Julie (jesuslovesbono) wrote in linguaphiles,

Celtic languages question

Are there any gender-neutral third-person singular pronouns in any Celtic language?

Tags: celtic languages
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There is some evidence that Old Irish infixed pronouns still distinguished between masculine and neuter in the 3rd sing.

Just. Barely. And the neuter case was assimilated into masculine or feminine by Middle Irish (900-1200). The neut 3s pronouns merged with masculine.
Sort of. Irish ea comes from Old Irish ed 'it' (cognate to Latin id). But it's more of a dummy pronoun, a pronoun that you use with is in the absence of an alternative.

That's definitely the case with all three Goidelic languages. Not sure about the Brythonic languages just, but I suspect they're similarly lacking. My vague recollection is that their third-person prepositional pronouns come in gendered flavours, anyway.
er. To be clear, by 'definitely the case', I meant that there isn't really. Manx she is cognate to Irish is ea, but it's become the basic form. Scottish Gaelic doesn't seem to have a reflex of it at all.
The neuter seems to have dropped off of (or assimilated with masculine) before Early Welsh was written down.

The default pronoun for impersonal verbs like " it is raining" is feminine.
"in the absence of an alternative." does that mean, if you don't know the gender?
No, for grammatical reasons. My brain is not working just now (had to get up mind-numbingly early to catch a train), so I'm not sure I can explain coherently, but basically, is can't be all by itself, it needs a pronoun. And while there are certain contexts where a gendered 3p pronoun will do, there are others where you can't/don't, and ea is used instead. It's not used as the subject/object of any other verb (though is is really the copula, and not a verb like other verbs that verb.
ceart go leor. go raibh maith agat.
"Neuter" and "gender neutral" are two completely different things, however. I assume the OP was asking about epicene pronouns such as Finnish hän or English ze. AFAIK, these don't exist in modern Celtic languages and none have been seriously proposed.
neuter is fine too, for my purposes, unless it's a word like "it" that would imply dehumanization. but either that or epicene pronouns are what i what i was looking for, yes.