Monday, February 2, 2009

Absolute Blog Chain

Veinglory, a pal of mine at AW, appears to have joined a blog chain. I can't resist.

It started with South Asia Blog,which was talking about economics. Then
Benjamin Solah replied with the idea that nationism is actually racism. (I'm inclined to agree.) Life in Scribbletown's author led this into his thoughts about racism, and Writes in the City spoke about racism in turns of phrase. Kappa no He connected this to a downright bizzare turn of phrase in Japan, (about urinating on venomous worms. I love Japan.) and A Thoughtful Life, after faltering for a topic (Seriously, pissing on worms?) wrote about how strange English sayings can be. (Again, I agree. Give the common question "Is someone sitting here?" two seconds of thought.)

Veinglory writes, at her blog Cliterature, "I really struggle writing in American English where 'they' is not accepted as a gender neutral singular, and use of male pronouns is still accepted as covering men and women."

Some of the other tutors were talking about this the other day, so I think it's a perfect place for me to pop in.

Since I have some authority as an English tutor in Kansas, I'll say that I prefer "They" over abominations like (s)he, he or she, etc.

I am somewhat old fashioned, though, because when I see the male singular linked to something that is obviously not specifically male, I do not immediately assume that the subject is always male. However, I am well aware that my perspective is not reflective of the typical reader.

Occasionally, I'll find a publication or an article that exclusively uses the female. I've found that, after a few minutes of reading, I lose interest completely. Is it because I feel excluded, or because the topic matter isn't something I care about? Whichever the case, I have a taste of what it is like, and I try to be as sensitive as possible.

In a writing book I have (I believe it's On Writing Well, but don't quote me.), the author mentions this subject briefly, and discusses how he dealt with it in different editions of his book. He settled for rewriting all of his sentences so that they didn't require a gender specific term.

English is an odd language, in that nothing comes with a gender. Spanish and German have genders attached to everything. La Silla (The Chair) but El Puerto (The Door). There are far more opportunities for inadvertent (and deliberate) sexism in other European languages, merely because many words that describe a human have the gender built right into them.

There is a movement in the US to get rid of innate sexism, and I hope that cheers Veinglory up -- but what baffles me is that there don't appear to be any movements in Germany, France, Spain, etc., to get rid of their own gender specific words. Is it because such devices are so welded into their language that removing them is impossible?

Or is it because they see the issue as pointless?


Odile S said...

Learning the gender of French words took me years at school and is more like a training. To ungender the language you would have to get untrained to unlearn all gender and learn to use a neutral form, which needs to be invented. It's possible, but the idea of going through all language acquisition again brings about feelings of anticipatory tediousness. Why does everything have a gender? Maybe Freud has written an answer somewhere? Maybe it spices up the language acquisition process and makes it just bearable?
I can remember my European teachers making jokes about gender (in words). These jokes didn't offend my femininity, but then I'm French although my dutch half is more neutral and dominant ;).
It's just a way to get through the otherwise potentially boring text.

Bartholomew von Klick said...

Everything in Spanish is that way, too. The closest you get to a gender neutral word there are the odd ducks that break the rules. For instance, the word Novelista always takes an "a" (Feminine) ending. But it can have either El or La (The male or female definite article) in front of it, depending on whether the Novelista is male or female.

So the word itself isn't innately sexist like some others.

Emily Veinglory said...

Hi Bart ;)

In smaller nglish speaking countries the gender neutral shift has mostly been made, including avoiding the diminutives to refer to female adults in formal settings (e.g. "girl").

Langauge that have gender are a more difficult issues but I know that in Germn there has long been a movement to end gendering of job titles (Lehrer vs. Lehrerin) which is similar to the phasing out of "female police constable" and "actress" in English speaking countries.

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ralfast said...

Hate to nitpick, but it is not El Puerto (The Port) but La Puerta (The Door).

Unless you part cruise ships on your front door, then it doesn't really matter either way!


von Klick said...

Eek! That's a bit of a difference; my Spanish is somewhat rusty.

Thanks for commenting.