Hannover government initiative on the introduction of a gender-neutral language in official documents once again raises the question: is it possible to achieve gender parity in languages where inequality is ingrained at the basic, grammatical level? And if so, in what ways? If a new language must meet the demands of the new time, then what exactly are these demands? And won't the hasty unification of the language lead to the fact that it will sound too unnatural and official, which opponents of innovations fear?
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that the structure of language influences the perception of the world remains a hypothesis - discussed and criticized. But even those who agree with it have two different approaches to how to achieve gender equality in the language. Some advocate a gender-neutral language - that is, one where the very mention of gender will be reduced to zero (except when it really matters). Others believe that the language should be gender-inclusive - that is, make everyone visible, including non-binary people with a third gender marker (aka X, sometimes not quite correctly called the “third sex”). They look mutually exclusive, although in practice they can be combined: the use of a neutral language in official documents does not contradict the idea of inclusiveness in everyday language. But this potential bilingualism is a matter for a lot of discussion.
The genderlessness of the language itself is not a fundamentally unattainable horizon. In linguistics, there are enough examples of gender-neutral languages, from Finno-Ugric to Austronesian, where genders are rather clarifying and you can do without them in speech.
A completely different matter is the languages of the Germanic and Italic branches, where gender division is sewn not even at the level of designating professions and social roles by masculinives and feminitives, but at the level of everyday pronouns. In them, the historical dominance of the masculine gender is noticeable even in plural pronouns: for example, the masculine "we" in French and Spanish is used by default to denote a company of mixed gender composition or an abstract "we" of an unidentified circle of persons.
Those who really need neologisms are people with a third gender marker, who remain invisible at the level of everyday vocabulary.
It annoys proponents of gender equality in the language. In Spain, members of the Podemos Party have called for the use of the female “we” (“nosotras”) instead of the male one (“nosotros”). In France, a similar proposal was made by the Secretariat for Equality of Women and Men, insisting on replacing the masculine plural (example: citoyens, "citizens") with the universal feminine-masculine ("citoyen · ne · s", something like "citizens "). Not all proposals find support at the highest level - moreover, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has banned the use of gender-inclusive language in official documents. At the same time, the UN adheres to a policy of gender inclusion in its six official languages.
At the same time, experiments to introduce a gender-neutral language continue. And perhaps most curious of all are those that take place in specific environments where gender bias is strongest. So, for example, in December 2017 it became known that the British Armed Forces were advised to refrain from using gender-colored vocabulary. So "mankind" ("humanity") was advised to replace with "humankind", "forefathers" ("ancestors") - with "ancestors", "man in the street" (meaning "ordinary / casual person") - with "average person / citizen "," best man for this job "(" best candidate ") -" best person for the job "," gentlemen's agreement "- for an" unwritten agreement ", etc.This example shows that neologisms are not always required for a gender-neutral language - sometimes simple synonyms are enough.
Those who really need neologisms are people with a third gender marker, who remain invisible at the level of everyday vocabulary. To change the situation, the same two approaches are proposed: neutrality and inclusiveness. In Swedish, the gender-neutral pronoun "hen" has been introduced in addition to "han" ("he") and "hon" ("she"). Proponents of gender neutral Spanish insist on legalizing the plural ending "-es" instead of the masculine "-os" and the feminine "-as". The English "them" is used to denote people with a third gender marker, while at the same time, according to linguists, English authors used it regularly as a neutral singular from at least the 16th to the 19th century.
Obviously, gender balance in languages remains a battleground for grassroots initiatives, official prescriptions and experimentation, which are highly dependent on both grammatical characteristics and historical baggage. But the latter, contrary to the common misconception, does not always defend the bias towards the masculine.
Photos: biancadesigns, Sebastian Crocker - stock.adobe.com