Gendered Words: Beyond Man and Woman, Feminine and Masculine

Gender-neutral language and more inclusive pronouns are beginning to spread throughout the world. French and Spanish have undergone changes to allow for non-gendered nouns, with the goal of working towards gender equity.  Three main concerns have driven this movement: inclusion of genders outside of the binary, stopping the reinforcement of gender stereotypes, and ending masculine superiority in language.


In both French and Spanish, everyday nouns are gendered, such as “le policier” or “la profesora.” While some nouns have both feminine and masculine forms, others do not; for example “el libro” (“book”) is only masculine. The issue with one-gendered nouns is how they imply the inherent masculinity or femininity of the noun: such intonations reinforce gender roles. If one item of clothing is gendered, it supports the traditional idea that men and women wear different outfits.   

Students of these languages are also taught that masculinity dominates  femininity: when there is a group of nouns, a single masculine word- even in a sea of feminine words  -will turn any descriptors of that group masculine. 


For most, if not all languages, there are no universally established gender-neutral pronouns or nouns. A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun; instead of saying “the lamp is on the table,” a person could remark “it is on the table.” In English, there are only two pronoun sets for people that are accepted by everyone: she/her/hers/herself and he/him/his/himself. But what if neither of those pronouns fit your gender? For many gender expansive or gender non-conforming individuals, these pronouns are confining or yet another reminder that society does not believe they exist.


These grammatical theme is present in many other  languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew. In recent years, many solutions are gaining popularity.


 For English, many new sets of pronouns have been created or revived to give individuals descriptors that are not associated with women, men, femininity, or masculinity. The most common of these pronoun sets is they/them/theirs/themself. While this set is commonly associated with plural nouns, it has always been used for singular individuals as well. Other common pronoun sets include xe/xem/xyrs/xyrself, ze/hir/hirs/hirself,  and ey/em/eirs/eirself.


For French, this comes in the form of a “median-period” at the end of masculine nouns, followed by the feminine ending, indicating both gendered versions of every noun (e.g. musicien·ne·s, which would read as “male musicians and female musicians”).  Some gender neutral pronouns include ile, oulle, iel, and yel, 

For Spanish, this has manifested differently. The majority of Spanish nouns have masculine and feminine equivalents (el profesor, la profesora),  and some options for gender-neutral forms have gained popularity. Instead of el profesor or la profesora, a teacher could be le profesore or  li profesori. Some common pronouns are elle, ele, and elli.


By Elliott Weix and Amira Pierotti

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