|Justin B Rye 1997–2007|
Consider the implications of usages such as the following:
Man is a mammal and suckles his young– the human race is male by default;
Womankindis a subset of
The reader is entitled to his opinion– if you're female, you have to pretend otherwise to read legal documents.
witchis an insult (abuse is the only field in which there are more words to describe women).
The UK's greatest living authoris ambiguous; does it rule out the possibility of authoresses who are greater?
This doctrine of Male-As-Default treats women as a negligible subgroup, and femaleness as abnormal but always noteworthy.
Sexism is (in principle) avoidable in English, via words like
human, people, he/she, they, and sex-neutral jobtitles
where sex is irrelevant. Things are different in languages
with grammatical gender: e.g. in French, masculine plural is
ils, feminine plural is
elles, but mixed groups
(even of 99 women and one grammatically masculine hornet) are
ils. To the French, Thatcher was
premier ministre! So how about Esperanto? Surely
a language without arbitrary gender-classes designed by an
enlightened liberal humanist will avoid such pitfalls?
Well, er… no. In fact, as first propagated his
brainchild was blatantly and systematically sexist.
All animate nouns were male by default, unless given the
ghettoising suffix <-in>.
Boy, girl, man, woman = <knabo, knabino, viro,
virino>. In English, by the way, a
a hypothetical mini-virus. Similarly, an Esperanto job
advert for a typist (<tajpisto>) would be
ambiguous (how sexist is the advertiser's dialect?) without
typistess (<au tajpistino>).
mother becomes <patro, patrino> –
dads are apparently more fundamental than mums. Likewise,
sister is <fratino> =
and so on with unclesses, sonesses, cousinesses, and
fatheresses-in-law (<bopatrinoj>). There is
even a prefix <ge-> to indicate
as in <gepatroj>,
parents (it's still a
matter of some debate whether you can use it in the singular, or
to refer to a group of parents who might all happen to be
women). There is only one clearly neutral noun:
person = <homo> (cf. French
which far from being the default is strangely avoided in coinages
dwarf, giant = <vireto, virego>.
Horse = <chevalo>,
<chevalino>; Esperanto also provides for
and so forth, regardless of tradition (English geese, cows, and
ducks are female), let alone actual biology (most hornets are
sterile females). Farmers may also find handy the Esperanto
pup suffix <-id> as in
foal, and the
prefix <vir-> as in <virchevalo>,
stallion – but why aren't these affixes
extended to humans to give words like <homido> =
humanling, kid or <virpatro> =
Then again there are the derogatory affixes, <fi->
and <-ach>, demonstrated in
Esperanto just as feminists would predict: by forming
sex-specific insults. <Fivirino> is
woman, slut; <virinacho> is
contemptible female. Why are we never offered the male
equivalents, whatever they are? If you can't see what the
fuss is about, try imagining an equivalent racist
language, with black and white pronouns, a suffix
<-afro>, and an assumption that the human race is
one white, one vote). Now imagine the
<-ach> suffix being exemplified with
Time for a few jokes. Is a casino a feminine case? Is a neutrino a female eunuch? And if a <fraulino> is an unmarried woman, is an unmarried man a <fraulo>? Well, actually, yes; a merry jest from Dr Zamenhof. Ha ha ha… (sob).
Even if the linguistic discrimination doesn't worry you (like two
of my correspondents who explicitly supported it because
it's misogynistic), this scheme of compulsory lopsided
gender-agreement rules is offensive just for its poor
design. Look for instance at one of the side-effects of the
rule that any affix can lead an independent life as a word in its
own right: <ino>,
feminine. Generally, Esperanto
requires more intricate morphology to refer to women than men;
but here is an exception.
Teach Yourself Esperanto
feminine intuition as <la ina
intuicio>. So… how exactly do you say
masculine intuition? Candidates for a masculine
affix parallel to the feminine have been proposed (<-uch,
-ab, vir-, -ich, -un, mal-in, -ul>), but while few
present-day Esperantists may support the original
nineteenth-century system, equally few take the obvious step of
marking male and female symmetrically.