Gender English month continues with a guest post by Aneta Naumoska, a Lector of Contemporary English Language at the “Blaze Koneski” Faculty of Philology in Skopje, Macedonia. Aneta’s first book, Gender Marking in the English Language, was published in December 2010. Her particular interests lie in the field of Sociolinguistics. She is also an avid Twitterer (@ELTane).
The strict feminist ideals of revolutionizing the so-called masculine English language have been looked upon by some in a favorable way, while others simply disagree by complaining that such an immense language change will only bring about “sloppy” euphemisms. As Michiko Kakutani has noted (1):
Certainly no decent person can quarrel with the underlying impulse behind political correctness: a vision of a more just, inclusive society in which racism, sexism and prejudice of all sorts have been erased. But the methods and fervor of the self-appointed language police can lead to a rigid orthodoxy – and unintentional self-parody – opening the movement to the scorn of conservative opponents and the mockery of cartoonists and late-night television hosts.
Nonetheless, there have been a multitude of attempts (around 80) by grammarians over the past 200 years to coin new words that will free women from their position of being lexically obscure, yet maintain grammatical competence. Many have advocated gender-free – or epicene – pronouns (such as ne, ter, thon, heer, hiser, en, et, ip), which have one form to indicate either sex, but without any success, which is the reason why they were quickly labeled “the words that failed.” On this topic, Dennis Baron states that “epicene pronouns are not transparent, unambiguous, or easy to use; they are phonetically and visually awkward; and they are the creations of a feminist conspiracy” (2).
Prescriptivists find the gender-specific pronoun he to violate the rules of pronoun agreement (hence the emergence of epicene pronouns), and they have the same objection to the singular they used as a replacement for the generic masculine or the third person singular it. Employing a plural pronoun to refer to both singular definite and indefinite nouns (everyone, somebody, anybody) is a clear example of semantic agreement, but not grammatical agreement. Jespersen and Quirk are both tolerant on this issue, but accept the existence of singular they only for informal constructions.
In the second half of the 20th century, The Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English listed over 40 outrageous examples of unlikely replacements for several everyday terms: e.g.:
amen-aperson, freshman-freshperson, history-herstory, human-huperson, manhole-personhole, manipulating-personipulating, manslaughter-personslaughter, manners-personners, mantle-persontle, nomenclature-nopersonclature, sportsmanship-sportsoneship, etc.
Miller and Swift have given quite an attention-grabbing solution (3):
Searching the roots of Western civilization for a word to call this new species of man and woman, someone might come up with gen, as in genesis and generic. Like the words deer and bison, gen would be both plural and singular. Like progenitor, progeny and generation, it would convey continuity. Gen would express the warmth and generalized sexuality of generous, gentle and genuine; the specific sexuality of genital and genetic. In the new family of gen, girls and boys would grow to genhood, and to speak of genkind would be to include all the people of the earth.
What do you think? Are these solutions for a gender-free English language appealing? Or are they simply over the top and unrealistic?
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