Sundays are a Day of Rest – by which I mean a Day of talking about the Rest of my life; that is, outside linguistics.
This little rant was initiated by this article.
I clicked on a link someone put up on facebook, and the headline caught my eye, and I ended up reading it – and all the comments.
Several things got to me upon reading it.
Firstly, the article calls Silvani Marquez “a transgendered man”, “he”, and “him” throughout the article.
A biological male who identifies as female is a transgendered woman; a biological male who likes to dress in women’s clothes is a transvestite. You’d think a well-known newspaper would do their homework.
However, it’s the comments that really upset me.
Aside from the blatant bigotry and single-mindedness of most of the comments, they refer to Marquez as “He/she” (x2), “your guy/it friend”, “quasi/semi/sorta woman”, and other things which have been removed and which I won’t bring myself to repeat.
I’m not saying that any sort of changes to the English language could change this; people will always latch onto an “Other” they can use to make them feel better about themself, and if this means ranting about a trans* person being deported, they’ll do it there.
However, the article themself could have used different language. They clearly weren’t sure how to go about referring to Marquez, and a little research would have helped a lot here. However, if the English language had known gender-neutral pronouns, the article could have used these – and left much less scope for transphobia in the process.
It turns out the English language did have gender-neutral pronouns. Historically a and then ou were used. A came from reducing he (he) and heo (she), and ou is a later version of this word.
Why did these words die out?
Had they remained in the English language a few more years, there would be many changes from how we live today.
First off: the Bible. The Hebrew pronoun used to refer to God is actually gender neutral. Lack of gender neutral pronouns in English meant He was used in the translation of the King James Bible. Using a gender-neutral pronoun would not only have prevented much misogyny in the past and today (God = male, male = god-like, therefore female = unworthy), but also would have prevented ambiguity for many translations of the Bible still debated over today.
However, I digress. Had the King James bible used gender-neutral pronouns, they would have stayed. Being used in the Bible gives a word staying power: we would still be using them today, rather than clumsy substitutes such as “they”.
Today, there is the Elverson pronoun:
|Masculine||he laughs||I hugged him||his heart warmed||that is his||he loves himself|
|Feminine||she laughs||I hugged her||her heart warmed||that is hers||she loves herself|
|Singular they||they laugh||I hugged them||their heart warmed||that is theirs||they love themself|
|Elverson (1975)||ey laughs||I hugged em||eir heart warmed||that is eirs||ey loves emself|
When capitalised, it is called the Spivak pronouns – a much more well known gender-neutral pronoun.
And there is also zhe, zher(s), shi/hir, and zhim, which are variations of the above.
So what’s the need for this post, right? We have gender-neutral pronouns, we just need people to start using them.
How many of you, dear readers, have ever heard of the Spivak – or, indeed, Elverson – pronoun?
How many of you would think nothing of it if someone said, “oh, Jamie? Ey just left”.
The unfortunate case is that, in order for a word to be used, people must know about it.
Without having grown up using a word, and without the need to refer to anyone using a gender-neutral pronoun, there is little chance Spivak pronoun will be picked up; or any other gender-neutral pronoun we invent, for that matter.