Justin B Rye [MAIL] 1997–2014

Ranto Appendix – O


Consider the implications of usages such as the following:

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 <Madame le premier ministre>, masculine!  So how about Esperanto?  Surely a language without arbitrary gender-classes designed by an enlightened liberal humanist will avoid such pitfalls?  Well, uh… 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 virino is a hypothetical mini-virus.  Similarly, an Esperanto job advert for a typist (<tajpisto>) would be ambiguous (how sexist is the advertiser's dialect?) without or typistess (<au tajpistino>).  Father, mother becomes <patro, patrino> – dads are apparently more fundamental than mums.  Likewise, sister is <fratino> = brotheress, and so on with unclesses, sonesses, cousinesses, and fatheresses-in-law (<bopatrinoj>) – a sex-obsessed set of kinship terms incompatible with the systems traditionally used in many other cultures.  Vietnamese, for instance, has a common monosyllabic word <em> meaning younger sibling(s); an idea that Esperantists need a whole phrase to express.  There is a prefix <ge‐> to indicate both sexes, as in <gepatroj>, parents; but 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.  Only one clearly neutral noun exists: person = <homo> (cf. French <homme>, man), which far from being the default is strangely avoided in coinages such as dwarf, giant = <vireto, virego>.*

Horse = <chevalo>, mare = <chevalino>; Esperanto also provides for <ghirafino> = female giraffe, <blatino> = cockroachess (henroach?), 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 <chevalido>, foal, and the stud prefix <vir‐> as in <virchevalo>, stallion – but why aren't these affixes extended to humans to give words like <homido> = humanling, kid or <virpatro> = father, sire?  Too dehumanising?

Then again there are the derogatory affixes, <fi‐> and <‐ach>, demonstrated in Teach Yourself Esperanto just as feminists would predict: by forming sex-specific insults.  <Fivirino> is dirty woman, slut; <virinacho> is crone, 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 Caucasian (one white, one vote).  Now imagine the <‐ach> suffix being exemplified with <vir‐afr‐acho>

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>, a female; <ina>, feminine.  Generally, Esperanto requires more intricate morphology to refer to women than men; but here is an exception.  Teach Yourself Esperanto translates 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.