Re: He/she

Subject: Re: He/she
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 1994 11:18:33 EST

Karen Kay <karenk -at- NETCOM -dot- COM> writes:

>Who says that *all* languages and *all* cultures are equally tightly

A good point. I would really like to see some of the reasoning behind these
conclusions, though. From my layperson's perspective, it looks something
like this: "language causes sexism". Fair enough. "the third-person
default pronoun is male, and this causes sexism." Pretty explicit claim -
does it really cause that much? what about other languages? "Other languages
don't cause sexism." Maybe true, but it weakens my support for that first
point, "language causes sexism". If some do but some don't, how do we pick
which ones are which? Political expediency?

>Also, having been a professional Japanologist for some years, I
>certainly don't feel comfortable with a phrase like 'decidely sexist
>Japanese culture'. The standards for what is sexist vary from culture

I'm not sure I buy this. Do the standards for discrimination and
oppression vary from culture to culture? Why have organizations like
Amnesty International, then? (not that Japan is a target for Amnesty
International - is it? but as a rejoinder to your general statement

In any case, you correctly pointed out my mistake in an earlier post:
Japanese language does not have gender-neutral third-person pronouns.
I may have been thinking of Chinese, in which I believe (maybe wrongly
again?) that at least the spoken language does not differentiate
between male and female third-person singular (although the culture
clearly has, historically).

>to culture. You *may* claim that Japanese culture is decidedly sexist
>from a Western standpoint--but I don't see what relevance that has to
>the discussion of tech writing.

FWIW, the chain went something like this:

Q: why get rid of "he" as the default pronoun? (not my question)
A: because it's sexist.
Q: is it sexist enough to justify getting rid of? what effect does it
really have on our culture? (my question, unfortunately)

And then I brought in Japan, for no very good reason, and the whole
discussion went even further off-topic. Do you want to continue this
on the list, or would you rather take it off-list? The question of
how language affects culture is a bit of a meta-topic for techwr-l.
but it isn't totally without relevance, either.

Sorry for the confusion,

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's.

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