Among the more linguistically interesting phenomena of recent years is the practice of letting individuals choose or request pronouns for others to use when referring to them. While such practices may help keep some attentive to the marginalization and discrimination others face, the desired societal change simply can’t be achieved starting with language habits. Even as the differences we want respected are more than skin-deep, so the linguistic habits of native speakers run deeper than mere social engineering can tweak for its purposes.
Let’s distinguish causes from chance effects: many languages (e.g., Chinese ta; Turkish o, etc.) show no gender in the third person, yet their speakers still discriminate on the basis of gender, following long tradition or history or culture or all three that owe nothing to distinctions they either make or ignore in language.
(And if English pronouns seem problematic, what of Semitic languages, where the first-person singular verbs also depend on the gender of the speaker, and the second-person verbs on the gender of the addressee/subject? See Arabic examples here.)
Merely changing pronouns, rather than hearts, won’t bring us the respect we desire. What we say flows from within.
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