Gender neutrality in genderless languages

A genderless language is a natural or constructed language that has no distinctions of grammatical gender—that is, no categories requiring morphological agreement between nouns and associated pronouns, adjectives, articles, or verbs.[1]

The notion of a genderless language is distinct from that of gender neutrality or gender-neutral language, which is wording that does not presuppose a particular natural gender. A discourse in a grammatically genderless language is not necessarily gender-neutral,[1] although genderless languages exclude many possibilities for reinforcement of gender-related stereotypes, such as using masculine pronouns when referring to persons by their occupations (although some languages that may be identified as genderless, including English, do have distinct male and female pronouns). A lack of gendered pronouns is also distinct from a lack of gender in the grammatical sense.

Genderless languages do have various means to recognize gender, such as gender-specific words (mother, son, etc., and distinct pronouns such as he and she in some cases), as well as gender-specific context, both biological and cultural.[1]

Genderless languages are listed at List of languages by type of grammatical genders. Genderless languages include the Indo-European languages Armenian, Persian and Central Kurdish (Sorani Dialect), all the modern Turkic languages (such as Turkish), Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and most Austronesian languages (such as the Polynesian languages).[citation needed]

Austronesian languagesEdit


Tagalog, like most Austronesian languages, is gender-neutral. The third-person pronoun siya is used for both "he" and "she", as well as "it" in the context of being a neuter gender.[2] Native nouns also feature this characteristic, normally with the addition of lalaki ("male") or babae ("female") to the noun to signify gender in terms such as anak na lalaki ("son") or babaeng kambing ("she-goat").[3]

However, because Tagalog has had over three centuries of Spanish influence, gender is usually differentiated in certain Spanish loanwords by way of the suffixes -a (feminine) and -o (masculine).[4] These words mostly refer to ethnicities, occupations, and family. Some examples are: Pilipina/Pilipino (Filipina/o) and their derivative nicknames Pinay/Pinoy, tindera/tindero (vendor), inhinyera/inhinyero (engineer), tita/tito (aunt/uncle), manang/manong (elder sister/brother), and lola/lolo (grandmother/grandfather). A few gender-differentiating pairs originate from Chinese, mostly relating to kinship terminology such as ate (big sister) and kuya (big brother).

Indo-European languagesEdit


In Armenian, neither pronouns nor nouns have grammatical gender. The third person pronoun նա(na) means both he and she. And նրանք (nranq) is for they.[5]


English lacks grammatical gender,[6][7][8] but can be considered to have a pronominal gender system with semantic gender represented in the pronouns. This system of gender is quite minimal compared to languages with grammatical gender.[9]

Historically, "he" referred to a generic person whose gender is unspecified in formal language, but the gender-neutral singular they has long[10][11] been common in informal language, and is becoming increasingly so in formal language.[12] The use of the neuter pronoun 'it' in reference to a person is considered dehumanizing.[13]


While Kurdish has two grammatical genders, none of the Kurdish languages have gender pronouns; thus the third person singular pronoun ew refers to "he", "she" and "it".[14]


Persian is commonly considered a genderless language, but can be considered to have a pronominal gender system with common and neuter genders represented in the pronouns.[9] For both males and females, the same nouns, pronouns, and adjectives are used. For example,

  • u (او) is used for both "he" and "she" (common gender);
  • ishān (ایشان) is used for both "he" and "she" but in formal contexts and writing;
  • ān (آن) is used for "it" (neuter gender).[9]

Other natural languagesEdit


Turkish is a gender-neutral language, like most other Turkic languages. Nouns have a generic form and this generic form is used for both males and females. For example, doktor (doctor), eczacı (pharmacist), mühendis (engineer) etc. Very few words for person reference contain a clue to the gender of the referred person, such as anne/baba "mother/father", kız/oğlan "girl/boy", hanım/bey "lady/sir"[1]

At the same time research has shown a significant presence of semantically-implied gender (covert gender) in Turkish. In addition to the absence of semantic gender neutrality it was also noted that the usage of gender markings in Turkish is asymmetrical. In translations of sentences from English texts where the gender is evident (e.g., usage of he/she or male vs. female context) it was noticed that feminine gender was marked in 50% of cases, while masculine was marked only in 5% of cases. While translations are not typically representative of linguistic data, similar asymmetry was also observed in Turkish literary and newspaper texts.[1][15]


Yoruba is a Volta–Niger language spoken in Nigeria, referred to by its native speakers as Ede Yoruba. Yoruba is a gender neutral language. Gendered pronouns such as he or she do not exist in Yoruba language. Words like brother, sister, son and daughter also do not exist. Instead, the most important organizing category is age. Therefore, people are classified by whether they are égbǫn (older sibling) or aburo (younger sibling). In order to say brother, one would need to say "aburo mi okunrin" (this roughly translates to "my younger sibling, the male"). Male and female are also quite unlike man and woman in the English language. "Obinrin" and "okunrin" which mean "one who has a vagina" and "one who has a penis" are used to mean female and male respectively. Due to European colonization, western pronouns are becoming more widespread.[16][17]


Swahili is a Bantu language spoken in many parts of Africa such as Kenya and Tanzania. It is largely gender neutral in specific nouns. Words such as actor/actress (mwigaji wa hadithi) and waiter/waitress (mtumishi mezani) are gender neutral among most others in the language. The words he, him, she, her translate to a single word in Swahili, yeye.

There are gender specific words for man/woman (mwanadamu/wanawake) and mother/father (mama/baba), so it is not completely gender neutral, although a vast majority of the words do not distinguish between male or female. The language does not have a grammatical gender either.[18]


The Chinese language or languages/topolects are largely gender-neutral, and possess few linguistic gender markers.

Comprehension of written and spoken Chinese is almost wholly dependent on word order, as it has no inflections for gender, tense, or case. There are also very few derivational inflections; instead, the language relies heavily on compounding to create new words. A Chinese word is thus inherently gender-neutral, but any given word can be preceded by an adjective/root indicating masculinity or femininity. For example, the word for "doctor" is yīshēng (醫生 or 医生) and can only be made gender-specific by adding the root for "male" or "female" to the front of it; thus to specify a male doctor, one would need to prefix nán 男 (male), as in nányīshēng (男醫生 or 男医生). Under normal circumstances, both male and female doctors would simply be referred to as yīshēng (醫生 or 医生).

Spoken Mandarin Chinese also has only one third-person pronoun, for all referents (though -men 們 / 们 can be added as a plural suffix). can mean "he", "she", or "it". However, the different meanings of are written with different characters: "他", containing the human radical "亻", from "人", meaning person, for he or a person of undetermined gender; "她", containing the feminine radical "女", for "she"; and "它" for "it"; "祂" containing the spirit radical "礻", from "示", for deities; "牠" containing the cow radical "牜", from "牛", for animals.[19][unreliable source?]

The character for "she", containing the "woman" radical (glyphic element of a character's composition), was invented in the early twentieth century due to western influence; prior to this, the character indicating "he" today was used for both genders — it contains the "person" radical, which, as noted above, is not gender-specific.


In written Cantonese, the third-person singular pronoun is keui5, written as ; it may refer to people of either gender because Chinese does not have gender roles as English in third-person pronouns. The practice of replacing the "亻" radical with "女" (forming the character ) to specifically indicate the female gender may also be seen occasionally in informal writing; however, this is neither widely accepted nor grammatically or semantically required, and the character 姖 has a separate meaning in standard Chinese.[20]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Yasir Suleiman (ed.) (1999) "Language and Society in the Middle East and North Africa", ISBN 0-7007-1078-7, Chapter 10: "Gender in a genderless language: The case of Turkish", by Friederike Braun
  2. ^ Di Garbo, Francesca; Olsson, Bruno; Wälchli, Bernhard. Grammatical gender and linguistic complexity, Volume I: General issues and specific studies (Thesis). Language Science Press, Berlin. ISBN 978-3-96110-178-8. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  3. ^ Desmond, Henry (1935). Elements of Tagalog Grammar (Thesis). Society of the Divine Word. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  4. ^ Corbett, Greville G. "Chapter Number of Genders". The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  5. ^ "Fundamentals of Modern Armenian Grammar". 2006. Retrieved 2013-05-26.
  6. ^ Alexiadou, Artemis; Haegeman, Liliane; Stavrou, Melita (2007). Noun Phrase in the Generative Perspective. Walter de Gruyter. p. 261. ISBN 978-3110207491 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Lehmann, Magdolna; Lugossy, Réka; Horváth, József (2016). UPRT 2015: Empirical Studies in English Applied Linguistics. Lingua Franca Csoport. p. 77. ISBN 978-9636429799 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Dussias, Paola E.; Kroff, Jorge R. Valdés; Tamargo, Rosa E. Guzzardo; Gerfen, Chip (2013-06-01). "When Gender and Looking Go Hand in Hand" (PDF). Studies in Second Language Acquisition. 35 (2): 353–387. doi:10.1017/s0272263112000915. ISSN 0272-2631.
  9. ^ a b c Audring, Jenny (2008-10-01). "Gender assignment and gender agreement: Evidence from pronominal gender languages". Morphology. 18 (2): 93–116. doi:10.1007/s11525-009-9124-y. ISSN 1871-5621.
  10. ^ "they". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  11. ^ "Column: He, she, they? Why it's time to leave this grammar rule behind". PBS NewsHour. 2016-08-24. Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  12. ^ Fogarty, Mignon (April 7, 2017). "Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Singular 'They'".
  13. ^ laurel. "A Crash Course in Gender Neutral Pronouns". Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  14. ^ "The gender system in the Kurdish language". Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  15. ^ Friederike Braun, "Turkish. The communication of gender in Turkish", in "Gender Across Languages: The linguistic representation of women and men", Volume 1 (2001), ISBN 978-1-58811-082-4 (US, hardbound), ISBN 978-90-272-1840-7 (Europe, hardbound), ISBN 978-1-58811-083-1 (US paperback), ISBN 978-90-272-1841-4 (Europe, paperback) John Benjamins
  17. ^ "The Invention of Women".
  18. ^ Perrott, D.V. (2010). Teach Yourself: Essential Swahili Dictionary. ISBN 978-1-444-10408-0.
  19. ^ "請教,關於"他,她,它,牠,祂"". Retrieved 2015-09-18.
  20. ^ "Chinese Character Database: Phonologically Disambiguated According to the Cantonese Dialect". Chinese University of Hong Kong. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-16. The entry for "佢" ( notes its use as a third-person pronoun in Cantonese, but the entry for "姖" ([1]) does not; it only gives the pronunciation geoi6 and notes that it is used in placenames.

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