What pronoun do you use to identify yourself? He? She? They? Something altogether different? It’s a question asked increasingly often as acceptance of a spectrum of gender and sexual identities grows. Some languages, like Chinese and Persian, don’t assign nouns a gender or already have a gender-neutral form for people built in. But in languages whose grammar is traditionally based on exclusively male or female options, the answer to this question can still require an explanation. In 2019 the Merriam-Webster dictionary added “they” as the pronoun to use for a “single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” Two years prior, in 2017, “they” as a gender-neutral form was added to the Associated Press Stylebook, the gold standard of sorts for journalists. The Washington Post, meanwhile, made the style guide change in 2015. Critics of the change have argued that “they” as both singular and plural can be confusing and muddy a sentence’s syntax. Shakespeare and Jane Austen, among many other famed English writers, didn’t think so. They used singular “they” and “their,” as was the standard in English until Victorian-era grammarians shifted course and imposed “he” above all.
How do you talk about being queer or non-binary or gender nonconforming in grammatically gendered languages?
Most languages in the world are currently adapting to using more gender neutral language. It is a relatively new things but as language keeps evolving and it becomes more used, it will become more commonly accepted. Most of the languages I know are gender neutral and/or have gender neutral options. I find that the older and more complex the language is, the more genderless or gender neutral it is.
My grandparent's mother tongue, Croatian, is a gendered language. It is difficult for me to engage them in conversation regarding gender neutrality, because it's something that they don't quite understand. I can do my best to explain it to them, but it's still quite difficult for them to comprehend.
I was interested, because of this article, in ways that Croatian is being used in gender-neutral ways. Unfortunately, there just isn't a lot out there about Croatian and gender-neutrality. However, I got to thinking... maybe I could engage with the language in the ways that are shown in this article? In German, for instance, where gender-neutral terminology is prioritized. Or in Spanish, how exchanging one letter out for "X" could neutralize a word. I think we could borrow aspects of other gendered languages who have made advancements in neutrality, and bring them to gendered languages that haven't yet made those jumps.
I think as long as people are willing to learn, or at least try out various ways of speaking, the same neutralization strategies could "translate" pretty easily across multiple gendered languages. Interesting read!
Being allowed to have the freedom to say whatever you please is a privilege, but some people will easily take advantage of it. We are getting to a point in society where we are trying to expand our vocabulary to fit everyones needs. It is important that we are being respectful towards an individual and making them feel comfortable when addressing and talking about them. Pronouns can really be a scary thing especially to someone who isn't sure how they feel towards them. So it is important that we are making the adjustment of calling someone by the pronouns of they/them/their. I can see where this might be a struggle in some languages where they actually base their conversations on the pronouns being talked about. This is still a fairly new concept and will for sure be able to make its way into the works.
In other country's the use of gender neural language is has just stated out for example in Germany, Germans have tried to mandate gender neutral nouns in emails, files and forms. For example when Germans have to vote there were male and female nouns for voters.; Male(wahler) female (wahlerin). For the voter gender neutral noun it's (Wahlende). In French a group of people by default will have a male pronoun, unless the group is entirely female. As of right now the French are trying to use asterisk to combine neutral plural worlds to negate the male norm gender spectrum.
Language is constantly evolving and as such many countries and societies around the world have started to implement policies that use gender neutral pronouns with the hope of reducing bias against these minorities. The article talks about the Arabic, Hebrew, and Swedish languages.
The Swedish language was grammatically gendered language. However, Sweden has officially adopted a new gender neutral pronoun which became known as the "hen revolution". Some workers in preschool and kindergartens claim that children grow not feeling gender biased.
The Arabic language has many dialects and is grammatically gendered language where the male is the default in plurals. However, in Tunisia some dialects use female pronouns for everyone. In Lebanon there are specific words for gay people that replaced the previous term which were translated as pervert of deviant. However, majority of Arabic speakers are against such efforts. This has led activists to focus more on growing tolerance and public awareness rather than simply replicating words from English.
The Hebrew language is grammatically gendered language where the male is the default in plurals. Activists have managed to adopt several ways to eliminate the binary and express a verb or noun in gender-neutral ways. They have used old Hebrew religious texts that recognized several genders to pass laws or raise awareness towards gender inclusive pronouns.
Language can be a challenging topic to discuss because there are many ways to interpret a single word. Discussing identity can be complicated when expressing it verbally and thus creating new forms or words for non-conforming gender identity would need additional clarification. An easy way would be to create a new pronoun to properly categorize someone's gender and to avoid confusion. This can be confusing, especially for people that are accustomed to using pronouns in a traditional way. This would require society and people to be more flexible in the way they approach verbal communication when identifying people’s gender. There will need to be re-education for the proper use of pronouns if this will be successful in society.