Forwarded: degendering language

Lief M. Hendrickson (hendrick@NOSC.MIL)
Sat, 31 Dec 1994 10:17:32 PST

> = your Dec 31 posting

>Chuck Coker makes a big mistake when he talks about degendering
>language and being gender neutral in languages where gender is not
>a part of the language. We do not have gender in English.
Aren't you contradicting yourself? The third person singular
pronoun "he", which you used above, is male gender. That tells
us you're talking about a man. It might influence the opinion of
some readers in what you say about the person. You're right
about verbs- not about all nouns.

>is little or no difficulty in making our language gender neutral. Like
>Tahitian, where particular words were banned at the death of a great
>chief if they reminded you of the chief's name, we can make English
>gender neutral as our society becomes gender neutral. There's
>little to it, and there's much to be gained by it. What's the
>hassle here?
There does seem to be a bit of "difficulty" on many quarters.
Some people find it artificial and offensive if carried to an
extreme which it has been here recently. As far as what it to be
gained from it, that may not be so clear. In the case of gender-
specific nouns describing a profession, do you believe the change
to a gender-neutral word was the dominant driving force that
opened certain jobs to females? History will show other factors.
There is certainly no gender associated with the words "doctor",
"lawyer", and "accountant" and these professions have undergone
changes in gender composition. "Secretary" is also not gender

The example of "mail carrier" was cited earlier. Women were
hired for the job and, at first, still referred to as a
"mailman". That was inaccurate as to gender so some people used
terms like "mail carrier". In this instance, the language
changed to more accurately describe reality- at first with humor,
and then as a matter of course.

The "hassle" is the oppression that some people use to advocate
their point- like cutting off communication. We'd be better off
discussing the extent to which language drives change vs. the
extent to which changes in language are a reflection of change in
conditions. I tend to lean more for the latter. I recognize the
other trend and would consider more evidence on it. Maybe
there're some factors we could all learn. I would not block out
all information from someone because of the alleged gender of one
word- which was what touched this whole thing off.