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Author Topic: American Princeton University issues gender inclusive language recommendations  (Read 6039 times)

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Offline isidoro

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For example, not only one shouldn't use a masculine word when referring to an unknown person or mixed group, but also artificial constructs like s/he should be avoided:

https://www.princeton.edu/hr/progserv/communications/inclusivelanguage.pdf

Those winds, sooner or later, come to other languages as it has been the case hitherto, even in languages in which the dichotomy between social gender/linguistical gender is clear.

For instance, in Spanish, persona is a feminine word from the language point of view, but otherwise refers to whatever person, just like in English.

I wonder if all those modern scholastic disquisitions would ever come to appear just if the most powerful and influential country in the world spoke another language.

Offline DrSuperGood

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Sounds like an excuse to justify employing 1-3 more people to do nothing but check grammar on text.

Why language is sexist probably runs back thousands of years. The truth is that as long as society is not sexist or discriminatory it makes no difference.

Offline Isaac.Eiland-Hall us

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as long as society is not sexist or discriminatory

Ah, well, let me know when that glorious day arrives, will you?

Offline An_dz

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Ah, well, let me know when that glorious day arrives, will you?
I agree with DrSuperGood, it's not grammar that makes society sexist or discriminatory, it's the way people say and express, which is highly apart from proper grammar.

Grammar is not sexist, we just need to remember that gender was an invention created later. There was no difference between male and female, there was no difference between one and various.

That's why we have multiple words for the first tamed animals depending on their gender and/or age, but for others there is none.

When a differentiator was created it was created for female for some, male for others. Each language can follow different patterns. Apple in German is masculine, but feminine on Latin languages.

Whatever Princeton says won't change a thing, the population will continue to speak as they wish.

Anyone using an artificial construct like s/he should be punched in the face as it looks horrible and stupid.

Anyway, I agree with changing to more gender neutral sentences, but not because they are inclusive or other stupidity, but merely because they sound and look better.

Offline DrSuperGood

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To be honest I thought most English sentences were already gender neutral, with gender terms mostly being used to add extra detail about who is involved. Looking at the list of examples posted they are changing the meaning of some sentences by removing details of the gender of the people involved. One could argue if it is "appropriate" to disclose the gender of whoever is involved as often as we do but that is a different argument entirely and more likely related to culture. Some of the sentence changes the document suggests are stupid and destructive to the language as a whole.

The only wrong sentences are 1 and 2 which make the false assumption of gender by generalizing that everyone involved should be male. Sentences 3, 4 and 6 are using it to correctly describe an individual, however one can argue if it is appropriate to disclose a persons gender in such statements as it adds little to the subject. The corrections for sentence 5 are a total joke and political correctness gone wrong.

The recommended changes to sentence 5 are as bad as how one is not meant to say the word "slope" to avoid being racist. Although spelt the same as a gender orientated word, its meaning has nothing to do with gender. Both men and women can man a post because it is a verb. Additionally the nouns "man" and "men" both possess gender neutral meanings of historic and traditional origin.

Offline Ters

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I wonder if this sort of thing is less an issue in languages with grammatical genders, as they are used to the fact that the gender of words don't match the sex of the animal being spoken of. Sweden, which has lost the separation between masculine and feminine genders, seems more into gender neutral personal pronouns than Norway, which still has them (except for some dialects and upper-class sociolects). On the other hand, it seems that the fight for gender neutral wording is not so much fought between the sexes, as it is championed by those claiming to belong to neither sex, both sexes and various third options. I'm not sure why they think passports should specify which gender you feel like (including a third, neutral option), as it is rather impossible to prove.

Somewhat ironic that English should find man troublesome, as they are the only language I know of that uses that word for the other sex as well, although with a small prefix.

This also reminds me of a feminist who had once been mostly victorious (although not by herself) in getting rid of feminine suffixes to titles in the Norwegian language, such as English has with waiter/waitress and steward/stewardess, but which Norwegian used, and I think still use, much more frequently. The victory turned out to be phyrric, as instead of the equivalent of saying steward and stewardess, people just switched to saying steward and female steward. She found she preferred to old way, as the new way draw more attention to the fact that the person was female.

Of course, there is the odd idea of trying to end discrimination by removing the words used for it. While minds can be shaped by words, as any good orator will know, I don't think this is quite how it works. People seem to have no problems with finding words to describe other people with in a derogatory way. Words that by themselves often are quite benign.

Offline wlindley us

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It is maddening, though, when a waitress asks me and my mother, "Where do you guys want to sit?" — My mother is not a guy. "Guy" is a pretty condescending word anyway, what happened to "ladies and gentlemen?" Sigh.

Offline Ters

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It is maddening, though, when a waitress asks me and my mother, "Where do you guys want to sit?" — My mother is not a guy. "Guy" is a pretty condescending word anyway, what happened to "ladies and gentlemen?" Sigh.

I think guys stopped being just the plural of guy long ago. And languages evolve. Many words have little in common with their original meaning. A podcast for instance, has nothing to do with throwing clothes.

The world is also becoming less formal. You would be hard pressed to find someone around here using formal pronouns, unless talking to the King, but even then they tend to not use pronouns at all, or styling someone as Mister Surname. Whether someone is spoken of using given name or surname seems to be more a question of which name sounds best than anything else, including prime ministers since about 1990.

Offline Vladki cz

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I was quite surprised by being addressed as guys, when I visited UK with my wife... I felt it would be ok in students club but not in restaurant of any class.

Anyway this antigender thinking is getting mad. In slavic languages it is almost impossible to be neutral without speaking really weird.

Offline prissi

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I still cringe when called "Darling" from the 60+ cashier at the University restaurant ... that is probably the reverse of "guys", at least to me.

Germn language is much worse, and that discussion happened for ages. Some very radical people made female only words to do positive discrimination (sic!) and mangled the language so that it is barely recognisable. Because gernder is so much more part of german (and ffrensch and other roiman as well as also slavic languages) than in english.

Also, I remembered that in English the size of an object is connected with gender. So large things whales, ships, trains ... are all "she", i.e. formally female. Not sure what I make out of it in this context though.

Offline isidoro

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[...]
Sentences 3, 4 and 6 are using it to correctly describe an individual, however one can argue if it is appropriate to disclose a persons gender in such statements as it adds little to the subject.
[...]

I think that sentence number 4 doesn't disclose the gender of the subject:
The employee submits the training class registration by July 1. Her manager confirms.

The employee's gender is still unknown, since it is a general statement.
It was a reaction to the use of masculine his to refer to an unknown person's sex in general sentences.  In order to protest against that traditional use of the masculine, the feminine form was compulsory and common in some academic circles in such sentences.

To me, all this sounds a lot like the example of the very sick man with extra high temperature that is tried to be cured by only lowering his (pun intended!) temperature, without looking for a cure for the real illness.

Nobody would deny that our society has deep sexist roots and is still sexist.  The natural consequence of that is that our language is sexist.  But no sane man can think that changing the language will change society like no sane doctor can think that he will cure appendicitis with aspirins for the temperature.

I would say more.  Since language is a reflection of society, if we artificially force it, we can loose a very good indicator to see if society changes or not.  But language has to be free...

Offline Vladki cz

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These discussions make one think more about his own language. In czech, most professions have their male and female form. Some are primarily male (soldier) or female (nurse) and sound weird if you try to make the equivalent for the the other gender. But I found a few that sound the same for both genders. And guess what? They relate to railways: strojvedoucí, průvodčí, výpravčí (train driver, conductor, dispatcher). But they are the same only in the basic form. When you inflect them the gender pops-up and makes the inflections different.

Offline el_slapper

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French is especially perverse in that domain. Job names have male and female forms when they have low prestige : le caissier, la caissière, for the cashier - but only a male form when they hold a lot of prestige : Monsieur le ministre, Madame le ministre.

Offline DrSuperGood

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The employee's gender is still unknown, since it is a general statement.
It is implied by the second sentence.
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Her manager confirms.
Whether or not it should be due to relevance is another matter.

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It was a reaction to the use of masculine his to refer to an unknown person's sex in general sentences.  In order to protest against that traditional use of the masculine, the feminine form was compulsory and common in some academic circles in such sentences.
Never encountered this before and I am a native English speaker in an English country. If that is the case it would fall into the same classification as sentences 1 and 2, where it is incorrectly implying a gender to a potentially mixed gender group.

Offline Ters

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These discussions make one think more about his own language. In czech, most professions have their male and female form. Some are primarily male (soldier) or female (nurse) and sound weird if you try to make the equivalent for the the other gender. But I found a few that sound the same for both genders. And guess what? They relate to railways: strojvedoucí, průvodčí, výpravčí (train driver, conductor, dispatcher). But they are the same only in the basic form. When you inflect them the gender pops-up and makes the inflections different.

Norwegian complicates that by the fact that the word for a female nurse is grammatically masculine, but gets away with it because nobody associates grammatical gender with biological gender, since gender is fixed for a given word. Except maybe for a few conservative dialects that use the equivalent of he and she rather than grammatical gender versions of it, but I don't have any knowledge of how they treat this case. One of the words for girl is also masculine, which I guess is a result of it coming from Danish, which no longer has feminine genders in its grammar. Since Norwegian has been heavily influenced by Danish, it is acceptable to decline all feminine words as masculine. My vocabulary is ruined by different impulses, so I might decline a noun in according to different genders based on number (number is the only declension Norwegian does on nouns based on the actual circumstances, case has been lost just like in English, and gender is fixed just like in German). But in general, I think nouns explicitly for females are grammatically feminine in Norwegian, except when they are formed by adding a prefix to a masculine noun, such as the equivalent for she-wolf. The equivalent of wolf bitch is however feminine, since bitch is. (That is, by the way, a word with both an innocent meaning and a rude one. I wonder which meaning is most well known today.)

Offline Isaac.Eiland-Hall us

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There is still incredible bias in many places. I can only speak to the English internet community, but it is generally assumed on most websites that people are male unless they explicitly identify as female. This is an inherent cultural/societal gender bias.

Why is there such resistance to attempts to help overcome this bias?

Why do you think minorities are shown in advertising? To help normalize them. Go back and look at things from the 50s, when everyone was white. Can you truly say that was better? We must work to overcome bias and prejudice so that all people, who truly are equal - who *should* be equal - are treated equally.

It's not always easy, but it should be done.

I'm glad nobody has used the phrase "political correctness", because I have a particular rant against that. :)

Offline Ves

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Sweden (which generally follows the same linguistic rules as Danish and Norwegian) has quite resently made up a completely new word, which is a neutral version of "he" and "she":
Han = he
Hon = she
Hen = the new word, which is gender neutral.

The word is quite smart since it follows the same structure as the original words (starting and ending with the same letter) and therefore easily recognizable in context by everybody and it triggers (at least in my brain) not one gender over the other.
As expected, there has been lots of heated discussions about this with people stating they will never use it, and other, that will always use it.
People saying they will never use it use arguments like they don't like gender neutrality, but also that "hen" is a constructed word and not "Swedish". The arguments on the other side is obviously gender neutrality.
I myself have a positive opinion of the word and have sometimes wanted such a word in Danish (I speak Danish as well) and English as I, strangely enough, tend to communicate more in those languages than Swedish at the moment.
That being said, I am still not used to (in Swedish) read the word "hen", as it is mostly Swedish news articles (and articles about Swedish railway signals currently :p ) I read, and it is not that many journalists that use "hen" yet.

Offline Ters

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Hen is pretty much the same as s/he, except that it is a proper word. I've seen some sporadic use of h*n in Norwegian. Otherwise, most people seem to ridicule Sweden for hen, or just ignore it. Princeton would certainly not like the "Norwegian solution" better than s/he. Whether they would like the Swedish better for its lack of non-letter characters is uncertain. One grammatical problem I see with hen is declination, especially since the vowel changes to e for the existing feminine pronoun. Maybe the Swedes find that their solution works, but it doesn't work the same in Norwegian. You either get very strange words, or conflict with existing words.

Pronouns are also very conservative. While English, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish have all lost the original Germanic case system in general, except possesive, a remnant still persists for the personal pronouns (except it, for some reason, in all four languages). The Norwegian equivalent of him (ham) is however dying out, as it has become too similar to the equivalent to he (han). There seems to be no immediate danger of the same happening to any other personal pronouns.

Offline Ves

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Hen is pretty much the same as s/he, except that it is a proper word. I've seen some sporadic use of h*n in Norwegian. Otherwise, most people seem to ridicule Sweden for hen, or just ignore it. Princeton would certainly not like the "Norwegian solution" better than s/he. Whether they would like the Swedish better for its lack of non-letter characters is uncertain. One grammatical problem I see with hen is declination, especially since the vowel changes to e for the existing feminine pronoun. Maybe the Swedes find that their solution works, but it doesn't work the same in Norwegian. You either get very strange words, or conflict with existing words.

I know people from outside Sweden (he, I live in Denmark and have been living in Norway, I have heard the most :) ) ridicule the swedes because of that word, but I still think it is a good idea! It's also true that the word currently ONLY works as a direct translation of she/he and cannot be used in "him/his" form, as that would collide with the existing words for the genders. But still, "hen" is a massive step on the way, and I see actually no excuse for norwegian and danish not to addapt the word.

I think that language has VERY much to do with how culture evolves. Obviously, culture shapes the language, but the language help preserving the culture.

Offline Vladki cz

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I think that the only language that can be truly neutral is finnish. They have no grammatical genders. And only one pronoun for he, she and it: hän. Problem solved hudreds years ago...

Offline Junna

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"They" as a neutral for a person in singular is perfectly good grammar. Opposition to its usage in this manner is based on ahistorical hang-ups from the 1800's. Singular 'they' was perfectly acceptable before that. I like the use of this in Swedish ('den') also.

Offline isidoro

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I think that the only language that can be truly neutral is finnish. They have no grammatical genders. And only one pronoun for he, she and it: hän. Problem solved hudreds years ago...

Neutral perhaps, but poorer in the sense that you can't be specific about the gender of a person.  I guess that if you say hän, you can't know the gender of the person you are referring to, but if you say he or she, you can.

I wonder if the perfect language would be one with the full set of pronouns: singular masculine, singular feminine, singular unknown or not disclosed, plural all males, plural all females, plural mixed, plural unknown or not disclosed...

Never encountered this before and I am a native English speaker in an English country. If that is the case it would fall into the same classification as sentences 1 and 2, where it is incorrectly implying a gender to a potentially mixed gender group.

One quick example in the literature:
Quote
The Linux enthusiast should find in this book enough food for her mind to start playing with the code base and should be able to join the group of developers that is...
Linux Device Drivers, Johnathan Corbet et al., O'Reilly, Third edition, 2005, Preface, p. xiv

And this one from the dark side of the Force, so that Bill Gates doesn't get angry:
Quote
All Windows client editions support multiple sessions created locally through a feature called fast user switching that can be used one at a time. When a user chooses to disconnect her session instead of log off...
Windows Internals part 1, Mark Russinovich et at., Microsoft Press, Sixth edition, Chapter 1, p.21

As you can see, the sentences are generic, but the author uses the feminine form her. Perhaps it's only common in scientific or engineering literature or even an oddity of Computer Science technical books, but I've bumped into it quite frequently...  I guess that it was a reaction against the generic masculine, but I can't say for sure since I'm not an expert in English grammar, not to mention a native speaker/writer.

Offline Ters

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I think that the only language that can be truly neutral is finnish. They have no grammatical genders. And only one pronoun for he, she and it: hän. Problem solved hudreds years ago...

I guess that's where the Swedes got their new word. Funny how one of the two things their western neighbors decline by, seems to be the only thing the Finnish do not decline by. As far as I know, they take a lot of other thing into consideration when declining.

I like the use of this in Swedish ('den') also.

It doesn't work as a full replacement, though. At least not in Norwegian, and if it did in Swedish, they wouldn't have bothered with hen. It does not appear to work in any of Princeton's examples. We do however also have the word sin, which makes point 1 and 2 not an issue in Scandinavia. For point 4, I would have just used "The manager confirms [...]". It is pretty obvious which manager it is supposed to be. I have however been told to avoid starting two consecutive sentences with the same word. Norwegian, and I think also Danish, has the cumbersome noun vedkommende, which can be used instead of a 3rd person pronouns (both singular and plural), but it is also used where English would have used a noun as well.

Offline An_dz

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I think the main problem is with English because they don't have gender for the nouns, everything is "the".

Our languages have different genders for each noun and we decline things following the noun, not the real gender of the person, it's natural. On sentence where a noun has a feminine variation we prefer the masculine because that was generally the first word developed, the feminine came later.

And just a point of notice, both German and Italian use the feminine when addressing a person on formal speech. "Sie" for German, which is also "They" and "Lei" for Italian.

Offline Ters

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And just a point of notice, both German and Italian use the feminine when addressing a person on formal speech. "Sie" for German, which is also "They" and "Lei" for Italian.

No. At least German, like all other Germanic languages, uses the plural, not the feminine. This is apparent when conjugating the verb. For whatever reason, the 2nd 3rd person plural just look and sound like the feminine 3rd person singular in German, except that the former is always capitalized when used formally. English always uses the plural, since it has lost the informal 2nd person pronoun (thou). Scandinavian languages have all but dropped the formal 2nd person singular pronoun, which is the same as the 2nd person plural, except always capitalized like in German.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2016, 03:38:35 PM by Ters »

Offline Vladki cz

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Ehm, my german is quite rusty, but the formal Sie is grammatically 3rd person plural. (even if you address 2nd person singular)

Offline Combuijs

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I think that the only language that can be truly neutral is finnish. They have no grammatical genders. And only one pronoun for he, she and it: hän. Problem solved hudreds years ago...

Also Hungarian has not grammatical genders...

Offline Ters

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Ehm, my german is quite rusty, but the formal Sie is grammatically 3rd person plural. (even if you address 2nd person singular)

Oops, I made a slight mistake there and wrote 2nd when it should have been 3rd. And it is also only capitalized when used formally, which I also left out. I have now corrected these.