Dem Arafis (demarafis) wrote in linguaphiles,

Gendered plural pronouns and gendered methods of addressing a group with mixed genders

Hey linguaphiles, I have 2 questions about gendered plural pronouns.

1) Is there a language with gendered plural pronouns that uses the feminine plural pronoun when referring to groups with both male and female members? For example, in French, the pronoun used to refer to a group of girls in third person is "elles" and the pronoun used to refer to a group of boys in third person is "ils". However, if there is even one boy with a group of girls, the pronoun "ils" is used to refer to this type of mixed group.

Is there a language that uses the French equivalent of "elles" instead of "ils" in this kind mixed group? If there are languages that uses the feminine plural instead of the masculine plural for a mixed-gender group in first person and/or second person, please list them as well!

2) Is there a language with gendered plural pronouns that uses a separate pronoun - neither the feminine nor the masculine plural - to refer to mixed-gender groups?

I'm more interested in natural languages that has these features, though if there are any conlangs that do as well, please note that the language is a constructed language in the comment. Thanks!

3) Is there any situation in English (or similar languages with masculine default addresses) where a clearly feminine address is acceptable to refer to a mixed-gender group of people?

For example, in English, "guys" is an acceptable neutral way to refer to a group with guys and girls in it. However, if "girls" is used to refer to a group of girls and boys, then it can taken as sarcasm or as an insult to the boys (emasculating the boys). It is not neutral. Sorry, I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself well here. I guess my question is, is there a scenario where using "ladies" or "girls" or similar terms to address a mixed-gender group does not have connotations of emasculating the male members?

The questions came up when I read a post about the use of male pronouns as the default pronoun for programmers/in programming and its effects. I thought the author's quote "language doesn’t just describe reality, but also constructs it" is particularly interesting, hence my wondering about languages with feminine-default pronouns.
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 18 comments

cafecomics

March 1 2014, 08:42:36 UTC 7 months ago

German "sie" for question 1?

It's the 3rd person singlar feminine pronoun. It's also the 3rd person plural pronoun (regardless of gender) and the 2nd person formal pronoun (regardless of gender or number). It uses verbs in 3rd person singular when meaning "she" and 3rd person plural for the other uses.

demarafis

March 1 2014, 16:54:57 UTC 7 months ago

Ah, yes, that certainly works for 1! Thank you.

scfrankles

March 1 2014, 17:15:46 UTC 7 months ago

Bit of a stretch perhaps, but for no. 3 I was thinking of "nurses" and "male nurses" - I would imagine as a group they would be all addressed as "nurses" ("nurses, can I have your attention?"), which is the term primarily associated with females. I certainly can't see the male members of the group being offended by that.

demarafis

March 1 2014, 17:58:06 UTC 7 months ago

I thought of nursing as well when I wrote #3 and wanted to say it doesn't count because it is not as clearly gendered as "ballerina" or "actress" is. It is the professional term for both male and female nurses, and should someone request a nurse of a certain gender, they'd ask for a male nurse or a female nurse specifically.

But that'd make the question too limiting, wouldn't it?

taversham

March 1 2014, 20:08:18 UTC 7 months ago

On a similar theme, "midwives" which is more explicitly female.

lilacsigil

March 1 2014, 23:37:57 UTC 7 months ago

And male midwives are still called midwives, though some jokingly call themselves "midhusbands".

demarafis

March 2 2014, 01:24:31 UTC 7 months ago

Heh. I kind of want to crack a joke about male pregnancy now.

demarafis

March 2 2014, 01:21:30 UTC 7 months ago

Aw yes, perfect. Thanks!

panjomin

March 1 2014, 23:11:56 UTC 7 months ago

Re the first comment above: sie/Sie doesn't seem to fit. The OP wants a gendered 2nd-person pronoun, but sie/Sie isn't gendered when it's 2nd person.

Re the original question, Classical Arabic (and MSA, theoretically) has gendered plural pronouns for all persons except the 1st. The masculine is used for mixed groups. Re (3), an Arab feminist I know once addressed a mixed group using the feminine plural 2nd person pronoun. The point was not to emasculate the males but to draw attention to the exclusionary nature of the gendered pronouns. She wasn't attacking the men but rather acting as if they weren't a part of the conversation. I can't imagine she's the only one to have done this, but I don't think it's common, either (not least because most speakers can't reliably produce all the feminine forms when speaking unprepared).

demarafis

March 2 2014, 01:20:17 UTC 7 months ago

Sie isn't gendered in third person plural either but it's better than nothing. And I just remembered die in German (definite article for feminine nouns and plurals in nominative and accusative cases). Both came about their current usage because of language simplification/merger of formally distinct plurals if I remembered right?

Re 3, that's very interesting. Though her use of feminine plural wasn't emasculating in nature, it isn't universally inclusive in the same way that using masculine plural is. Thank you for sharing!

paulistano

March 2 2014, 05:16:05 UTC 7 months ago

This kind of applies. In Portuguese, instead of using the standard "nós" verb form for we, in day-to-day speech, people use "A gente." It's a feminine noun that, literally translated, it means "the people," whether the group included in "we" includes females, males or a mix of both.

demarafis

March 2 2014, 05:45:24 UTC 7 months ago

Huh, I never knew that about Portuguese. Is this usage is present in European Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese (or both)? Also, I take it there is no "masculine form" of "a gente" like with actor/actress and seamster/seamstress?

paulistano

March 2 2014, 05:54:55 UTC 7 months ago

I can't speak for European Portuguese, but I have a feeling that they don't use it as much as Brazilians do, if at all.

And you're right, there is no masculine form. It's a very interesting case. I forgot to mention in my previous comment that "a gente" takes the 3rd person conjugation of any verb used with it:

Nós falamos (we speak)
A gente fala (*we speaks)

Even more interesting, it switches back to the 1st person plural possessive pronoun once it comes into a sentence. Thus:

"Nós falamos com nossos amigos ontem" (We spoke with our friends yesterday)
"A gente falou com nossos amigos ontem"

So to Brazilian mind, they're really synonymous to point that you'll even see undereducated people say "Nós fala" (*We speaks), which is completely gramatically unacceptable.

You can also see people use it "A gente vamos" (*we go).

demarafis

March 3 2014, 03:50:37 UTC 7 months ago

Wow, the different ways "a gente" is conjugated based on sentence structure is something I've never seen before. I know there are some plural conjugation exceptions in English, and different articles used depending on if a noun is a loan word or a native word in German. This is the first time I've come across the same word with the same meaning conjugated differently with regards to the verb.

In the case of "a gente vamos," vamos looks like it's first person plural?

paulistano

March 5 2014, 20:21:55 UTC 7 months ago

Well, I wrote my prior comment under the influence of a sleeping pill, so it may not have been as clear as I'd wanted :)

It's technically incorrect to say "A gente vamos" (which, you're right is the first-person plural). Prescriptively speaking, "a gente" should always be followed by the third-person singular form of the verb. But in lower-prestige dialects, you will often hear it used with the first-person plural. Or, people will extrapolate it to the normal first-person plural pronoun, "nós," but use the third-person singular form the verb. So:

"A gente vamos" or "Nós vai".

HOWEVER, what IS gramatically acceptable in general spoken Brazilian Portuguese is using the first-person plural possesive pronouns ("nosso/s" and "nossa/s") paired with "a gente." Thus:

"A gente vai comer com nossos amigos hoje à noite" (We're going to eat with our friends tonight)

Make sense?

demarafis

March 6 2014, 01:52:30 UTC 7 months ago

Yes it does make sense that the verb gets mixed-and-matched between the first person plural and third person singular after your explanation. Thank you! Do you know how this usage of "a gente" came to be?

tortipede

March 2 2014, 22:50:05 UTC 7 months ago

Gothic does #2. OK, did, since it's a dead language. Joseph Wright says in his grammar that "when a pronoun stands for two substantives of different genders it is put in the neuter plural, as miþþanei þō wēsun jáinar, while they (Joseph and Mary) were there."

In other words: Gothic has three genders - masculine, feminine, and neuter. The nominative plural forms of the pronoun 'that' are þái (m., group of males only); þōs (f., group of females only); and þō (neuter plural, for neuter things or mixed groups).

demarafis

March 3 2014, 03:55:48 UTC 7 months ago

Thank you for the input! I know very little about extinct languages (hence my posting to this comm) and your comment made my day. :)