Personal Pronoun - Types and Forms of Personal Pronouns - Gender


Personal pronouns, particularly those of the third person, may differ depending on the grammatical gender or natural gender of their antecedent or referent. This occurs in English with the third-person singular pronouns, where (simply put) he is used when referring to a male, she to a female, and it to something inanimate or an animal of unspecific sex. This is an example of pronoun selection based on natural gender; many languages also have selection based on grammatical gender (as in French, where the pronouns il and elle are used with masculine and feminine antecedents respectively, as are the plurals ils and elles). Sometimes natural and grammatical gender do not coincide, as with the German noun Mädchen ("girl"), which is grammatically neuter but naturally feminine; either neuter or feminine pronouns may then be used. (See Grammatical gender: Grammatical vs. natural gender for more details.)

Issues may arise when the referent is someone of unspecified or unknown sex. In a language such as English, it is derogatory to use the inanimate pronoun it to refer to a person (except in some cases to a small child), and although it is traditional to use the masculine he to refer to a person of unspecified sex, the movement towards gender-neutral language requires that another method be found, such as saying he or she. A common solution, particularly in informal language, is to use singular they. For more details see Gender in English.

Similar issues arise in some languages when referring to a group of mixed gender; these are dealt with according to the conventions of the language in question (in French, for example, the masculine ils "they" is used for a group containing both men and women or antecedents of both masculine and feminine gender).

A pronoun can still carry gender even if it does not inflect for it; for example, in the French sentence je suis petit ("I am small") the speaker is male and so the pronoun je is masculine, whereas in je suis petite the speaker is female and the pronoun is treated as feminine, the feminine ending -e consequently being added to the predicate adjective.

On the other hand, many languages originally do not distinguish female & male in the third person pronoun.
Some languages that have/had a non-gender-specific third person pronoun:

  • Indonesian/Malay, Malagasy of Madagascar, Philippine languages, Maori, Rapa Nui, Hawaiian, and other Austronesian languages
  • Chinese, Burmese, and other Sino-Tibetan languages
  • Vietnamese and other Mon–Khmer languages
  • Swahili, Yoruba, and other Niger-Congo languages
  • Turkish and other Turkic languages
  • Luo and other Nilo-Saharan languages
  • Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, and other Uralic languages
  • Hindi-Urdu
  • Georgian
  • Japanese
  • Armenian
  • Korean
  • Mapudungun
  • Basque
  • Persian

Some of these languages started to distinguish gender in the third person pronoun due to influence from European languages.
Mandarin, for example, introduced in the early 20th century a different character for she (她) which is pronounced identically as he (他) and thus still indistinguishable in speech.
Korean geunnyeo (그녀) is found in writing to translate "she" from European languages. In the spoken language it still sounds awkward and rather unnatural.

Read more about this topic:  Personal Pronoun, Types and Forms of Personal Pronouns

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