By the way, here's a thing I think is a Bad Meme: criticizing not putting your pronouns in your bio/in introductions.

I felt pressured to do so before I was *out* as nonbinary trans-femme. It felt like pressure to out or misgender myself.

I do it now, and I'm all for it... but it shouldn't be mandatory. Someone might have a reason for not doing so. You might pressure them into doing the wrong thing.

Also honestly the *long-term* solution is questioning why we prioritize gendering in our pronouns.

Pronouns are scoped temporary variables. If you were to design a language today, would you choose to prioritize that information? We know that gendered pronouns automatically load a giant set of preconceptions, whether we want to or not. Does doing so help or hurt more often?

See Lojban as a language that embraces "pronouns are just scoped temporary variables". No additional information is added to them by default, but you can *add* additional language.

English is a language that's forever changing based on use; it's worth considering how we might use-change it.

@cwebber i wonder if we can pinpoint when which language gained gendered pronouns, and what the peoples speaking that language where going thru culturally

@meena @cwebber what a fascinating question! I'm curious if you find anything!

@cwebber @meena For indoeuropean languages it (gaining a grammatical gender) probably happened at a time that is remote enough that we probably can't even know exactly what archeological culture was speaking that language, there is probably no way to discover what was happening with them.…

(and many other language families have wildly different grammatical gender classes)

@valhalla @cwebber i *really* like Hittite for this reason, i wish there was enough resources to learn it

@meena languages having gendered pronouns is often a side-effect of having "gendered" nouns (or of having had gendered nouns at some point).

though there are some languages which, despite still having gendered nouns, lost 3rd person plural gendered pronouns (though they still indicate gender elsewhere, like on participles). but these seem to be really language-internal accident changes, and don't align with social changes.

further, "gender" for nouns (and, by extension, pronouns) is really "word classes which in some languages happen to largely align with human-oriented genders".

But Bantu languages, for instance, have something like 19 "genders", but there it's easier to see that "gender" (in the non-grammatical sense) isn't really what's involved, but rather semi-arbitrary groupings on the basis of either semantic classes, morpho-phonological similarity of the words, or both.


@emacsomancer yeah i feel like PIE making the cut at animate/inanimate as the first two classes made it easy to then further split animate into male and female

(or in some cases, drop inanimate, redevelop male, female *and* neuter from the animate class. i guess that's the active/stative split in IE languages)

@meena Social effects on pronominal systems seem like they're at best indirect or super-slow. There is a suggestion I've heard that some intriguing similarity in morphology (esp. in early IE langs/reconstructed (stages of) PIE) between feminine and plural reflect ideologies that would be present in pastoralist societies, where you keep lots of (female) cows), but very few (uncastrated) bulls. But this seems pretty speculative to me.

Lots of Indo-Aryan languages (Hindi etc.) lost 3rd person gendered pronouns and extended the old demonstratives to take on 3rd person pronominal roles. I'm guessing this happened 700-1000 years ago. But this doesn't correlate with any societal changes, the societies in question were very clearly patriarchal ones.

And grammatical gender continues to be represented in Hindi in participles and adjectives (so speakers have to worry also about assigning gender to themselves and the addressee, which isn't the case in English).

Nepali further has mainly (in most varieties) lost grammatical gender distinctions everywhere. But, again, there's no social correlates. Nepali society inherits the same patriarchal culture as North India, and in fact tends to be even more conservative.

There are, of course, interesting "use"-related questions, but most morphological changes seem more related knock-on effects of other internal linguistic changes than external societal changes.

@emacsomancer @meena @cwebber

thank you all for the discussion. i've been thinking both about the codification of gender in language, and the metaphor of a programming variable. one view would be to see it as *gender* variable with global scope and dynamic extent. its value can change with context and is only temporary. it makes me think of a relation between "society" and the individual.

in english, 3p pronouns reference the individual from society's POV. we care a lot about individual identity, and expression of gender is part of it. 1p identity clashes with the 3p view via pronouns in English.

Lakota lacks gendered pronouns. however, gender is encoded in the language in other ways. one refers to another by their relationship to them. i would call you haŋk̄aṡi today, identifying (currently) as a male to a female "cousin".

considering gender as a multi-way relationship in flux

Yesterday I folowed a 90 minutes long discussion about how our language changes and how we feel about it changing and whether discrimination will end or be less when we adapt it or not. It was a talk show with different opinions but all participants wherer respecting the other ones even when they disagreed on their opinions.

Language is a moving target. Learning is a our livelong effort. Maybe our language will be more discrimination free and more involving and appreciating.

@cwebber Agreed. English kinda allows you to avoid gendering everything, if you don’t want to; one can default to “they”.

Unfortunately, Latin languages are in a bad situation: you have to resort to various tricks and paraphrases, often ending up double-gendering phrases. Fellow French (and Catalan, Castilian, etc.) speakers know what I’m talking about…

@civodul German has an interesting trend by preferring to use personal noun-ification of verbs (essentially "those who verb") to avoid gendered nouns for people, e.g. Studierenden vs the double gendered Student:innen. Third person singular pronouns are still a problem, but I like the solution to gendered occupations/etc.


@civodul @cwebber I have wondered how much of a grammatical mess a speaker might make of a sentence in French as they try to deal remembering someone was going through a gender transition while they were speaking.

@civodul Though English's 'default' "they" (which I think most people do in fact have in their grammars, so this sort of use of singular "they" historically pre-dates the use of "you" (rather than "thou") as a singular) actually seems to have particular properties, which also partially overlap with the use of "they" as a chosen pronoun.

That is, English's default non-plural "they" signals either lack of knowledge or genericity. Using it to refer to known, specific person still usually takes English speakers conscious effort.

But, yeah, Romance languages in general end up in a 'worse' position in terms of their accident morphology: there are only two genders and they don't generally neutralise in the plural.


@cwebber @civodul OTOH, I think that especially for somebody who presents as male, listing “they” as their pronoun is already a message that they may or may not be willing to give.

That's unrelated with defaulting to “they” for other people, just a reason why even using “they” may not be a solution for people who are being pressured into listing their pronouns.

@civodul @cwebber It’s the same for German. I recently created a guide to gender-neutral writing and it takes quite some effort to get there: — it’s in German, but you can use translation services like Google translate (I wish we had a free replacement):

@civodul @cwebber But note the footnote on the conclusions: “ What is missing here: This is primarily about discrimination that arises from preferring one gender in our language. Duplication does not help to increase the visibility of those who are between these poles, or to whom neither of these genders really fits. If you want to help in this area, the first step is to be realistic about gender and sexual orientation when writing.”

@civodul @cwebber Sitenote: If you’re a fellow writer of anything where you invent people, a first step to decrease gender-discrimination is to make realistic representation of gender and sexuality your default.

Concrete: Whenever you don’t have a reason to choose a certain gender, just roll it on this table:

(source cc by-sa: )

Christine, it's she/her, because you are Christine.
I just enjoy your happy face at the avatar picture.

@cwebber I wish European languages (all languages, really, but I don't know how many other languages even have gendered pronouns) had proximate/obviative pronouns instead of gendered ones.

@cwebber I don't think *we* prioritise gendering in our pronouns. It's just a historical accident of how English morphology works.

And pronouns are a 'closed class' category, so they're harder for human beings to alter consciously in the same way that we can nouns, verbs, adjectives. It's relatively easy to say (and do): "don't refer to this group with the noun [X], use the noun [Y[ instead". That is, we can add new nouns and verbs and adjectives and alter our usages of these fairly easily.

Pronouns are harder, just because of their grammatical properties. Is it very useful to have gender in our 3rd person pronouns? I don't think so. But it's also not useful, I think, for verbs to show person/number agreement either (especially as in modern English this agreement is really limited to the present tense, and even there pretty much only tells you "the subject is 3rd person singular" or "the subject is something other than 3rd person singular").

But it's non-trivial to try to change these properties of natural languages.

@cwebber Frankly, people shouldn't be pressured into *anything*, really.

But published pronouns or no, congrats / good luck (not sure which one you feel is more appropriate) on your journey!

@cwebber I think the issue with the semi-institutionalisation of "Put your pronouns in the window" is various knock-on effects. The initial impulse towards having everybody do it, as I understand it, is to (in a good way) normalise the ability for people to explicitly specify the pronouns they want people to use, rather than the 'traditional' method of guessing based on clothing, hair-style, naming patterns, body shape, etc.

Of course, certain types of people decide that "there are two immutable genders" is a hill they want to die on, and so "putting your pronouns" in the window ends up as a shibboleth. If you don't do it you're likely a Bad Person. And I think here is where things started to have unintended effects (shibboleths are rarely benign in practice).

A similar case - I recall reading of a hospital where they decided that the first thing they should do in interactions with patients was to ask their pronouns. Of course this annoyed a bunch of conservatives, but more importantly presumably put lots of people in uncomfortable positions (of revealing more than they are comfortable with, or misgendering themselves). And for a one-on-one interactions, in English, knowing the correct third person pronouns to use to refer a person is not usually immediately relevant.

@cwebber Agreed it shouldn't be mandatory. A person's gender is completely unimportant to me when I'm having a discussion about a subject.

@cwebber Back when I was in School I made a point of not having my gender in forms, simply because I didn’t like the social implications (I’m a he, so I must have short hair and like football and cars? No, thank you)

Today, thanks to the German constitutional court ruling that forcing people to identify as either or is illegal discrimination against intersexual people, I can luckily just say “no answer” in most forms.

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