Genderless pronouns in most languages

Herb Stahlke hstahlke at GW.BSU.EDU
Tue May 22 12:34:36 UTC 2001

I hate to quibble with a statement very much like one I make often in classes, but count vs. mass is also a gender distinction in English, given its grammatical and semantic correlates.

Herb Stahlke

>>> rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU 05/22/01 12:22AM >>>

        When I said that "most" languages in the world lack a gender
distinction in pronouns, I WAS thinking of the Indo-European languages,
which comprise only a small percentage of the estimated total of some
5,000 languages in the world. (Korean and Japanese really don't have have
3rd-person pronouns at all, using demonstratives + "person" for the most
part instead.) Chinese gets along fine in speech with only <ta>, though a
distinction is made in writing when necessary. The Turkic languages
(e.g. Turkish) use a single pronoun. Other languages distinguish
"gender" based on shape, or on animate/inanimate, rather than sex. Because
English grammar-books traditionally defined "gender" as sex, they
overlooked the fact that English does make a distinction between Human and
Non-human gender, as seen in our use of <who> vs <what>. This confusion of
the nature of gender is responsible for the term being hijacked as a
euphemism for "sex", so that one is no longer of the masculine or feminine
sex, but of the masculine or feminine "gender" (as in the old song). If
English got rid of the <he-she-it> and <who-what> distinctions, we would
no longer have gender in the language, but we would still have biological
sex. (There is no correlation between fertility rates and the presence or
absence of masculine/feminine gender in a language.)


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