the same way, if we removed the male/female differentiation from language, and invented gender-neutral pronouns and, for the sake of the argument, names for professions, it would still not make people any less aware of the factual reality that people do, in fact, come in more than one gender and that we are all able to perceive and understand this.
        So my argument is that making changes in language alone wouldn't do much good in obtaining more equality for the genders in the society. Deep social changes, and changes in the mindsets of people, are necessary if we want any concrete improvement. It is not the words that are the problem, it is the associations that are connected with them. When we stop dominantly associating the word "actress" with appearance, and "actor" with actual talent, then we'll be on a good path toward equality.
        • Mar 20 2013: just an fyi i think in support of your argument, here in japan there are 2 personal pronouns, 'san' which is female or for either gender, and 'kun' which is for males only, yet there are no men complaining that the word 'kun' is discriminatory, and it has been argued that gender inequality is much larger in japan (personally i disgree, but that's another story).
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          Mar 20 2013: "So my argument is that making changes in language alone wouldn't do much good in obtaining more equality for the genders in the society. Deep social changes, and changes in the mindsets of people, are necessary if we want any concrete improvement. It is not the words that are the problem, it is the associations that are connected with them. When we stop dominantly associating the word "actress" with appearance, and "actor" with actual talent, then we'll be on a good path toward equality. "
          I am examining how language can affect deep social changes in the mindsets of people in the first place. My wife's or Colleen's views are indicative of their respective experiences how they have confronted the words like 'actress' in their lives. I think there is an insight to gained from that.
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        Mar 20 2013: If seeing how language can (or cannot?) influence the mind is what you're going for, I really do recommend Guy Deutscher's book like I said above, it was very eye-opening for me.
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    Mar 18 2013: in a way we already have gone from he/she to e. . time to capitalize on the E, for U, as I . . . put them all on a basic capital letter . . . (as in drop the yo from yoU
    I find it interesting that in Holland, we have he/hij. She/zij. they/zij, she is /zij zij. and they zijn.
    in other words, 'She' and 'is' are the same words. while the pleural is femine as well.
    I do not know if any of the other languages have a similar.. I would think it would put a whole different slant on life.
    they also have jij or je for you. wij, for we and gij. . the genderless term, and of Capitalized for God. . .
    • Mar 18 2013: In Swedish we now have not only han (he), hon (she) but also hen as a pronoun for both.
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      Mar 19 2013: 'e' is a new think I learnt here. I am wondering how my poetry will feel with all 'he' and 'she' replaced with 'e'.
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        Mar 28 2013: there's always poetic license., no?
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          Mar 28 2013: Poetry is one great artistic expression of the humans, but art embodies aesthetics and appreciation which are always influenced by enlightenment and changing social orders. So the license should not be taken as a practical determinant of gender identities.
          I mean, 'she' as it comes in poetry most often deals with emotionality of feminine genders whereas it does hardly matter if the medical surgery undergone by someone comes from the hands of a female or male.
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    Mar 16 2013: My native language is Persian
    In this case, Persian is wonderful and I really like it just for this matter
    Persian doesn't have He/she or "ess" for females. In fact in Persian you can't specify gender in words and language as we see in English, French, Arabic and etc.
    This is very cool. I think as we go, gender in languages will fades away. One example is "guys" that used to be just for males but now females can use it too
    I wish a language without these kind of words.

    P.S: Even with Persian that is a gender less languages, but I see sexist action a lot more than lots of countries. It's not just the language, still the key is people.
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      Mar 19 2013: If you are from Iran, your country's GGG index is 0.58 and HDI is 0.76. GGG stands for Global Gender Gap and HDI stands for Human Development Index. The full names of the sub-scores for the Global Gender Gap Index are "Economic Participation and Opportunity", "Educational Attainment", "Health and Survival", and "Political Empowerment." All quantitative variables range from 0 to 1.
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      . . 100+

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      Mar 21 2013: Happy New Ruz Farokh!!
  • Mar 16 2013: Correlation =/= causation, the cultural representation of women and the way in which they are portrayed in media, I believe, would be the biggest influences on gender inequality.

    Empower women with equal rights and equal opportunities for education and equality will come in time. There is no quick fix.

    I feel it would be ridiculous to make language gender neutral. As much as some more radical feminists will argue to the contrary, men and women ARE different and will always be different.
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      Mar 19 2013: I still wonder if a lady will like to be addressed as a, say, Chairman. Or if Lalia Ali can be called a boxer why Angelina Jolie will be referred as an actress. Is language out of the scope of equal rights?
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    Mar 16 2013: While I have been corrected for doing this, I use a plural pronoun, such as "they", went referring to an unknown individual. An example would be, "If a person wanted one they better act quickly." This avoids the awkward "he/she."

    Your wife has a real dilema. She is in a profession the gives out awards to female actresses and male actors because that is the way the parts are written. Granted actors of both genders have acted in reverse gender roles. "Linda Hunt, Hillary Swank, and Charlize Theron are in the elite circle of the very few actresses to receive Oscars for such movies." says Yahoo contributor Rianne Hill Soriano. Should it be male and female actors instead of actor and actress? Does either form avoid the issue?

    At some point transgender actors will need to be considered.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laverne-cox/transgender-actors-2011_b_1162279.html

    But while feminism can complain, we do need to face the fact that XX & XY have they differences and we have to accept it.
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      Mar 19 2013: Thank you for your response Theodore. Linguistic constructions and propagation have myriad ways and they are interesting study. But I am not clear by any logic why a professional should be identified by gender. You mentioned actors doing reverse gender roles like say, Dustin Hoffman playing Tootsie. In Indian Folk Drama traditions there are notable actors who exclusively did female characters. But do we care really if one is treated by a female or male doctor or a good book comes from a female and male author? Or even a transgender person, as you have said.
      I do understand XX and XY are different physically and even psychologically. But what's the point of being explicit semantically unless it is logically required for identification?
      Feminist or not, I can see a large acceptance of my wife's point of view in my society. I have broached the subject here because I write a lot and aspire to be a pro so literary aesthetics concerns me deeply. Many literary experts claim that a conscious gender neutralization will harm the language. On the other hand likes of my wife maintain, social freedom of women is way more important than literary beauty (supposing that language can shape society along gender line).
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        Mar 19 2013: You raise interesting points and society will need time to adjust its thinking to where gender neutrality can best apply
        Allow me to offer up this video by David Page.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQcgD5DpVlQ

        As you will see by watching the video for scientific research, a cell is not a cell, it is a male, or female cell in critical ways.
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          Mar 19 2013: Thanks. I shall watch the video and come back with my views. If I may add here that neutrality does not negate the difference, it just does not recognize a preferred position of superiority.
  • Apr 10 2013: Pfff its a good question , because now we have many others kind of genders... I had working in my businees a transexual guy and she prefered always hers women name and of course a women treatment but al the oficial papers was with his man name and man treatment, now woth the words occurs the samething, In some languajes like spanish its most difficult cuz a lot of words are diferents between males and females. I think that somewords are techical words and dosent have gender, like pfesional activities, stuff, sciences, etc. And you can continue with the especification isue when your refering to persons like adjetives or some words that has to describe the gender itselfs. When you learn another languaje different to you native languaje this is maybe one of the most diffilcult issue to learn.
    • Apr 12 2013: Sometimes I wonder how people would handle "which bathroom to use," and "who's gonna be uncomfortable in either case," and I just now remembered one place I worked at that had only one small restroom (single-stall), and I don't think anyone had a single extra worry about it.
      However, that was a one-person-at-a-time restroom, so no one had to wonder about who else was in there.
  • Apr 7 2013: The only thing missing is respect & consideration!
    Why, if Feminists are up in arms about "sexist language," do they still cling to the word 'feminism'? The word itself divides by gender.
    As long as there's an important difference, there should be different words, otherwise the only words we'd need would be "schwa," and a few varying punctuation marks.

    Edit: Wow, 5 days and no one jumped on me!
    Anyways, 1/2 hour after I posted, I realized my mistake, (but I figured I'd give people time to catch it); "The word itself divides by gender," beacause "there's an important difference."
    This seems to be a slippery slope, and will need some more thought. Thank you for your patient help.
  • Apr 4 2013: It's stunning how gender neutral English is a little exposure to Spanish Bano Bana-you know. Also studied a little Hebrew when starting on numbers it's always masculine or feminine tense. Does it tie to farming roosters don't lay eggs.
  • Apr 4 2013: Language is a mode of communication. However language has been in the past heavily influenced by religion. Now this is not a religious debate, but to point out the gender inequality in language.
    When religion forces language to mention female as lesser of the species and especially in Islam where two votes counts for one; inheritance to siblings is divided as one portion to male and half portion to female.
    So how can language survive the scrutiny and enforcement of religion where it has such major impacts on it.
    Gender equality in language can not prevail.
  • Apr 4 2013: She said she cares about the profession not the gender, which is true since no one says Doctress or Authoress even when they are often professions possessed by females... its very likely that the only reason Actor has a female gender variant is to answer expectation so producers, writers , directors etc can indicate that they are looking for a Female Actor and not a Male Actor without having to get too confused with their words.
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    Apr 2 2013: ...language is a mode of communication, the expressive way...if the receiver is prejudiced nothing can further be done...if the sender sends it deliberately, check is important...The Mindfood Chef
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    Mar 30 2013: Three aspects of language where sexual distinctions appear:
    1. Professions: As Pabitra said, "stewardess" is an example. German and French commonly use such gender designations. In English this is less common ("teacher" for both sexes), and many of these distinctions have disappeared. The suffix "-man" is a problem for some, though others take it simply as an "agent" designator without a gender implication. The usual replacement suffix, "-person" leads to some clumsier words, e.g., chairperson, fireperson, policeperson and foreperson. Many have turned to just "chair" or to "fire fighter" and "police officer," though "foreman" seems to be holding its own, as do "airman" and "seaman" in the Air Force and Navy. (Jokes are made about needing to switch to "woperson" and "huperson.") By the way, most hostesses and actresses don't seem interested in any change.

    2. Gendering of nouns: English doesn't use this, though most European languages do. Norwegian has 2 grammatical genders (common and neuter), but these have no relation to sexes of the objects spoken of. Thus man, woman, boy, girl, etc. are all treated the same grammatically. (Remnants of a feminine gender that existed earlier are still found in colloquial speech.) I see no hope of Germany, France, Italy, Spain, etc. ridding their nouns of gender any time soon.

    3. Perhaps the most productive target for those who are anxious to degenderize language lies in our pronouns. In English, for example, if we want to say, "When a person has a fever, __ feels bad." it has been common to fill in the blank with "he." This was long accepted as meaning "he or she," but is less accepted today. Replacements involve "he/she" or switching to plural and writing "they." The problem is easily solved by creating a new inclusive pronoun for this case.
    ( I'm running out of space so I invite you to check my note about this, written nine years ago, on my web site Blue Ridge Journal: http://www.blueridgejournal.com/brj-genderlang.htm )
  • Mar 30 2013: LOL!