|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
<Madame le 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
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
Father, mother becomes
<patro, patrino> – dads are apparently more
fundamental than mums. Likewise,
brotheress, and so on with
unclesses, sonesses, cousinesses, and fatheresses-in-law
(<bopatrinoj>). There is even a prefix
<ge‐> to indicate
both sexes, as in
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:
<homo> (cf. French <homme>), which far
from being the default is strangely avoided in coinages such as
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
<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>,
Teach Yourself Esperanto just as feminists
would predict: by forming sex-specific insults.
dirty woman, slut;
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
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:
a female; <ina>,
feminine. Generally, Esperanto requires more intricate
morphology to refer to women than men; but here is an
Teach Yourself Esperanto translates
feminine intuition as <la ina intuicio>.
So… how exactly do you say
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.