OT: Re: gender-neutral English usage

arne anka openmoko at ginguppin.de
Tue Jan 19 12:14:43 CET 2010

> AFAIK, German has a neutral gender in addition to masculine and
> feminine, but I know even less about German than Spanish.

german neutral pronoun "es" is very similar to english "it" (and not only  
etymologically), ie it is only used for nouns not being either mal or  
female (and diminutives like "Mädchen" which is a d'v of "Maid/Magd",  
it certainly is not applicable for the case in question.

as in almost any other language the issue of male vs female came up not  
until the 60s/70s and there's no viable solution (if it is possible to  
find any).
we use "er/sie" which equaly "he/she" but german even uses male vs femal  
in nouns like "Schaffner" (conductor) or "Maurer" (mason) -- which get a  
suffix "in/innen" (sing/pl) for the female form.
thus, in most texts paying attention to gender it is written "Maurer/in"  
or "MaurerIn" (and now, zealots try to dinstinguish themselves by writing  
"Maurer_in" ... )

>> I wonder how
>> this issue was solved in the past. Such a usual problem must have been
>> solved centuries ago in the English literature, no?

hasn't been an issue until recently -- no problem == no solution.
in societies with clearly separated spheres of action for man and woman  
(ideologically, reality was often far more complex), the need never  
occured -- addressing a female doctor never was necessary: doctors simply  
were men.
dr johnson probably wouldn't have understood the question at all ;-)

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