Here Thar Be Monsters!

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What's In A Name?

An issue that seems to keep rising up to the top of the putrid news cycle is the artificial "problem" of gender-neutral pronouns.  A tiny but extremely noisy group of individuals, aided and abetted by a media agenda that seeks to destroy Western culture, demands that we use the pronouns of their preference when speaking to them.

This rubbish is so insane that I feel compelled to address it from a linguistic perspective.

To be clear, "sex" is a biological designation, and "gender" is a linguistic function.  People and animals do not have "genders," only the language we use does.  People and animals have "sexes," and 99% of humans have one or the other of "male" and "female," while the English language uses three "genders": masculine, feminine and neuter.

Of the European languages, English is the least gendered.  They are divided into two primary groups, the Romance and the Germanic.  English is a hybrid of the two, plus ancient Norse, which falls outside the two dominant groups present today.  Both Romance and Germanic languages have gendered nouns, which affects the articles, adjectives and pronouns used with them.  Romance languages have two (masculine and feminine), and Germanic have three (masculine, feminine and neuter).

When I use an adjective with a gendered noun, I must decline it to match the gender of the noun.  In the same way, if I substitute a pronoun for a gendered noun, I must choose the appropriate gender for the noun.  In French, "the war" is "she", while in German, it is "he".  In English, "the war" is "it".  It has no gender at all.  In fact, in English we use the neuter "it" for anything that does not have a sex.

The gender of a noun has little or nothing to do with our perceptions and assumptions of which "sex" the noun is generally associated with.  For instance, "the war" is a feminine noun in Romance languages (la guerra in Spanish), and a masculine noun in German (der Krieg).  "The house" is neuter in German (das Haus) and feminine in French (la maison).  Notice in both cases, the article changes to match the noun's gender, while in English it is always the same: the.

English does not have gendered nouns, although we sometimes assign genders to some objects.  In common usage, a ship is sometimes referred to as "she," and dogs are often referred to as "he" regardless of the actual sex of the animal.  Human babies are generally referred to as "it," a genderless pronoun, until we know the sex of the child, as in, "You're pregnant?! Do you know what it is yet?"

Let's take a moment to review the English pronouns, since many readers probably don't remember their grade school classes, though we use them all the time without thinking about it.

First, we have "singular" and "plural" pronouns - obviously depends on the number of nouns referred to.  Then we have three "persons": first, second and third.  Thus, a matrix of English pronouns looks like this:

The reader will notice that when I address someone directly, I use the pronoun "you".  Strictly speaking, this is the formal variant, but the informal "thou" has fallen into disuse over the last century, and "ye" which is the plural form, also no longer in general use.

In any case, when I address someone directly, any of the pronoun choices I have do not reference any gender - they are completely and totally genderless.  "You," "thou" and "ye" do not imply or connote gender in any way, nor can I infer a gender if I don't know who "you" refers to.  Thus, when I speak to someone and use "you" in my speech, I say nothing about that person's gender or sex, and the only possible option I have is to add "all" to specify a plural object.  The fact that I can use "you" to refer to a group proves that it is all-inclusive and genderless.

When I speak about someone to a third party, I now have a number of options, two of which reference gender, and the other two being completely neutral, or neuter.  I can use "he" when I perceive the subject/object to have masculine gender, and "she" when feminine.  In both cases, it is the perception of the speaker, and the speaker's choice, which gender or none will be used.  When I refer to a baby as "it," I indicate that I do not know the sex of the child.  When I refer to unsexed or inanimate objects, "it" is used to indicate that the thing is not human, or is not living at all.

The underappreciated pronoun "one" indicates a general reference to a human being whose sex is unknown or not important to the predicate.  For example, "When one visits Paris, one must see the Eiffel Tower."

In some English dialects, particularly in Ireland and western England, "your one" is frequently used to reference a third person whose sex is a given (both speaker and listener know it), or is unknown, or is unimportant.

Now, to address the ridiculous assertion by a tiny but vocal group of individuals who wish to change an entire language to suit their political goals.

English, and most European languages are based on the fact that there are only two sexes among human beings - and in fact most higher forms of life on Earth - male and female.  These designations are NOT genders, they are sexes, of which there are only two.  It takes one female and one male to create a third person.  There are no other options.  Any other variants are unable to reproduce.  Thus, there are only two sexes.

In language, I use "he" or "she" to refer to a third person because 99% of all human beings are either male or female.  There is a very tiny number of individuals who are born with both or neither sex, and they are usually unable to reproduce and will often choose a sex to publicly display to others for the purpose of fitting in to the general culture.  These individuals are called hermaphrodites and represent about 0.05%, or about 1 in 2,000 births globally.

As to the argument about which pronoun I should use for an individual, the point is moot.  When I speak directly to you, I use the pronoun "you," which is entirely genderless.  When I speak about you to a third person, which pronoun I use is frankly none of your business.  I will choose a pronoun based on my perceptions and opinions, and which is mutually understood to refer to you.  Since I am not speaking to you, you have no say in which pronoun I choose, since that matter is entirely between me and the one listening to me.  You have no moral right to try to modify my language - it falls solidly under free speech - and I have no moral obligation to use language that you choose for me.

Thus, when I speak to you, I always use non-gendered pronouns, whether you are an individual or group.  When I speak to a third person, the only concern you have is whether my speech is slanderous, but you have no right to modify my speech a priori.  Your only concern is whether my speech has harmed your person or reputation, in which case you are welcome to prove such harm in a court of law and ask for restitution.

If your feelings are hurt by my choice of pronouns to refer to you, this is entirely your problem and does not concern me.  If I start to edit my language to ensure that no one's feelings are hurt, then I quickly reach the point of not being able to communicate at all, since there is always someone who will take offence at just about anything I say.

Furthermore, your feelings are not tangible or quantifiable by any metric.  You can claim your feelings are hurt, but I have no way to objectively verify that statement.  You may be saying such a thing to manipulate me and do not genuinely feel such emotions.  I may choose to modify my language in your presence as a matter of social politeness, but I am under no moral obligation to do so.

The entire argument concerning pronouns flies in the face of thousands of years of linguistic evolution and centuries of legal advancements, primarily free speech.  Any law which attempts to abridge my superseding and unalienable right to free speech is prima facie immoral and untenable.  I choose my pronouns based on grammatical norms, intended meaning, and the right to choose whichever pronoun I want for any given person, place or thing.

The only viable solution in the English language, for those for whom this is a vital concern, is to use "it" or "one" for third-person singular pronouns.    Trying to force change on a language is a Sisyphean task, since language comes from the roots up, not from the branch down.  Furthermore, it violates every moral and legal precedent in Western law.

Referring to another person as "your one" is a viable option.  It is completely gender-neutral and has a long history in the common use of the language.  Additionally, "your one" does not have the emotional and connotative baggage that "it" does, since "it" is sometimes used in a pejorative manner.

"They" is frequently used in common speech when one wishes to hide the number and/or gender of a noun, but it quickly gets confusing in complex sentences.

The primary agenda behind this artificial issue is the destruction of an organic culture.  Language and culture are inextricably linked to each other.  By destroying one, you destroy both.  The issue of gendered pronouns and related attempts to artificially alter language is designed to destroy cohesive culture.  It is one of the fundamental tools posited by George Orwell to erase the past and control minds.

If a culture's language is sufficiently modified, then the people will no longer be able to read and understand literature.  Once the literature is meaningless, then the people have no way to access and understand the lessons our forebears committed to writing to teach us what they learned.

Gendered language is only one of many fronts in the Culture War, but it is a vital one.  If we acquiesce in this battle, then dozens of other fronts will open and a key bit of ground will have been lost.  We must reject this argument with prejudice and never allow any group, no matter what the grievance, to forcefully modify our language.  Language is our bond to the past and our key to the future, and that is precisely what this battle is about: erasing the past and controlling the future.