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Talk:Gender-inclusive language

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New text[edit]

I have added the following text on singular they. (My brief here is not to shoot down singular they, although this is my prime reason for choosing to use xie instead.)

One difficulty with singular they is that it carries no information that can be used to narrow down the possible referent(s) of the pronoun; it strips out not only gender, but number and animacy — animacy being the distinction between it and he/she/they/xie. (All human languages that have pronouns mark the pronouns in various ways — gender, number, animacy, social status, age, priority, clusivity, &c. — for exactly this reason: to facilitate rapid and reasonably unambiguous resolution of the pronoun referent.) As a result, the only impossible referent of the pronoun they is a single inanimate object. This frequently creates communication difficulties with resolving pronoun reference, as the hearer must go through the entire pronoun-reference stack to answer the question "which they is that?" This isn't a difficulty when there is only one possible they in the conversation, but as the number of theys increases, the possible referents increase almost exponentially (since they could refer to any one of the theys, or any combination of the several theys). The whole point of pronouns is erased if speakers have to stop the conversation to ask "which they is this?". This difficulty can only be obviated by further modifications to the language to create new markings — precisely the objection many people hold against neologistic gender-free pronouns like xie.

I also added this comment on the neologistic pronouns:

Though it should be noted that for the most part these "derivatives" are not so much independent pronouns as spelling variations: xe, xie, and ze are pronounced identically, approximately 'tzee'. The genderqueer community seems to have a consensus that the appropriate singular gender-neutral pronoun has the vowel /ee/ preceded by /z/, /ts/, /tz/, or /dz/; putative pronouns that don't have this form (such as co or thon) don't achieve any traction at all. Again, the only controversy is spelling.

One user — I won't name names; those who are interested can look at the fossil record — appears to object to this, reflexively reverting. I have re-reverted twice, requesting a rationale. I am open to a reasonable rationale; one that I can't see may exist. (talk) 20:10, 10 August 2014 (UTC)

I have heard singular they in the natural speech of rural midwestern north Americans. In context, it is unambiguous in all respects. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 20:39, 10 August 2014 (UTC)
As I note, the problem doesn't exist where there is only one reasonably plausible referent of they. (And the historical usage of "they" has seldom if ever moved past that base case, and nearly always has referred to a hypothetical person, "somebody", rather than a specific person. The usage of "they" as a pronoun referring to a specific known person is a novelty which takes us well beyond that historical usage.) But the practise scales up very badly — what's unambiguous in the base case becomes very confusing when extended. It's easy to follow one ball with your eye, and tricky to follow two; just try following six. Have you ever been in a conversation in which five different people are all referred to as "they"? I have. And I've seen how the conversation becomes very disjointed as people have to keep interrupting it to track which they is being referred to — or else rather awkward as people start reverting to using names rather than pronouns — and the confusion that results when someone misinterprets who "they" refers to. (There are a lot of jokes about this kind of thing among genderqueer people, which is the best possible evidence that the difficulty is a real one and experienced at least occasionally by many people.)
This is caused by throwing the number and animacy markers out with the gender markers — the baby with the bathwater. There's a reason why all human languages that have pronouns mark them in some way: human language processing is aided by the markings on the pronouns, which cue the hearer to which referent is meant. Without any markings, there's no cuing. For example, there'd be no difficulty if English had priority markings on pronouns, as some indigenous American and African languages do — in essence, "the first one mentioned", "the second one mentioned", and so on. ASL does something similar using a kind of parking space that can be explicitly referred to. Or if pronouns were marked by something other than gender. For example, Twi (spoken in Ghana) marks pronouns for respect, social status, age, and social role, but not gender or sex; I used to know a native speaker of Twi who had trouble with English's gendered pronouns, with results that were, unintentionally, both irksome and hilarious. But English does not (currently) have any such marking other than number and animacy — both of which singular they erases in the worthy cause of gender-inclusivity. If we're going to modify language usage for gender-inclusivity, we may as well put some thought into it and devise usage that works well and takes account of how humans process language. That could be one of the pronouns like xie, which maintains the number and animacy marking, or it could be some other sort of innovative marking along other lines, for example a somewhat altered form of they that marks it as distinct from the plural they. (For example, pronouncing singular they as vey. Much, much weirder things have happened in language evolution.) I'm not invested enough in xie particularly to reject that second kind of innovation; I'm an "if it works, it works" kind of girl. Perhaps it's even more likely to happen than broad acceptance of xie. But something will give: language evolves in response to needs, and there's a need for something better than singular they. I guess I'd say that singular they is a good start, but only a start; there are kinks yet to be hammered out. (talk) 22:01, 10 August 2014 (UTC)
By odd coincidence, there was a speaker of Twi at our house yesterday, along with two children of hers. In the US midwestern usage I've heard, "they" is not limited to people, but may also apply to singular livestock or pets. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 22:07, 10 August 2014 (UTC)

Further uses of 'neutral gender pronoun'[edit]

Persons whose identity is not immediately obvious - eg on wikis IP-users and wiki-pen-name users, and 'the person who did X' (good, bad or neutral) generally. Could probably also be used of animals generally - often the actual gender is not relevant. Anna Livia (talk) 16:32, 10 April 2018 (UTC)

Gender fluid[edit]

If I want to refer to a gender fluid person and I don't know which gender that person is on that day, should I just replace the pronoun with that person's name? Dogma (talk) 07:25, 11 March 2022 (UTC)

Studenten in German[edit]

means male students, not male student. Studentinnen means female students, not female student. I can't fix it myself, because there is a filter. Locdo (talk) 12:45, 7 June 2022 (UTC)

Thank you for spotting that mistake! I changed the nouns to their singular forms and clarified the translation with "student of unspecified gender" for "Student". Hopefully I did it right. See [1] LongStylus (talk) 13:08, 7 June 2022 (UTC)


I think the Finnish language incorporates a neutral gender. I know practically nothing about Finnish however so not confident to insert this to the article. Chillpilled (talk) 18:30, 28 April 2023 (UTC)