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Jul. 5th, 2003 | 06:25 pm

I just started reading Why so slow? by Virginia Valian. The books thesis is that our "gender schema's" favor men and disfavor women, and the curse of thousands of little insults combine to continue to limit women.

She mentioned the common problem that people will try to assign a child to one of the two gender catagories.

Since the sex of a child has little actual effect on biology until puberty why do we need to know which category to assign the child.

What would the world be like if we had 3 pronouns, one for "males", one for "females", and a third for "children"?

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Comments {10}

Bolowolf

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from: bolowolf
date: Jul. 5th, 2003 08:24 pm (UTC)
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Or more than 3. I'm reading a neat book called Third Sex, Third Gender. In it one of the essays talks about the possibility of having different genders according to different social, religious, or economic situations. The authors draw upon the hijras of India and the berdache of the Native Americans. I personally advocate for more than 2 genders.

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Jul. 5th, 2003 10:00 pm (UTC)
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I think there are more than 2 genders as well. Though since the current pronoun scheme seems to be based around reproductive status, it might be rational to have a third for children who have a different reproductive status. (And thus might reduce the differing treatment that "boys" and "girls" receive.

I've heard rumors that japanese also has many different pronouns to indicate social status.

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Firinel

the sociology of languages always intrigues me

from: firinel
date: Jul. 5th, 2003 11:03 pm (UTC)
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If it were based on reproductive status alone wouldn't women who were unable to reproduce and women who had passed reproductive age also be included in the male-gendered pronoun set?

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Diane Trout

Re: the sociology of languages always intrigues me

from: alienghic
date: Jul. 5th, 2003 11:33 pm (UTC)
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Even further privledging parents it might be that only people who actually reproduced would be given the sexed pronouns.

Though I've heard about more status based languages, so there could be a seperate pronoun for "elders".

Though I'm not sure how many pronouns start to make a language unwieldy.

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her other side

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from: saltbox
date: Jul. 7th, 2003 06:54 am (UTC)
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I've heard rumors that japanese also has many different pronouns to indicate social status.

From what I can tell, it's more with the first person and second person pronouns than with the third person pronouns. Though the first and second person pronouns are, indeed, gendered. See here:

unlike english, japanese has a wide range of first and second person pronouns depending on who is speaking, who is being spoken to or of, and the relationship between the two--and, traditionally, has had no third person pronouns at all. because of the wide variety, people often tend to use different first and second person pronouns depending on their personality and attitude, and from a translators point of view, understanding their uses and nuances is crucial.

the word 'pronoun' is actually something of a misnomer in japanese. the words that are commonly referred to as pronouns actually function more like regular nouns in japanese--they can be freely modified by adjectives and relative clauses as in (1), and like other japanese nouns, cannot be grammatically repeated twice in the same sentence as in (2).

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Firinel

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from: firinel
date: Jul. 5th, 2003 11:11 pm (UTC)
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Since the sex of a child has little actual effect on biology until puberty why do we need to know which category to assign the child.

I said to Marn that it might be (at least in prodominately English-speaking societies) due to the english language currently being limited to two gendered pronoun sets. It seems important to people to know for communication reasons; communication in forms of speech and written speech are prefered for the most part, and people often demonstrate much higher states of distress when these two are impeded, so it makes sense for them to grapple with trying to articulate themselves in a way the majority of their society will grok.

That said, I don't think it's the only reason, by any stretch of my imagination. However I do think we'd make a lot of progress to this being solved if a gender neutral pronoun set were to be more widely adopted.

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Jul. 6th, 2003 09:22 pm (UTC)
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There was one point in my life where I was rather androgynous, and ended up in a situation where I was listening to someone refer to me as"This person who said that they..." I was quiet impressed at the effort the other put into to avoid offending me by guessing the wrong gender.

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her other side

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from: saltbox
date: Jul. 6th, 2003 11:13 am (UTC)
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Language, alas, doesn't fix everything. Chinese pronouns are not gendered, yet Chinese culture still has many assumptions regarding gender.

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Jul. 6th, 2003 09:20 pm (UTC)
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Hmm... there's several studies that it might be useful to try and replicate on the chinese then.

Do children have other obvious clues about sex? Do they tend to dress boys and girls differently? I ask because there's several studies which show that people respond to children differently depending on what sex they think the child is.

Boy's are treated rougher than girls for instance.

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her other side

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from: saltbox
date: Jul. 7th, 2003 06:41 am (UTC)
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Hmm... there's several studies that it might be useful to try and replicate on the chinese then.

Seems like something that would've been done, though it's not something I've been paying attention to.

I would actually expect that girls are treated rougher than boys in China, though, given that (a) male children are more prized in the culture, and (b) the infanticide rate of girls is higher than of boys. I would guess that the boys-treated-rougher-than-girls thing is more an artifact of Western culture, rather than anything universal.

Anyway, my point is that despite the absence of gender in language, boys and girls (and adult males and females) are still treated fairly differently in China. Which is why I'm skeptical about attempts that focus on addressing sexism through changes in language, rather than on effecting deeper changes in cultural attitudes.

Oddly enough (and only from what I've heard), there's recently been a drive to introduce male and female pronouns---the odd part is that this is concurrent with the drive to treat males and females in a more egalitarian manner.

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