IN DEFENCE OF THE HUMBLE PRONOUN

Those of us who speak English find it weird, though not offensive, that Latin-based languages – French and Spanish and Italian – assign gender to their nouns, and indicate that assignment with a gendered article. It’s possible that a very macho studly Italian door is deeply hurt by being referred to as “la porta” instead of  “il porta”, but I suspect not.

But people who are woke find it offensive, though not weird, that we assign gender to people, and indicate that assignment with a gendered pronoun. So it’s not just possible, it’s demonstrable, that a very macho studly doorperson is deeply hurt by being referred to as “he”. The door lobby in Italy has been unable to move Italian-speakers to degenderize doors; but the doorperson lobby has succeeded in moving English-speakers to defer to the doorperson as to his or her preferred pronoun.

I have no problem with that, provided there’s to be one and only one gender-neutral pronoun. But that’s not the way it’s been going. Instead, each of us is being empowered to pick his or her own pronoun, in just the way our parents were empowered to pick our own names. But that being the case, a pronoun is no longer a pronoun. It’s just a second name. The whole point of having pronouns is to be able to refer abbreviatedly and indifferently to the antecedent. But that function is no longer available if a pronoun is just another name.

I’m okay with that, provided the rest of my fellow English-speakers are. But I suspect we’re not. That said, I think we should be lobbying with our less enlightened European counterparts to be more sensitive to the feelings of their doors.



Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Humour

Tags: ,

6 replies

  1. I agree that there should be just one gender neutral pronoun. I nominate “ze”, which a lot of people have chosen, especially for the French language.

    When we were in grade school learning French the teachers had us sing:

    La plume de ma tante est sur the bureau de mon oncle.

    That made no sense. Why is a phallic-shaped pen feminine? Why is a desk masculine? Ze makes it a lot more sensible:

    Ze plume de ze tante est sur ze bureau de ze oncle.

    There now, you must admit that is a vast improvement.

    Like

    • Right! So in English we get “Ze rain in Spain falls mainly on ze plain.” But now how do we tell whether the speaker is a native English-speaker or a native French one?

      Like

    • Wouldn’t work. First, even if “ze” were adopted for the article (replacing “le” and “la”), you would lose the information about *whose* aunt and *whose” uncle own the pen and the desk. Mine, yours, hers? Even if you didn’t assign gender to the possessives to agree with the objects, you would still need 1,2,3-person distinctions for the owners, not achieved with “ze”. Not just any old aunt. My aunt.

      Second, French and Italian pay more attention to how they sound when spoken (or sung) than English does, or can, given its polyglot origin. This makes it an infinitely adaptable language for communication but with less artfulness than the Romance languages with their devotion to mellifluity. It’s not supposed to make sense, it’s how it rolls off the tongue of native speakers. Having masculine and feminine articles and possessive pronouns does the same as liaison and elision for the sound of the language. That’s why they say l’orange and mon orange, not la orange or ma orange. At least that’s how my French teachers taught it. Italian opera is bel canto. Benjamin Britten’s operas are unlistenable to. It’s not just the tunelessness of his scores, it’s the way the English phonemes sound when sung in an operatic manner. (Spoken English is another matter of course, but only some orators and actors manage the cadences that make the words sound as memorable as the ideas communicated.). But all that might be just because my transducer recognizes meaning in English only. French I have to decode (clumsily) before I can deduce meaning.

      And third, you just can’t tamper with French. Even getting rid of the circonflex, which merely denotes an s dropped from Latin, has met with stern resistance from the be-sashed members of l’Academie.

      Besides, Paul’s issue here is the gender of English personal pronouns, not the absence of a neuter gender in French for impersonal objects. But let’s face it, if the class consisted entirely of one biological sex, like engineering and nursing schools in the 1960s, and medical schools in the near future, having gendered third-person pronouns wouldn’t help clarity very much — it would always be “to him” or “to her” … and“to me” and “to you”. Writers of same-sex erotica run into this problem: running descriptions of who did what to whom become very hard to follow unless one is a devoted connoisseur of the conventions of the genre.

      French does have that wonderful indefinite pronoun “on”, which can, grammatically correctly, stand in for you, we, they, people, “it is said that…” without having to know the number or gender of anyone involved. It’s gender-neutral, numberless, and incapable of being objectified. That *has* to be a boon today.

      Like

      • Not being Jewish, Leslie can’t ever hope to be as funny as I am. But I have to admit he came close with his, “Writers of same-sex erotica run into this problem: running descriptions of who did what to whom become very hard to follow unless one is a devoted connoisseur of the conventions of the genre.” I’m wondering if there’s such a thing as an honorary Bar Mitzvah?

        Like

  2. They / god prefers the use of they: unless specified by a designation of and among the peers of those:

    I could athur a paper: but atlas’s : I’m dumb enough to take one of your classes sit in on two others: and think intently, as to why that’s now not my job, though as next to pennyless: I as alike you : am a being of good moral obligations: as such I only accept bribes, beneath or under the table: on another’s behalf:, as well : maybe watch YouTube you might learn more then old dusty books: as you’d care to stay closer To the people’s of the next to come: as such ever may be the young: even as they’ve read century old documents.

    You win war by our kinding the kind hearted: is there no better testement then that.

    Like

    • I think your wrong. And accept non of your wrong doings: but at last: those only we may share: as brothers in and from a far: as even not there I may ever hold your praise and you my peace.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: