Subject: Pronouns
From: Karen Kay <karenk -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 1994 10:16:23 -0800

mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM said:
> Karen Kay <karenk -at- NETCOM -dot- COM> writes:
> >Who says that *all* languages and *all* cultures are equally tightly
> >coupled?

> 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?

I would never claim that language causes sexism. In English, language
reinforces sexism inherent in the society. Remove that lingustic
support for sexism and you'll weaken the sexism. It won't disappear.

> >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?

Please don't confuse physical torture with sexism! Physical torture is
relatively culture-free, but sexism *is* culture-bound because it's a
perception. All of our perceptions, including the very way that we
look at the printed page, are culture bound. Americans look at
something from upper left to lower right; Japanese people look at
the same drawing or painting or whatever, and look at it from upper
right to lower left. When an American does calligraphy, they put
letters on the page in a pleasing arrangement; when a Japanese person
does calligraphy, they rearrange the white space with the ink. Which
is the better way of doing things? Got me. I can't make that judgment.

> 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).

All Chinese pronouns are gender-neutral.

karenk -at- netcom -dot- com

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