Gender-neutrality in genderless languages

Gender-neutrality in genderless languages

Gender neutrality in genderless languages is typically achieved by using gender-inclusive words ("human being", "person", "businessperson", and so on) instead of gender-specific ones ("man", "he", "businessman", etc.) when one speaks of people whose gender is unknown, ambiguous, or unimportant. When only a gender-specific word happens to be available, a gender-inclusive neologism may be coined to replace it.

Finno-Ugric languages


Estonian word "ta" (or "tema") is gender-neutral and means both "she" and "he". The suffix "-tar" or "-nna" can be added to the end of some words (mostly professions) to make them feminine, although these nouns are in their basic form gender-neutral: "laulja" (singer), "lauljatar" (female singer) or "lauljanna" (female singer); "näitleja" (actor) - "näitlejanna" (actress) or "näitlejatar" (actress). This is rather common. Also, for instance, there are separate words for chairman: "esimees" (chairman) and "esinaine" (chairwoman), although the first form is used a lot more often. Most of the professions are gender-neutral: "politseinik" (policeman or woman), "arst" (doctor), "müüja" (salesman or woman), "õpetaja" (teacher), "sõdur" (soldier), "ehitaja" (builder), even "lüpsja" (milkmaid, male or female). A well-known exception is "med. õde" (nurse, literally "med [ical] sister").

Some words are clearly masculine or feminine. For example, in Estonian there is no "Motherland", there is only a "Fatherland" ("isamaa") and a "Homeland" ("kodumaa"). There is also only a "mother" (native) tongue ("emakeel"). A very popular Estonian saying is "Kes ees, see mees" — "The first one is the man".


Finnish has "only" gender-neutral pronouns (it completely lacks grammatical gender). The word "hän" is gender-neutral and means both "she" and "he". The suffix "-tar" or "-tär" can be added to some words (mostly professions) to make them feminine if required, for example "näyttelijä" (actor), "näyttelijätär" (actress), but these forms are not commonly used any more; using the basic word for both genders ("näyttelijä" for male and female actors) is the norm. There are also some professions or expressions of which the word "mies" (man) is an integral part, for example, "puhemies", meaning chairman; "palomies", fireman, etc. These are mostly retained in their traditional forms, unless a suitable gender-free word is easily available. As a special case the chairperson of the Finnish Parliament is referred as "puhemies" irrespective of the actual gender — either "herra puhemies" (Mr. Chairman) or "rouva puhemies" (Mrs. or Madame Chairman).

Despite having gender-neutral pronouns, Finnish joins most other Western languages in having strongly gender-biased adjectives. As an example, in the first few years after women were permitted to serve as volunteers in the Finnish armed forces, they were required to swear to defend the country in a manly way ("miehuullisesti").


Hungarian does not have gender-specific pronouns and lacks grammatical gender: referring to a gender needs explicit statement of "the man" (he) or "the woman" (she). The 3rd. person singular pronoun "ő" means "he/she" and "ők" means "they". Hungarian does distinguish persons from things, as the latter are referred to as "az" (it) or "azok" (those).

However there is a way to distinguish between male and female persons having a certain profession by adding -"nő" "woman" to the end of the word: "színész"-"színésznő" (actor-actress, lit. "actorwoman") or "rendőr"-"rendőrnő" (lit. policeman-policewoman). This though does not work with all the professions as quite many would sound very awkward, like "postás" meaning "letter carrier", lit. "someone associated with the post", so that there is no such thing as "postásnő" (mailwoman). This usage has been criticized by Hungarian feminists, as it implies that the normal word or profession is masculine in nature and must only be qualified if a woman is performing it.

Indo-Iranian languages


Persian is a genderless language. For both males and females, the same nouns, pronouns, and adjectives are used. For example,

* "oo" is used for both "he" and "she";
* "aan" is used for "it" as in English.

In Persian, the same nouns are used for male and female professionals. For example: "baazi gar" means both actor and actress. "Pish khedmat" might mean waiter or waitress. The noun suffix "-ash" serves either as a possessive adjective or an object pronoun for both males and females as well as things, situations, etc. For example,

: "ketabash" means "her/his book"; : "paayash" means "its/her/his leg";

"Oo labash ro boosid" means "He kissed her lips" or "she kissed his lips" or "he kissed his lips" or "she kissed her lips" or if we consider "-ash" as an object pronoun we can translate the sentence as "he/she kissed her/him on the lips".


In Bengali, although there are different nouns for professions, they are not commonly used, so the language has consequently become gender-neutral. In addition, objects, pronouns and almost all adjectives are gender-neutral.

Other natural languages


The Basque language is remarkably gender-free.Most nouns have no gender, though there are different words for males and females in some cases ("ama", "mother"; "aita", "father"; "aita-ama", "father and mother"; "guraso", "parent"). Some words take suffixes according to gender ("aktore", "actor"; "aktoresa", "actress"), but they are rare, and both purists who avoid Romance influences and the Basque Institute of the Woman recommend against it.For animals, there are particles ("oilo", "hen"; "oilar", "cock"; "hartz eme", "female bear"; "hartz arra", "male bear") or different words ("behi", "cow"; "zezen", "bull").

While there are no gender-specific pronouns, verbs can mark gender in the intimate singular second person (this provides no information since the listener already knows his or her gender): "hik duk", "you (male) have it"; "hik dun", "you (female) have it". The verb is marked for addressee's gender, if they are intimate singular, whether or not they are referred to in the clause.Non-sexism supporters propose substituting those forms by the more formal ones: "zuk duzu" "you have it".In earlier stages, the relation between "hik" and "zuk" was like that of "you" and "thou" in old English.Some Basque dialects already avoid "hik" as too disrespectful. The use of a gender-free language has not made the historical Basque society a non-sexist one.


The various forms of the Chinese language are remarkably gender-neutral due to its underlying structure, and possess few linguistic gender marker, even though the Chinese society has historically been shown to have significant degree of male dominance in the social structure as well as education and written literature. Critics of gender-neutral language modification in other languages see this as evidence of a lack of cause-and-effect relationship between a society's gender relations and the use of grammatical gender in its language.

Comprehension in Chinese is almost wholly dependent on word order, as it has no inflections for gender, tense, or case. There is also very little derivational inflection; instead, the language relies heavily on compounding to create new words. A Chinese word is thus inherently gender-neutral unless it contains a root for "man" or "woman". For example, the word for "doctor" is "yīshēng" (醫生) and can only be made gender-specific by adding the root for "male" or "female" to the front of it. Thus to specify a male doctor, one would need to say "nányīshēng" (男醫生). Under normal circumstances both male and female doctors would simply be referred to as "yīshēng".

Spoken Chinese also has only one third-person pronoun, "tā" for all situations (though "-men" 們 / 们 can be added as a plural suffix). "Tā" can mean "he", "she", or "it" in any case. However, the different meanings are written with different characters: "他", containing the human radical "亻", from "人", meaning person, for "he" or a person of undetermined gender; "她", containing the feminine radical "女", for "she"; and "它/牠" for "it". Despite this, there is no "he/she" distinction in Chinese, because pronouns are usually implied from context, and replacing "她" with "他" causes no grammatical conflict.

It should be noted that the character for "she", containing the "woman" radical (glyphic element of a character's composition), was invented in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century due to western influence; prior to this, the character indicating "he" today was used for both genders — it contains the "person" radical, which, as noted above, is not gender-specific. Likewise there exists a written feminine form for "you", 妳.

In written Cantonese, the third-person singular pronoun is "keui5", written as ; it may be used to refer to people of either gender. The practise of replacing the "亻" radical with "女" (forming the character ) to specifically indicate the female gender may also be seen occasionally in informal writing; however, this is neither widely accepted nor grammatically or semantically required, and, unlike 佢, the character 姖 has a separate meaning in standard Chinese. [* cite web|url=|title=Chinese Character Database: Phonologically Disambiguated According to the Cantonese Dialect|publisher=Chinese University of Hong Kong|date=2006|accessdate=2007-02-16. The entry for "佢" ( [] ) notes its use as a third-person pronoun in Cantonese, but the entry for "姖" ( [] ) does not; it only gives the pronunciation "geoi6" and notes that it is used in placenames.]


Japanese has no grammatical gender or number. Thus, "isha" (医者) can mean one or many male doctors, one or many female doctors, or many male and female doctors. Another example of the lack of European-style gender in this language is the using of compound characters. The "sha" in "geisha" (芸者, art person) and the "ja" in "ninja" (忍者, sneaking person) are the same character. Pronouns are generally avoided unless the meaning is unclear.

The plural of "kare", "karera" (彼ら), may also refer to groups of females, and is preferable to the rather demeaning "kanojo-tachi" 彼女達 ("those women"). Gender neutral language modification advocates suggest avoiding "karera" by instead using "those people" (あの人達, "ano hito-tachi"), which they praise as gender neutral, grammatical and natural-sounding. It should be noted though that until the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century, "kare" (彼) was used for both genders; "kanojo" (彼女) meant "girlfriend", as it still does.

In general, Japanese, unlike European languages, has no grammatical gender, although certain words and expressions "semantically" refer specifically to males or specifically to females (such as "haha" "mother", "bijin" "beautiful woman"). However, the language spoken by Japanese women is markedly different from the speech of Japanese men in terms of vocabulary, use of grammar and idioms, pronunciation, etc.

An increasing number of Japanese avoid the traditional common terms for " [your] wife" (奥さん) and " [your] husband" (ご主人), which literally mean "the person inside" and "the master". Japanese custom has also dictated that women be expected to use a polite form of language ("keigo") in more situations than men. This expectation has diminished more among urban young Japanese in the past decade.

The major issues with regarded to gendered language in Japanese are overall speech patterns. There exists a "woman's language" ("onna kotoba") . Women's speech has different sentence endings than that of men, especially in non-polite speech. (Polite speech tends to be less differentiated, with male speech becoming more similar to female). A good example is the gender-neutral use of "watashi" or "watakushi" for "I" in polite speech. In informal speech, women are still more likely to use "watashi" or "atashi", while men use "boku", "ore" or "washi". Women's speech is characterized by sentences ending with "wa" (rising intonation) and by dropping the verbs "da" or "desu" (meaning "is"). Male speech never drops the word "da" in a sentence. The differences are quite intricate, but very persistent, and there is little or no movement in Japan to change male/female speech patterns, since changes can sound awkward or confusing. However, some historians note that over time Japanese as a whole has become more feminine. Words like money, "kane", were never used by men casually with the honorific prefix "o-" before recent times. Today "okane" is standard Japanese and is used by men in non-polite situations, something unthinkable a hundred years ago.


Korean, like a few other East Asian languages such as Japanese, does not use pronouns in everyday language, relying on context to clarify the intended meaning. In case of confusion, there are pronouns to clarify the position, but normally the actual subject (person) is named rather than the pronoun. As for job titles, these are not gender-specific. Again, the meaning is normally clear in the context.


Quechuan languages, spoken in the central Andes, are agglutinative using only suffixes, but have no gender suffix.

With the exception of "mama" and "tata", and "wallpa" and "k'anka" (hen and rooster), no nouns are gender-specific. In Southern Quechuan, "qhari" (man) and "warmi" (woman) are very seldom used along with a noun referring to a person, as in "warmi wawa" and "qhari wawa" for daughter and son. For animals "urqu" and "china" serve the same purpose, as in "urqu khuchi" and "china khuchi" for pig and sow.

No pronouns distinguish gender, the third singular "pay" being he/she/it.


Tagalog, like other Philippine languages, is gender-neutral; pronouns do not even have specific genders.

However, because Tagalog has had over three centuries of Spanish influence, gender is usually differentiated in certain Spanish loanwords by way of the suffixes "-o" (masculine) and "-a" (feminine). These words mostly refer to ethnicities, occupations, and family. Some examples are: "Pilipino"/"Pilipina" (Filipino/a), "Pinoy"/"Pinay" (nickname for a Filipino person) "Amerikano"/"Amerikana" (American), "tindero"/"tindera" (vendor), "inhinyero"/"inhinyera" (engineer), "tito"/"tita" (uncle/aunt), "manong"/"manang" (elder brother/sister), and "lolo"/"lola" (grandfather/grandmother).

An exception to this would be "presidente" (president) which, as in standard Spanish, refers to both males and females.


Tamil has a gender-neutral form for the third-person plural, which is also used for the third-person singular in all formal communication. Most job titles are derived from this form as they are mostly used in a formal context. They are thus gender-free.


Turkish is a gender neutral language, like most other Turkic languages. Nouns have a generic form and this generic form is used for both males and females. For example, "doktor" (doctor), "eczacı" (pharmacist), "mühendis" (engineer) etc. Very few words for person reference contain a clue to the gender of the referred person, such as "anne/baba" "mother/father", "kız/oğlan" "girl/boy", "hanım/bey" "lady/sir"Yasir Suleiman (ed.) (1999) "Language and Society in the Middle East and North Africa", ISBN 0700710787, Chapter 10: "Gender in a genderless language: The case of Turkish", by Friederike Braun ]

The Turkish equivalent to "he", "she", and "it" is "o". For example:

: O, gece yürümeyi çok seviyor — "He/she/it likes to walk at night.": Onu çok seviyorum — "I love him/her/it so much."

There are a few exceptions, where it is mandatory to provide gender (because of a word's foreign origin):

: iş + adam + ı = işadamı — "business + man = businessman.": iş + kadın + ı = işkadını — "business + woman = businesswoman."

Very minor exceptions were constructed from native Turkish words after the 1900s:

: bilim + adam + ı = bilim adamı — "science + man = male scientist.": bilim + kadın + ı = bilim kadını — "science + woman = female scientist."

However, there is an alternative gender neutral use for words like these, which has become more popular in the 2000s:

: bilim + insan + ı = bilim insanı — "science + person = scientist."

At the same time research have shown a significant presence of semantically-implied genderness (covert gender) in Turkish. In addition to the absence of semantic gender neutrality it was also noted that the usage of gender markings in Turkish is asymmetrical. In translations of sentences from English texts where the gender is evident (e.g., usage of he/she or male vs. female context, such as police job vs. pregnancy, etc.) it was noticed that feminine gender was marked in 50% of cases, while masculine was marked only in 5% of cases. While translations is not a typical representative of linguistic data, similar asymmetry was also observed in Turkish literary and newspaper texts. [Friederike Braun, "Turkish. The communication of gender in Turkish", in "Gender Across Languages: The linguistic representation of women and men", Volume 1 (2001), ISBN 978 1 58811 082 4 (US, hardbound), ISBN 978 90 272 1840 7 (Europe, hardbound), ISBN 978 1 58811 083 1 (US paperback), ISBN 978 90 272 1841 4 (Europe, paperback) "John Benjamins"]

ee also

*Gender role
*Gender-neutral language in English
*Gender-neutrality in languages with grammatical gender
*Gender-neutral pronoun
*Grammatical gender


External links

* [ On the Creation of "She " in Japanese]

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