Genders and Languages

Standard

I’ve noticed an increasing number of people declaring their preffered pronouns on their social media bios like “he/him” and “she/her“. This is aimed at making the society more sensitive to people who do not identify with the conventional gender identities. So some people prefer to be referred to as they/them rather than the conventional he/him or she/her. It has even been endorsed by most dictionaries that they/them can be used to refer to a singular person.

While the pronouns in English language are not gender neutral, the verb forms are. As an example, the different forms of the verb ‘go’ remain the same regardless of the gender identity of the subject in “he is going“, “she is going” and “they are going“; or “he went“, “she went” and “they went“.

As a contrast, the pronouns in the Hindi language are gender neutral; well almost. But the verb forms are not, well almost! So the verb forms can be either masculine or feminine, but there is no verb form for people with non-binary identities. Translating the sentences from the previous example – “वह/वो जा रहा है“, “वह/वो जा रही है” and “वे/वो जा रहे हैं“; or “वह/वो जाता है“, “वह/वो जाता है” and “वे/वो जाते हैं“.

As an exception though, the conventional plural verb form becomes gender neutral when referring to someone older or when referring to someone to whom respect is to be accorded. So, the conventional plural verb forms can be used for non-binary subjects.

As is evident, for a Hindi speaker, specifying the pronoun on their profiles would not make any sense; it would be “वह/वो” for everyone. It would be more useful to specify the preferred verb form as “करेगा“, “करेगी” or “करेंगे“.

But the most interesting fact though, is that one of the most ancient languages of the world – Sanskrit – which predates both Hindi and English by several thousand years, completely embraces the third gender.

Sanskrit is more similar to English, than Hindi though. The verb forms are common for all genders, but the pronouns are not. “स:“, “सा” and “तत्” are the pronouns for masculine, feminine and neutral genders.

As is evident, Sanskrit requires no adjustments as the third gender is intrinsically incorporated in the language. The oldest language ironically happens to be the most progressive.