David Thompson
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December 07, 2015

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David

Previously in Salon:

“They” is not an acceptable substitute for a real gender-neutral pronoun… Though the Swedish “hen” has been around since the sixties, it never really caught on until just a few years ago, when the country’s transgender community began embracing it. Since then it’s been quietly making its way into the vernacular, getting a previously unexpected boost from preschool and nursery school educators eager to teach young children without the often confusing weight of “his or her” construction.

It’s so difficult being pious.

Robert of Ottawa

I think this is double plus good

Sam

So if you identify with 'Mx' or 'hen' that's great, but it's *not* okay to identify with 'he' or 'Mr'?

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

Finnish doesn't have gendered pronouns.

Good luck convincing Finnish "feminists" that there's no sexism in society.

I don't think Farsi has gendered pronouns, either.

David

I’m still grappling with the conceit that refusing to acknowledge a person’s gender is, in itself, unassailably “progressive.” But apparently we must embrace the distinctiveness of the “gender non-conforming,” whatever it might be, while erasing the more humdrum differentiation experienced by most of us, i.e., being contentedly male or female.

Joan

I prefer 'Mrs' with pronouns 'she' and 'her'.

I apologise for being well adjusted.

rjmadden

Another solution in search of a problem.

I sneeze in threes

I find parents tend it get upset when you refer to their newborn bundle of joy as "it". If you start to refer to "they" this will only lead to confusion as to wether they had twins and possibly one has been misplaced.

Stuck-Record

Prediction.

If she got her way and everyone was forced to call each other 'they', within three months a new SJW would pop up to say it disgusting Hegemonic aggression to force everyone to conform to 'they', and it was denying identity.

Jen

the somewhat random mention of buckets

I think she means 'brackets'. :-)

David

If she got her way and everyone was forced to call each other ‘they’, within three months a new SJW would pop up to say it was disgusting Hegemonic aggression

Well, for many, leftism is a positional good, a marker of status. Hence the unrealism, the contrived unobviousness.

Richard Powell

Finnish does indeed lack gender-specific pronouns, and colloquially speakers make no distinction between people, animals and things. It is disconcerting when one hears oneself referred to as "it" for the first time. That said, Finnish society is just about the most equal as far as gender is concerned, though sex roles are clearly defined and in some respects Finland can be gobsmackingly un-PC - http://usslave.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/finnish-candy-with-racist-twist.html.

peter h

Objects have a gender, living things have a sex.
Oops! I think I might have committed one of them hegemonic thingies again.

Farnsworth M Muldoon

None of us fit neatly or entirely into a traditional gender binary...

Indeed. That is certainly true except for the 99.97% of the population who came from the factory remarkably unconfused about which bits they (that is the plural "they", and not the singular "they") were born with.

Burnsie

I find parents tend it get upset when you refer to their newborn bundle of joy as "it".

And why not "it" for a non-gendered singular pronoun for those who insist upon it, like Ms. Kovvali? If it wants to be referred to in non-gender-specific terms, it should get what it wants.

I'll be happy to oblige it. However, I will not meet its demand to use a plural pronoun like "they" to refer to an individual. That's just hopelessly illiterate, and it should know better if it's any kind of writer.

There. I feel cleansed of my cis privilege.

prog

Too much empowerment of the 'offended' will transform many into 'offenders'.

R. Sherman

To paraphrase Galileo, "and yet, it has a penis."

Watcher In The Dark

If the loony left is going to get upset about "he" and "she" then we may as well keep them in use so the loonies have something they can always be angry about. I mean, if getting rid of those pronouns means they have less to be angry about in future, then what will the poor dears do to agitate their half-a-dozen brain cells?

R. Sherman

BTW, in the wayback, one of the first things I told my students when I taught German I, was if they tried to figure out the grammatical gender of nouns based upon how "girly" or "manly" the nouns were, they would fail the class. It would be interesting to hear Ms. Kovvali's comments on a masculine "cake" or a feminine "weapon."

Wonk

I was recently accused of being sarcastic and argumentative. So I self identified as "sensitive and caring." It is working.

Patrick Brown

She “identifies as an Indian woman.”

Who says she gets to decide what she identifies as? I identify as neither of those things, so she shouldn't be allowed to either.

JJM

"Objects have a gender, living things have a sex."

Not quite. In languages that have a grammatical gender system, words have gender (nouns, pronouns, adjectives and in some languages verbs too).

Animals and other living things may or may not have a sex. Inanimate objects have no sex.

In French, the word for a table is feminine (gender) but a table itself is obviously not female (sex).

In German, the word for a girl is neuter (gender) but the girl herself is obviously still female (sex).

Farnsworth M Muldoon

Inanimate objects have no sex.

If that were strictly true, the adult toy manufacturers would be out of business.

simon

To quote captain Ahab, (I think), "Thar she blows!"

Rjschwarz

Doesn't Spanish separate all nouns into male/female? Perhaps they should untangle that first

Geezer

My Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged reports five senses of the pronoun he. The second: "that one whose sex is unknown or immaterial."

dw

And then imagine the effect of this modish neutering on... the quasi-pornographic romance novel: “They looked at them lustfully and reached for their buttons.” It would, I fear, be hard to keep track of the various theys involved. And a great literary genre would be rendered incomprehensible.

*applauds*

jabrwok

"Objects have a gender, living things have a sex."

Not quite. In languages that have a grammatical gender system, words have gender (nouns, pronouns, adjectives and in some languages verbs too).

I don't understand the objection. Words are objects in that they are not living organisms. They are symbolic objects, like numbers, letters, musical notes and scores, etc. None of those things have sexes, though the language used to describe them may attribute "gender" (and how I'm coming to loathe that word) to them.

John D

Because vagueness is the new clarity.

It's amazing what a Harvard education can do.

John West

I guess everyone is entitled to their own ideas no matter how stupid they may be. I will pass on this idea and continue to be a man ... and I do like being a man .... who likes women who like being women. Those who are not sure what they are can form a line on the left.

I guess I am just a traditionalist when it comes to gender.

Part of what I like about gender is that it fits with everything else in our universe .... you know the on/off up/down yin/yang zero/one hot/cold black/white male/female .... see how cool that is .... we all come in pairs ... don't fuck with that.

JJM

"Doesn't Spanish separate all nouns into male/female?"

No. It classifies all nouns as either masculine or feminine in gender (there's a very limited "pseudo-neuter" usage in Spanish too but it's irrelevant here).

The terms "male" and "female" refer to the biological sex of living things. The terms "masculine" and "feminine" refer to the grammatical gender of (in this case) nouns.

JJM

"Words are objects in that they are not living organisms. They are symbolic objects, like numbers, letters, musical notes and scores, etc. None of those things have sexes, though the language used to describe them may attribute 'gender' (and how I'm coming to loathe that word) to them."

Words are ideas expressed through sounds (and, in the case of writing, through script). Words are thus sexless in any language (though their meaning may certainly imply sex: girl, son, cow).

I can well understand why you loathe the word "gender". Over time - but principally during the 20th Century - the meaning of "gender" has become more or less a synonym for "sex" in English.

Unfortunately however, "gender" still remains as a technical term in grammar. Thus we routinely conflate the gender of nouns with the "gender" (i.e. biological sex) of people.

[+]

Because vagueness is the new clarity.

I denounce your toxic masculinity, David.

David

I denounce your toxic masculinity, David.

I know, I’m clutching my testicles as I type.

It’s a comfort thing.

JJM

"I find parents tend it get upset when you refer to their newborn bundle of joy as 'it."

Another modernism!

The word "child" has always been grammatically neuter in gender when the sex is unknown or irrelevant. It's no coincidence that in our Germanic cousin languages, the word for "child" is always neuter.

"If you start to refer to 'they' this will only lead to confusion as to wether they had twins and possibly one has been misplaced."

Because we don't use "singular they" in English for "it" nouns.

JJM

"BTW, in the wayback, one of the first things I told my students when I taught German I, was if they tried to figure out the grammatical gender of nouns based upon how 'girly' or 'manly' the nouns were, they would fail the class. It would be interesting to hear Ms. Kovvali's comments on a masculine 'cake' or a feminine 'weapon.'"

One of the inherent flaws in the whole "gender neutrality" argument is that it is almost entirely an English-language preoccupation. You just can't do the same things grammatically in languages like French or German.

For example, in French (and other two-gender languages) words must be one gender or the other; they cannot be both or neither.

Nikw211

But it was bizarre that the paper attributed the editorial decision to Hardwick’s “preference,” or, for that matter, felt the need to explain it at all.

Surely no one could be this disingenuous? Yet the evidence points clearly to the contrary:

We are forced to …

No. Not at all. Not even close.

No one is ever forced to use the educated and standard syntax or lexicon of a national language and to suggest otherwise is an absolute absurdity.

And why is it always people such as Kovvali that are forever citing these phantom injuries as grounds for insinuating real power into people's lives where it's least of all needed and where it can cause the most harm over the least offence - as can clearly be seen here?

Thank Christ the Internet doesn't have a designated professional grievances office – yet.

R. Sherman

One of the inherent flaws in the whole "gender neutrality" argument is that it is almost entirely an English-language preoccupation.

My lovely, long-suffering spouse is not a native speaker of English but has dual Ph.D.s in English and Linguistics. Off the top of my head, I can count eight languages in which she has reading or speaking fluency. I assume she's smart as I typed up her 800+ page, two volume dissertation. When she hears arguments such as these about "sexist" language advanced by English speakers, which arguments go back at least 30 years, she advances the most intelligent thing I've ever heard:

"What the fuck are these people talking about?"

mojo

Hey, we could go full Esquimaux and refer to ourselves not as "I" or "me", but as "some person".

mojo

PS: "dot" Indian or "feathers" Indian?

mojo

PPS: This couldn't be parody, surely. Not in the Tele:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/12036040/French-traditionalists-praise-warning-from-Prince-Charles-that-artisanal-cheese-could-disappear.html

dicentra

Words are objects in that they are not living organisms.

Words are labels. The labels in Spanish are either masculine or feminine. Sometimes, you can have a feminine and a masculine word for the same thing:

la cama
el lecho

Both mean "bed" in English; neither imbue gender on their referent.

Another solution in search of a problem.

Another way to make the majority squeek, "How high, sir?"

Which is its own reward, after all.

Too much empowerment of the 'offended' will transform many into 'offenders'.

I think you can dispense with the future tense on that one. On most of our predictions of What Happens If This Loopy Left-Wing Trend Continues Unabated.

jabrwok

On a tangentially related note, the Social Justice Weenie Blog Generator: http://tumblr-argument-generator.lokaltog.net/

Crude language warning.

Hal

Here, have a trigger warning, appropriate for all situations . . .

dicentra

No that's a "trigger warning" from you, pal.

I was completely freaked out by the sheer realism.

Yes, indistinguishable from "the real thing," which, most of social media feels like a mindless bot-swarm anyway.

R. Sherman

I know, I’m clutching my testicles as I type.

It’s a comfort thing.

Does that have something to do with the "blogging thong" we heard about recently?

(See, some of us are paying attention.)

Ted S., Catskill Mtns, NY, USA

One of the inherent flaws in the whole "gender neutrality" argument is that it is almost entirely an English-language preoccupation. You just can't do the same things grammatically in languages like French or German.

There's a horrid trend among the self-styled "right thinkers" in German. In German, words that describe a certain type of man, such as "Student" for a student, are made feminine by adding the suffix -in to get Studentin, with the plurals being Studenten and Studentinnen respectively.

The trend is to refer to group of mixed gender by using a word like StudentInnen, with the captial I in the middle. It's repulsively ugly if you ask me.

Hal

PS: "dot" Indian or "feathers" Indian?

Apparently dot. According to a last name reference, while the majority of Kovvali's are in the US, the remaining number are all in India . . . .

JL

I don't understand the objection. Words are objects in that they are not living organisms. They are symbolic objects, like numbers, letters, musical notes and scores, etc. None of those things have sexes, though the language used to describe them may attribute "gender" (and how I'm coming to loathe that word) to them.

Surely the use of the term "gender" as applied to nouns is merely a convention anyway. You could just as well substitute "positive" and "negative"

Q30

The fact that we can talk about stripping gender out of the English language sort of suggests that it doesn't play a big role anyway. If you did that with Russian, all the adjectives would have to end with 'o' and that would just be weird. Am I missing some nuance or misunderstanding something? I'm not a linguist.

R. Sherman

Am I missing some nuance or misunderstanding something? I'm not a linguist.

The short answer is "no."

The longer answer is the people who advance this stuff either a) have an agenda which has nothing to do with language or b) have not taken the time to learn languages other than English. Progressives are all about "multi-culturalism, "diversity" and the like, but cannot bother themselves with actually learning about other cultures, which education by definition includes how language shapes one's view of world.

JJM

"The trend is to refer to group of mixed gender by using a word like StudentInnen, with the captial I in the middle. It's repulsively ugly if you ask me."

However, note that in German StudentInnen is plural and German plurals - like English ones - are without gender.

In the singular, you can't assign "der" to a female student. Even if you decided to forget about the Studentin feminine form and went with Student for both men and women, you'd still end up with "der Student" for a male student and "die Student" for a female one.

JJM

"The fact that we can talk about stripping gender out of the English language sort of suggests that it doesn't play a big role anyway."

It plays a bigger role than we realize but it is pretty thin gruel compared to the much more intricate systems in other languages (such as Russian).

And we're not really talking about gender neutrality either; we're talking about "sex neutrality" between men and women here. God help us if PETA or some other such gang of fanatics decide "gender neutrality" has to be extended somehow to animals!

Ted S., Catskill Mtns, NY, USA

In the singular, you can't assign "der" to a female student.

Well, you can in the dative case. ;-) And let's not get started on verbs that take direct objects in the oblique cases, which is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Even if you decided to forget about the Studentin feminine form and went with Student for both men and women, you'd still end up with "der Student" for a male student and "die Student" for a female one.

And "das Weib" as opposed to "die Frau".

Ted S., Catskill Mtns, NY, USA

It plays a bigger role than we realize but it is pretty thin gruel compared to the much more intricate systems in other languages (such as Russian).

The interesting thing about gender in Russian is that, although it is more intricate thanks to all those case endings, it's also a lot easier to learn since most of the nouns' genders are based on whether the noun ends in a consonant (masculine), -a (feminine) or -o/-e (neuter). The plurals are also much more regular than, say, German.

Having studied German due to my ancestry turned out to be a great help when I went off to college and decided to study Russian. Except for that damned palatalization.

Bunk Strutts

Since all latin-based languages have gender specific nouns, verb conjugations and stuff, let's just call everyone Ms. and be done with it.

Bunk Strutts

Oh crap. I missed a gender-specific hyphen. I'm going to hell.

Patrick

Gee, given their entire language is predicated on identifiable gender, the French are really going to get pissed at this idea.

Lance Boyle

"Vagueness is the new clarity" you say. Well the science is in http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/12037540/Is-this-a-circle-test-reveals-a-lot-about-your-personality.html
and it seems you are right.

fnord

'it' is simply not inclusive enough. I prefer She-He-It, which cover all the bases.

ACTOldFart

Can someone feed back to Mx Kovvali all the erudition about sex, gender in different languages, etc etc contained in the comments in this thread? I am probably hopelessly optimistic but maybe, just maybe if sxe were exposed to all this, sxe might, just might, realise what an ignorant lightweight sxe is.

Chester Draws

Singular "they" is not a modern thing. There are references going back centuries. It is useful for situations you don't know the sex of a person. The original King James version has it (for example Matt 18:35).

Let's not lose useful things like that because we are not buying the sjw crap.

Karen M

Ms Kovvali believes that gendered pronouns and honorifics are an “outdated linguistic tic.” And not a useful, rather concise source of information, a signal of respect, and a way of clarifying who it is we’re talking about.

It's amazing she doesn't get the respect bit.

David

It’s amazing she doesn’t get the respect bit.

Yes, it’s an odd oversight, given Ms Kovvali’s claims of wanting to be “respectful.” When I’m dealing with a business and they refer to me as “Mr Thompson,” it’s an attempt to make me feel respected and significant - differentiated from the hundreds of other customers they’ll talk to that day. It may only be a gesture, but it’s appreciated. Take away those gendered honorifics and… well, what happens?

But as so often with “social justice” blather, you get the impression that the subject in question hasn’t actually been thought about, at least not terribly well, not in an enquiring way. It’s more a case of taking lots of tendentious short cuts and making whatever sounds fit a predetermined conclusion, preferably an ostentatious and contrarian one that signals the writer’s ‘progressive’ credentials. Viewed in terms of practicality and logic, Ms Kovvali’s article is a piece of shit. But viewed in terms of signalling, of leftist affiliation, it covers many of the bases.

Q30

David- you. I like you. I will look into hitting the tip jar when I get off the train.

David

I will look into hitting the tip jar when I get off the train.

The management endorses this sentiment wholeheartedly.

I like you.

Um, thanks. I’m a swell guy.

Stuck-Record

In the SJW brave new world imagine how long the simplest interpersonal reactions would take. Wherever you start; speech, eye contact... and so on is a minefield of using the correct look, gesture, word.

I suggest a simplification, which I'm sure is the real intent of SJW activism.

When approaching an SJW warrior lay face down, arms outstretched, palms flat, forehead pressed to the floor, eyes closed. Do not speak unless addressed, then only respond with, "Yes, your Majesty," or "No, your Majesty."

I think that pretty much covers what they're after.

Dan

Does dyslexia exist in Greece and if so what do they call it?

SteveGW

JL @ 21:46 is correct that the labels of 'masculine' and 'feminine' are purely conventional. That becomes more obvious when we realise that not all languages have just 2 or 3 genders. Swahili, for example, has 16. Imagine the opportunities for offence there.

On the other hand, Chinese has none. Chinese does have 3 'gendered' pronouns; but they are all pronounced 'ta,' and are only distinguished by the characters used to write them. This explains why Chinese society through the ages has been so remarkably sexually egalitarian.

abacab

English is quite unusual in that it has only one definite article and no concept of gender in respect of inanimate objects.

"For example, in French (and other two-gender languages) words must be one gender or the other; they cannot be both or neither."

Well, Dutch is an interesting quasi-exception to this. It has three genders like German, but only two definite articles outside of certain old petrified forms. "De" words are referred to as "gendered", and can me masculine or feminine. "Het" words are ungendered.

Now, 99.99999% of the time, it matters not one jot whether a "de" word is M or F, since there's a universal pronoun "die" (the equivalent for "het" words being "dat"). Indeed, most Dutch dictionaries do not make the distinction. However, some Flemish dictionaries and some Dutch word list books will tell you whether a "de" word is M or F, and really it only makes a difference in certain constructions when talking of inanimate objects posessing things, like "de tafel en zijn poten" (the table and its legs).

FWIW.

David

[ Raises hand. ]

Will there be a test on this?

Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

"She was educated at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania."

She was credentialed at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.
FTFY

Zeppo

'Mrs' was a word somewhat discountenanced by the Party — you were supposed
to call everyone 'comrade' — but with some women one used it instinctively.

~~ George Orwell, "Nineteen Eighty Four"

JJM

"'De' words are referred to as 'gendered', and can be masculine or feminine. 'Het' words are ungendered."

In truth, "het" words are not "ungendered" at all; they are neuter - which is itself a grammatical gender. And "het" words aren't necessarily always "sexless" either; "kind" (child) is a "het" word in contrast to "kat" which is a "de" word. No one would suggest a cat has a sex but a child does not.

R. Sherman

. . .but with some women one used it instinctively.

Sort of like the phrase, "someone's ex-wife."

Mike

Even by Salon standards that's a badly thought-out article. Does anyone there proof-read this stuff?

David

Even by Salon standards that’s a badly thought-out article.

Yes, it’s a tangled mess. The gist seems to be that gender-neutral pronouns should be imposed whenever the gender of a person is deemed irrelevant by some ‘progressive’ sensibility, i.e., most of the time: “Gender-neutral language should be the norm,” we’re told. But gender may not be irrelevant to the person being written about or talked about. (As many transgender activists are fond of pointing out, of course.)

Despite which, in Ms Kovvali’s brave new formulation the person being written about doesn’t get to deem their own gender of any relevance. Their preferences about themselves and how they’re publicly identified are to be casually rescinded in favour of ‘progressive’ posturing, on grounds that “none of us fit neatly or entirely into a traditional gender binary.”

In fact, our Salon columnist disdains a person’s gender as merely a “random biological feature,” as if it had no bearing whatsoever on how we think, how we see the world, who we are. She seems to imagine that, freed from gendered pronouns, men and women would be psychologically fungible, differing only in their genitalia, and she appears to dislike anything that might suggest otherwise. For instance, she objects to the idea that proletarian rubes might “associate… aspects of their personalities with their sex.” Which mustn’t be allowed.

So while transgender people are to be accommodated in every linguistic way possible, with a flourishing of neologisms and mannered grammar, the rest of us aren’t supposed to mind having our preferences erased, even though almost all of us are contentedly male or female and may be quite attached to the customary pronouns and honorifics. If put into practice, we’d be screwed over so that people like Ms Kovvali could indulge their need to appear enlightened and superior.

It’s such arse.

JJM

"Gee, given their entire language is predicated on identifiable gender, the French are really going to get pissed at this idea."

No, because you simply can't do this sort of thing in French or in any other language with a binary (i.e., masculine/feminine) grammatical gender system. A noun or pronoun must be either masculine or feminine in gender; it cannot be both and it cannot be neither.

Usually in French, "gender neutrality" is treated by "inclusivity" instead. Where in the past a statement like "tous les Canadiens" would be used in many contexts to mean "all Canadians" (both male and female)", these days you are quite likely to encounter "tous les Canadiens et toutes les Canadiennes" literally, "all (male) Canadians and all (female) Canadians".

The other way women seek to deal with the "masculine default" is to simply make the word that describes them feminine. So "un professeur" becomes "une professeure", "un docteur" becomes "une docteure" and so forth.

Naturally, this sort of thing drives the Académie française to distraction. A few years back a new French government minister insisted on being addressed as "Madame la Ministre" instead of "Madame le Ministre". It caused a real tempest in a teacup among "les immortels" and conservative-minded French grammarians but seems to have taken hold anyway. Unlike France, here in Canada we've used "la ministre" for a female government minister for quite some time now and without any great fuss.

RebeccaH

She was educated at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

There's the problem, right there.

mojo

OT: It used to be "found on road dead" or "first on race day", but now it's "finking on rotten drivers" - Meet the new Ford Informer

Busted by her Car

abacab

@JJM - the official term for a "het" word is "onzijdig", which literally means "unsided" and in the grammars I have looked at is normally referred to in English as "ungendered", which would be synonymous with "neuter" unless you're an SJW when I guess you'd have a whole pallette of non-conventional non-genders to choose from.

(and for those not in the know, the gender of a noun in germanic languages is predicated on the word ending and/or its form in relation to a verb if it is derived from one. Hence "das Mädchen" (the girl) being neuter because of the diminutive ending "-chen", and not due to illegal doping with testosterone in the East German Ladies shotput team.)

RightofGenghis

The primary purpose of language is to communicate information. Sophisticated users of language communicate large volumes of sophisticated and nuanced information in a relatively short time - allowing listeners to benefit from the collected knowledge transmitted by the speaker in a condensed fashion. This promotes intelligence, progress, efficiency, and, ultimately, a wider dissemination of value (useful information).

Leftism, obviously, has decided to forego the wide dissemination of such valuable information, preferring instead to strip language of much of its information-conveying function. Which, in turn, ensures that the key egalitarian function of language (wide, efficient, distribution of valuable information) is controlled by an elite group of politically-correct, illiberal clergymen instead of by us unreliable (and un-controlled) individuals.

To me, these leftists are seeking nothing less than a complete reversal of the effect Martin Luther had on the church. Except instead of limiting it to the Bible and the clergy, they're seeking to control ALL information, by controlling and limiting the information language is allowed to convey. Instead of democratizing knowledge and information by taking the sacred texts out of the hands of the clergy, these fascists want to restrict the transmission of knowledge and information (language) to an ever-smaller set of "approved" quasi-religious authorities.

They're losing the argument, so instead of adapting their argument to the facts, they're seeking to change the rules.

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

The other way women seek to deal with the "masculine default" is to simply make the word that describes them feminine. So "un professeur" becomes "une professeure", "un docteur" becomes "une docteure" and so forth.

Make them "une professeuse and "une docteuse". ;-) (Or, maybe, "une doctrice".)

Hedgehog

One thing that strikes me is how difficult this is going to make things for future archaeologists trying to figure out what the heck happened in the 21st century (although they will probably call it something like the 13th century before the modern era, or however long will have elapsed by then between the time we blew ourselves up and civilization has recovered enough to get interested in its own past). Much of what we know about the past comes from what is called the literary record, i.e. the writings left behind by past civilizations. Since they usually didn't speak or write like we do, the work of translating it is detective work that relies heavily on grammatical rules, cross-references with known texts, etc. etc. (think Rosetta stone). The civilizations of the Late Bronze Age in and around the Mediterranean are pretty well understood, up to a point, thanks to records that have been recovered in languages that nobody speaks anymore, such as Akkadian, Hittite, (Ancient) Egyptian, Hurrian, Ugaritic, etc. Orthography, grammar, syntax, and all the other possible linguistic rules are of invaluable help in furthering translations of these texts. What the Left does with the language is going to completely screw that up. I can imagine future archaeologists pointing to linguistic degeneracy as one of the indications that our civilization was on the decline. And they won't be wrong in making that assessment.

R. Sherman

Much of what we know about the past comes from what is called the literary record, i.e. the writings left behind by past civilizations.

Quite so.

It's worthwhile to remember the work of Walter Ong in this regard and his suggestion that we are moving toward a "new orality." Dovetailing with Ghenghis's comment above, the Left's bowdlerization of language combined with new methods and means of communications--see, e.g. texting filled with "OMG," "ROFL," etc.--and you reach a point where people are not only incapable of expressing complex ideas but also formulating them internally.

Braqueish

I take it you are using the word "educated" in the last paragraph in its broadest sense?

JJM

"JJM - the official term for a 'het' word is 'onzijdig', which literally means 'unsided' and in the grammars I have looked at is normally referred to in English as 'ungendered', which would be synonymous with 'neuter'."

However, "ungendered" is not really synonymous with "neuter". Neuter nouns/pronouns are certainly not "ungendered"; neuter is their gender.

"Neuter" is simply the Latin word "neither", the term originally used by ancient grammarians to classify the gender of the set of nouns and pronouns in both Latin and Greek that were "neither masculine nor feminine".

Chester Draws

Make them "une professeuse and "une docteuse".

That is specifically what they do not want, and no-one wants. Then you have to say "tous les docteurs and toutes les docteuses" which makes it much worse.

By taking the same form as the masculine, an unspecifed "docteur" becomes either male or female.

English has actually done the same thing, as "actress" is very quickly fading from view. Don't expect a warm welcome the next time you refer to anyone medically trained as a "lady doctor" in the old style either.

jabrwok

Don't expect a warm welcome the next time you refer to anyone medically trained as a "lady doctor" in the old style either.

Wouldn't that be a nurse?

*ducks and runs*:-)

JJM

"Make them 'une professeuse' and 'une docteuse'. ;-) (Or, maybe, 'une doctrice'.)"

Well, both "professeuse" and "docteuse" have already existed in French for some time as colloquialisms. But I don't think they are really very popular with feminists. There's a whiff of the patronizing about them - it's like saying "lady professor" or "lady doctor" in English. The forms "la professeure" and "la docteure" are considered rather more egalitarian.

(I should say here that I've seen "la professeure" and "la docteure" written with and without that final "e".)

dicentra

Which, in turn, ensures that the key egalitarian function of language (wide, efficient, distribution of valuable information) is controlled by an elite group of politically-correct, illiberal clergymen instead of by us unreliable (and un-controlled) individuals.

In linguistics and literature departments, the conceit that cognition is utterly dependent on lanuguage -- even impossible without it -- always struck me as less an insight than a declaration of Themselves as the High Priests of Reality and Thought.

One has only to read Irene Pepperburg's fascinating book on how she taught Alex to use vocal labels to evalate his cognitive abilities (she'd say it that way; she was not attempting to induce language acquisition in psittaciformes). Parrots lack many of the cerebral structures that mammals have -- including those thought to perform higher cognition functions -- but Alex handily demonstrated that he could "think."

And no, he doesn't have "language" the way we do. He just learned to use his formidably flexible vocal abilities to demonstrate what was going on in that bird brain of his.

Johnny

Educated at Harvard. She can't even string a sentence together.

abacab

"That is specifically what they do not want, and no-one wants. Then you have to say "tous les docteurs and toutes les docteuses" which makes it much worse."

Funny thing is, that you can do that in German ("alle Aertztinnen und Aertzte") without it sounding wierd, whereas in French (which collectively detests repetition) it sounds terrible.

David

Even by Salon standards that’s a badly thought-out article.

And note that, as so often happens, Ms Kovvali has chosen not to engage with any of her critics. On any point raised. The irony here is that Ms Kovvali will most likely imagine herself as terribly radical and freethinking. In fact, she’s quite conformist, mouthing the standard pieties and status signals expected of her class. Among them, a disdain for the “gender binary” and an assumption that gender is chiefly a social construction and therefore amenable to some radical correction, from above, via gender-neutral pronouns.

JJM

"Funny thing is, that you can do that in German ("alle Aertztinnen und Aertzte") without it sounding wierd, whereas in French (which collectively detests repetition) it sounds terrible."

Get used to it. You're going to hear more and more of it, and not just in "officialese". I'm a (Canadian) French speaker myself and I increasingly encounter this sort of "inclusive repetition".

For "those" when it refers to both men and women, you'll hear "ceux et celles" rather than just "ceux". You'll also hear things like "je vous souhaite à toutes et à tous..." Indeed, I tend to use tous/toutes myself these days.

RobertBobbert GDQ


Dear Silpa,

Once again The Addams Family are ahead of the times.

Say hello to Cousin It.

Watcher In The Dark

I tried to identify as a human being once, but they wouldn't have me.

David Gillies

In the version of Spanish to which I am exposed, there is an informal move to feminise hitherto masculine nouns. For example, a lawyer, un abogado, becomes una abogada when referring to a shyster of the distaff persuasion. A female superior at work will often be referred to as jefa and not jefe. Spanish has the tendency for feminine nouns to end in 'a' and masculine nouns in 'o'. There are many exceptions: el planeta, el día, la mano, for example, and of course many words don't end in 'a' or 'o' (el árbol, la razón) and you just have to learn them.

David

Heavens. Somewhat belatedly, Ms Kovvali has responded.

No, not to any substantive point raised here or in any of the comments directly beneath her article. But apparently Ms Kovvali has found the time to tell Twitter that I’m a “bro” making a “cunty manoeuvre.” Specifically, for saying that she studied at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, as listed in her LinkedIn profile.

Clearly, I’m a monster.

Joan

apparently Ms Kovvali has found the time to tell Twitter that I’m a “bro” making a “cunty manoeuvre.”

It's a devastating riposte, David. :-)
But I think I'm offended by her gendered language.

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