You think we have problems?
Posted Jun 9, 2009 4:32 UTC (Tue) by quotemstr
In reply to: Gender neutrality: Not that hard
Parent article: Jetpack: Firefox extensions as they should be
Here's an excerpt from Mark Twain's "The Awful German Language"
I translate this from a
conversation in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:
- Wilhelm, where is the turnip?
- She has gone to the kitchen.
- Where is the accomplished and beautiful English
- It has gone to the opera."
To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female,
its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female --
tomcats included, of course; a person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers,
nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter
according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the
sex of the individual who wears it -- for in Germany all the women either male
heads or sexless ones; a person's nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and
toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees,
heart, and conscience haven't any sex at all. The inventor of the language
probably got what he knew about a conscience from hearsay.
The confusion doesn't seem to have caused the Germans any great hardship. Gender neutrality in English is overblown at best: no reasonable person is going to suppose that female programmers don't exist merely because an article uses 'he' in an impersonal context; nor will someone who habitually thinks of male programmers suddenly revise his mental model because an article uses a plural.
It's useless at best to go around asking writers to contort perfectly good sentences on the account of the dubious idea that changing a pronoun will fix society. I imagine there are countless ways to address inequality that have the twin advantages of being effective and leaving our language intact.
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