Monday, December 2, 2013

"Heesh"? — Sheesh!

Cave girl by Chromasketch:

Baloo here.  I'm the linguistics guy on this blog, so I'll field this one. This is largely about the wacko feminist idea that the fact that English has sex-specific third person singular pronouns (he and she and their variants) somehow is bad for women, or oppressive, or some damn thing. This is related to the Whorf hypothesis (no, not Worf the Klingon — Benjamin Lee Whorf, the linguist) that states that the language one speaks forms or channels one's thought. In the first place, the Whorf hypothesis seems to be invalid, or valid to a much lesser, and more insignificant, degree than Whorf proposed.  Guy Deutscher has a great article on the subject HERE.

And even if the fact that we use "he" and "she" the way we do does have some small effect on how we think about the sexes, let's break out of English for a second and look at languages in general.  Most languages don't have the sex distinction in pronouns that English does. Many have gender distinctions — il/elle, el/ella, er/sie, он/она, ef/hi, αυτός / αυτή, etc. — but that's not the same thing at all.  As Mark Twain put it in "The Awful German Language."

Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect for the girl. See how it looks in print -- I translate this from a conversation in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:
"Gretchen.
Wilhelm, where is the turnip?
Wilhelm.
She has gone to the kitchen.
Gretchen.
Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?
Wilhelm.
It has gone to the opera."
To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female -- tomcats included, of course; a person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it -- for in Germany all the women either male heads or sexless ones; a person's nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience haven't any sex at all. The inventor of the language probably got what he knew about a conscience from hearsay.

So the oppression the ladies get from English he/she isn't possible in other languages of Europe, or most of the world, because either no distinction is made or the distinction is entirely by gender, not by sex.  As in Twain's fun up there, which is true of all gendered languages that I know anything about. Interestingly, languages that make no distinction at all, and use the same word for the third person regardless of sex or gender, aren't spoken by sexual egalitarians.  That is the case with Chinese, Japanese, Urdu, and lots of other languages spoken by very male-dominated cultures.

But feminists know nothing of linguistics, as they know nothing of most intellectual pursuits, so they have all kinds of hissy fits and demand that we eschew he/she and use heesh, or some other idiotic formulation, or keep saying "he or she" and "his or her" and "him or her" in complete violation of English grammar and tradition and common sense and esthetics. Jim Goad knows about a group with regular meetings devoted to just such violations.

Male Bonding at an All-Female College

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