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Linguistic Observations [Ar/Ly/En]: هو وهي (About Gendered Pronouns)

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Avatar for ahmadmanga
Written by   91
2 months ago

The other day I was thinking about genders and pronouns... It seems using the correct pronoun while speaking with people is more important nowadays than ever. People get angry when you refer to them with the wrong pronoun. But it's hard to know which pronoun to use when you're speaking text-only online...

Imagine talking to with friends online. You want to tell them about the new guy "hat3myl1fe," you talk about him for a while until he pops up saying "Stop referring to me with 'he!' I'm a girl!" ...I'm sure a lot of us have faced this embarrasment.

In English, when you're not sure of someone's gender, you can use the singular "they" to refer to "them." That's not the case in Arabic. You have to use one of the two options.

In Arabic, every word is considered either masculine or feminine. That doesn't go for just pronouns but every word. Some words have masculine and feminine versions but some words don't.

The words for Moon "قمر" and for Book "كتاب" are masculine words, while the words for Sun "شمس" and for Paper "ورقة" are feminine. Even Arabic speakers have difficulty deciding if some of the words are feminine or masculine and most people only know which is which by common usage.

You might ask: If we don't have the neutral "they?" How does the Arabic language deal with ambiguous situations? It's by using the masculine version!

The masculine version of words and pronouns is also gender-neutral.

It's correct to refer to a woman with a masculine pronoun in the Arabic language, but it's incorrect to refer to a man with a feminine pronoun. In fact, only when a group of people is compromised of 100% females, you can use the pronouns "هنّ/أنتنّ" (feminine them/you) to refer to them. If there is a single male in the group you'll have to use the masculine version "هم/أنتم " to refer to that group.

Still, even if it's correct it doesn't save you from offending people! People take their genders very seriously, so I don't blame a girl if she lashed out if I called her with the masculine pronoun.

To not sound too pessimistic, most people I met who use gender-neutral usernames online are forgiving when I made a mistake, both in Arabic communities and English ones. Internet is full of negativity, but I'm lucky to have been in many welcoming communities, this Readcash community included!

So, what do you think?

Did you have a similar experience? What do you think about genders and pronouns? Have you experienced a scenario like the "hat3myl1fe" one I wrote above? I look forward to your comments!


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Written by   91
2 months ago
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Seriously it's one problem I also face with people. Most don't know whether my real name is feminine or masculine and they almost always refer to me as a male. It's embarrassing I can't forget once I was to collect a gift in public, the announcer called my name and attached "brother" to it. Well, he later apologized. So, most times I don't use my real name to avoid the he/she ambiguity.

$ 0.05
2 months ago

Haha! Yeah, it's embarrassing. My condolences for that one time you were called brother... I think every one of us knows someone who has a story like that. It's sad when it's you.

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Oh no! English in general (American/English(british)/Australian - main branches), "they" in english refers to "a group of people" not single - 1st person, as well as them - 2nd person. No gender because it refers to group of people -regardless of gender. Group of people, meaning it refers to 2 or more people. The singular form for they is "he/she", where "He = boy/masculine", while "she = girl/feminine". Another pronoun in english that refers to group of people is "their" used as 3rd person.

$ 0.00
2 months ago

I was talking about the singular "they:" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

Of course I know that the word "they" is generally is used to refer to a group, but it can also be used to refer to a single person with uncertain gender.

Thanks for the interest in my post, and trying to correct me. Please tell me if you still think I'm wrong.

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Oh! I'm not saying your wrong. I'm merely stating the rules. what you are referring to is the usage of "they", the ones you called/referred to as singular they, is basically used for "collective nouns" which is defined "a noun that denotes a group of individuals (e.g., assembly, family, crew )" https://www.google.com/search?q=they&rlz=1C1GCEU_enPH948PH948&oq=they&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j0i433i512j46i512j0i512j46i512j0i433i512j0i131i433l2j0i131i433i512j0i433.2660j1j15&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#dobs=collective%20noun which basically follows the rules on pronouns. And still, refers to a group, denotes singular form.

Well, with your sample above, at the start of the conversation, it wouldn't harm to ask if the person you are talking to is a boy or a girl. That is to dismiss any future misunderstanding of gender... lolz...

In this case, using a "they" in this conversation is not really applicable since the one you are referring to has a name "hat3myl1fe," is almost = to its proper name though its absolutely genderless name. The usage of "singular they", typically occurs with an unspecified antecedent (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they). Consider below samples: where "somebody" is a collective noun, thus, follows the usage. "Patient" too is considered collective noun in its singular form since what is talked about her is a "patient" in general, not specific patient.

Sample:

"Somebody left their umbrella in the office. Could you please let them know where they can get it?"

The patient should be told at the outset how much they will be required to pay.

Further emphasis on the usage is shown on the Table under " Singular They", whereby all subject are collective nouns". And this is considered as colloquial, not the standard form.

Pardon me should you feel bad or offended. I'm just really stating rules. Got all above from the link you shared. Hope this clarifies. But should need further to expound, do email me and I'd be happy to assist. jenaniceto@gmail.com God bless.

$ 0.05
2 months ago

This is a really good analysis... Thanks for the effort, as this isn't what I took from the link I shared... So, do you think it isn't correct to use they to refer to proper nouns if you don't know their gender? 'cause it's really uncomfortable to use "he" when everyone else uses "they."

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Well... Honestly... hmmm... In the rules, if referring to a person - "he" is used but many found it offensive especially when you are actually talking to a "girl", but based on rules "he" should be used. Use "she" for mother nature, or if you are talking about the rivers, the moon and the sun...

In my case, to avoid offending... I will try to look for clues in all the exchanges about the other person's gender. Otherwise, I'll have to ask directly: "Pardon me, but how would you like me to address you, a Mr or a Ms?

$ 0.01
2 months ago

That's a good decision, but a nightmare for introverts

Otherwise, I'll have to ask directly: "Pardon me, but how would you like me to address you, a Mr or a Ms?

$ 0.00
2 months ago

You'll never really know unless you give it a try. And besides, you dont really know each other, only computer names... So, it's not a big deal. It only really matters if you were about to see each other... I'm an introvert too!

$ 0.02
2 months ago

As far as I know, the neutral "they" for a single person is American English, but in British English one should use the masculine as neutral, as in Arabic.

$ 0.00
2 months ago

Are you sure of this? It's nice to know if true. No one told me such a difference between American and British English before.

$ 0.00
2 months ago

This is what a previous professional proofreader and translator once told me, but I made some research now, and it seems as if it is used in formal British English as well these days. AE and BE are quite different on many points, but they also constantly influence each other. Moreover, it looks like it has been used in informal speech in British English for a long time. It might even have started there. Yet the formal rule was until recently, that masculine forms should be used if the gender was unclear.

$ 0.06
2 months ago

Thanks for the info, and for looking more into it for me.

$ 0.00
2 months ago