The gender in the English

A few days ago I was studying a lesson in which Jill says “…I went to a new restaurant with a friend of mine…”, this phrase don’t have any curious detail but reading all context don’t gives some clue about her friend if is “she” or “he”. I think that is sort of a little disadvantage in the English language. In Spanish for example we don’t have any drawback for to know if her friend is “she” or “he” because this kind of words have gender.

In these cases when somebody tell us about his or her friends (or any other thing) and the context don’t help, there are some way to know about what gender is?

Well, some people also find it annoying that they must specify the gender of a word. We don’t always want or find it necessary to.

It’s not really about disadvantages or disadvantages. Each language is just different. Speakers deal with what they have, in some way. The lack of grammatical gender has never inconvenienced me, as a native English speaker.

There are ways of talking about a friend and not revealing the gender. In these cases if you’re curious about it, then you’re out of luck; you don’t have a definitive way of knowing.

I don’t see this as a problem, though. I actually like that you can do this in English and find it lacking in Spanish. Certainly in English if you want to refer to the gender of a single person, then it is a simple matter (use he or she). But sometimes the gender of the person isn’t a relevant part of the conversation and I think it would be nice if there was a better way to refer to the person (a neutral, definite, singular pronoun). To talk about someone without referring to gender is possible, but difficult, in English, which is why I think it tends to sound suspicious when someone does it.

I’m one of those people Imyirtseshem :stuck_out_tongue:

Kcb, I use ‘they’ to replace he or she, and I do this consistently as I feel the need to do so. It’s definitely a solid part of my speech. But, remember, it need not be singular. The word ‘you’ is already a plural word which took over the singular ‘thou’. What’s the harm in another plural being used for a singular? Works for me! :smiley:

I like they as well. I’ve also used ‘theirself’ to refer to his/herself :stuck_out_tongue:

I always thought the plural of “you” was “yous”… :wink:

It is! You, You, and You, all the Yous come forward.

My Spanish teacher in high school would say ‘you’ and ‘you all’ to distinguish the singular from the plural.

haha Alex. Yes, but I’d spell it youse, if I had to spell it.

Pronunciation of you and the nom. form ye gradually merged from 14c.; the distinction between them passed out of general usage by 1600. Widespread use of French in England after 12c. gave English you the same association as Fr. vous, and it began to drive out singular nominative thou, originally as a sign of respect (similar to the “royal we”) when addressing superiors, then equals and strangers, and ultimately (by c.1575) becoming the general form of address.

Nominative singular: thou
Nominative plural: ye
Objective singular: thee
Objective plural: you

The awkwardness of not having a true singular “you” has led some languages and dialect to invent one. According to a posting on a listserv that I subscribe to, The Dutch plural, jij, was used as polite singular until by the 16th century the true singular, du, was a literary rarity. But then jij itself began to be felt as too intimate or condescending for a “plural of social inequality,” and it was replaced by Uwe Edelheid, meaning “Your Nobility,” later shortened to U E and then U, and recently in spelling lowercased to u. Meanwhile, a new familiar plural jullie has appeared, and a dialect singular form, gij, has got into standard Dutch as dialectal/biblical/poetic.

Also, this gij form in Dutch now can be found in Old English as ġē for the plural subject.

All of this kind of thing really interests me in languages.

Very interesting insights. This subject about the gender in English is not new for me and I like to know different opinions about it, specially from people who are English native speakers. And of course, I guess the use of the gender in the languages is not a problem or an inconvenient, just a different way in use them just as you have said.

I guess my question comes from my wish to be immersed in the way of thinking into English coming from a Spanish native speaker.


@alex - I’m from western Pennsylvania and we tend to prefer “yinz” over “yous”. :slight_smile:

@jofpardes - I would have to agree with kcb on this. Most English speakers would find it difficult to talk at length about a friend and never reveal the gender. Typically it would require some deliberate effort to hide the gender of the friend and avoid words such as “he” or “she”.

Sure, you have to talk deliberately to hide the gender in English, but I like having the ability to do this. Sometimes I don’t want the gender of someone I am talking about revealed to my audience, at least at first. They are also plenty of jokes in which the gender of a character is not revealed until the punchline. I have no idea how one would translate these jokes into other languages and still keep the humor.

By the way, if one wanted to hide the gender of someone they were talking about in Spanish? How do they do it? There must be a way…

I grew up in New Jersey, saying “youse” or “youse guys” when it was useful, at least when members of the language police, such as my mother, were not around. I’ve lived in North Carolina for 30 years, and here “y’all” is the plural of choice for the 2nd person. One often hears, “Will all of y’all come on over here?” or the like. :slight_smile: Using they/their for singular I dislike, but it is so commonly done nowadays that I bet it will become standard. I prefer using “he” or “she.”

Things like this cause major problems in translation. I remember translating a Korean short story that used the equivalent of “they” or “them” (그 - singular) to refer to the main character throughout the entire story, and everyone else was referred to as “the man” or “the young girl” or “(the main character)'s mother”. It read nicely in Korean, but in English it proved to be quite a challenge to maintain the stylistic element of never mentioning the main character’s name or gender.

@odiernod: Mmm… that’s a interesting question and actually I’ve never thinking about it. But right now I think that’s not possible because the most words in Spanish have gender, though there a few words that are without it (neuters words)

That is, there are not a way to hide the gender of someone or even an animal (depends what animal) or whatever, at least I don’t know.

But if I find out later how to do it I’ll show you.

Interesting little snippet about Korean there, Alex. Thanks for that.

when i studied french, i am confused with le, la, ma, mon,…i can’t remember the form of the word, its meaning, its sound, then its gender. fortunately i passed the exam.

I find it interesting that a speaker of a language with gender would see its absence as a detrimental feature of English.
Many languages make no gender distinction at all, and pronouns are regularly omitted altogether if understood from context. Indeed, in Japanese (and I believe various other East Asian languages) even plurals are only usually marked for objects by the presence of a quantifying adverb.

The key is choice. You can choose when to specify. In the original example, the use of an adjective would have made it clear the gender of the friend. But perhaps it didn’t matter, and would have distracted from what the author was trying to say.

As an aside, I have heard that there are only three means of noun classification that exist in natural languages, and every language has at least one of these:

  1. Grammatical gender, as in many Indo-European languages, but also found in many African and Aboriginal languages, apparently. Some languages have five genders, for some seemingly bizarre classifications (and by no means limited to biological gender).
  2. Countability, such as words like ‘furniture’ being seemingly arbitrarily uncountable, and ‘glass’ changing meaning depending on whether it is countable or not.
  3. Counting markers, which are common in east Asian languages. Effectively all nouns are uncountable, and numbers must be specified with a unit: four pieces of paper, three cups of tea, three of cat, two of child.

If you’re used to a language with one of these, then its absence will be felt if mandatory information is rendered optional in a second language.