Re: Gender in language

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 23 Mar 1998 23:47:50 -0800 (PST)

Since none of the more qualified linguists here have pointed
this out, I'd like to remind everyone that "das Maedchen"
(the German word for "girl", which is neuter) is not as odd
as it seems: gender belongs to the /word/, not its referent.
If the young girl were married, she would be both "die Frau"
[fem] and "das Maedchen" [neu] without contradiction, just
as in Spanish one might call the same pen "la pluma" [fem]
and "el boligrafo" [mas] without implying that the pen had
undergone a sex change. Certain words have gender based on
their form alone: German words ending in "keit" and Spanish
words ending in "cion" are all feminine (e.g. the Spanish
"la ereccion" [fem] -- the erection).

Of course, such languages do tend to use masculine and
feminine nouns for male- and female-related concepts
respectively, so there probably is some long-forgotten
cultural reason for das Maedchen.

Unfortunately, pronouns are a problem with every major
modern language. Traditional Chinese was one of the few
major languages in which one could write a long story
without ever revealing the gender of any character, but
the language was, alas, "modernized" in the 60s by giving
it the same gender bias as western languages.

ObLojbanPlug: Lojban, of course, has no gender-specific
pronouns at all; in fact, it has no human-specific ones
either. One would say "ta barda" whether the large thing
you were pointing to was a man, woman, dog, or truck.

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
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