Gender neutrality in genderless languages
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Gender neutrality in genderless languages is the use of wording in those languages that avoids referring specifically to the male or female gender. This is typically achieved by using gender-exclusive words ("human being", "person", "businessperson", "caveperson"; "people", "businesspeople", "cavepeople", and so on) instead of gender-specific ones ("man", "businessman", "caveman", "men", "businessmen", "cavemen") when one speaks of people whose gender is unknown, ambiguous, or unimportant. When only a gender-specific word happens to be available, a gender-inclusive neologism may be coined to replace it.
- 1 Austronesian languages
- 2 Finno-Ugric languages
- 3 Indo-European languages
- 4 Other natural languages
- 5 Constructed languages
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
As an Austronesian language, Malay is fundamentally gender-neutral. The third-person singular pronoun dia can mean 'she', 'he' or sometimes 'it', and the object/possessive suffix -nya can mean 'her/her', 'him/his' or 'it/its'. For example, dia mencintainya means 'she/he loves her/him/it'.
Most nouns that refer to people are also gender-neutral, and need to be qualified when gender is to be expressed. For example, budak means 'child', and is used far more frequently than the gender-specific phrases budak perempuan, 'female child' and so 'girl', and budak lelaki, 'male child' and so 'boy'. Likewise, the words doktor ('doctor'), pelayan ('waiter') and most other nouns that are attributable to people are gender-neutral, and need to be modified by the adjectives perempuan or lelaki to become gendered (for animals, the adjectives betina and jantan are used instead; a harimau betina is a 'tigress'). However, Malay vocabulary has many nouns borrowed from Arabic and Sanskrit that do indicate gender. For example, an Islamic religious teacher is either an ustaz (male) or an ustazah (female), and a noble person is either a puteri ('princess') or a putera ('prince').
However, because Tagalog has had over three centuries of Spanish influence, gender is usually differentiated in certain Spanish loanwords by way of the suffixes -a (feminine) and -o (masculine). These words mostly refer to ethnicities, occupations, and family. Some examples are: Tagala/Tagalo, Pilipina/Pilipino (Filipina/o) and their derivative nicknames Pinay/Pinoy, tindera/tindero (vendor), inhinyera/inhinyero (engineer), tita/tito (aunt/uncle), manang/manong (elder sister/brother), and lola/lolo (grandmother/grandfather). Chinese has also lent a few, mostly relating to kinship terminology such as ate (big sister) and kuya (big brother).
In Estonian the word ta (or tema) is gender-neutral and means both "she" and "he". The suffix -tar or -nna can be added to the end of some words (mostly professions) to make them feminine, although these nouns are in their basic form gender-neutral: laulja (singer), lauljatar (female singer) or lauljanna (female singer); näitleja (actor) - näitlejanna (actress) or näitlejatar (actress). Also, for instance, there are separate words like esinaie (chairwoman) and esimon (chairman). Most of the professions are gender-neutral: politseinik (policeman or policewoman), arst (doctor), müüja (salesman or saleswoman), õpetaja (teacher), sõdur (soldier), ehitaja (builder), even lüpsja (milkmaid, male or female). A well-known exception is med. õde (nurse, literally "med[ical] sister").
Some words are clearly masculine or feminine. For example, in Estonian there is only a "Fatherland" (isamaa) and a "Homeland" (kodumaa). There is also only a "mother" (native) tongue (emakeel).
Finnish has only gender-neutral pronouns and completely lacks grammatical gender. The word hän is gender-neutral and means both "she" and "he". The suffix -tar or -tär can be added to some words (mostly professions) to make them feminine if required, for example näyttelijä (actor), näyttelijätär (actress), but these forms are not commonly used any more; using the basic word for all genders, equally meaning female/male proffessions (näyttelijä for f/m actors) is the norm. However, the feminine form of kuningas ("king") which is kuningatar, is a common word, as it is the only word for queen in Finnish language. There are also some professions or expressions of which the word mies (man) is an integral part, for example, puhemies, meaning chairman; palomies, fireman, etc. These are mostly retained in their traditional forms, unless a suitable gender-free word is easily available. As a special case the chairperson of the Finnish Parliament is referred as puhemies irrespective of the actual gender—either herra puhemies (Mr. Chairman) or rouva puhemies (Mrs. or Madame Chairman).
Despite having gender-neutral pronouns, Finnish is similar to most other Western languages in favoring gender-based adjectives due to social values. As an example, in the first few years after women were permitted to serve as the volunteers of the Finnish armed forces, they were required to swear to defend the country in a manly way (miehekkäästi).
Hungarian does not have gender-specific pronouns and lacks grammatical gender: referring to a gender needs explicit statement of "the woman" (she) and "the man" (he). The 3rd. person singular pronoun ő means "she/he" and ők means "they". Hungarian does distinguish persons from things, as the latter are referred to as az (it) or azok (those). This is however true only one way by using ő or ők may refer only to person(s) while az or azok may refer either to persons or things.
However there is a way to distinguish between female/male persons having a certain profession by adding -nő to the end of the words when signifying woman's profession like for example színész+nő (act+ress) while the basic is színész' (act+or) or rendőr+nő" (police+woman) while the basic form rendőr means "police+man". Such usage has been criticized by Hungarian women, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals and even by some men, as this implies that the basic word for the given profession is a): qualified only when a woman is performing the profession and b): usually and often inadequately denoting the masculine form and c) discriminating by omitting of the other smaller groups of professional adults, such as gender non-conforming individuals.
Persian is a genderless language. For both males and females, the same nouns, pronouns, and adjectives are used. For example,
In Persian, the same nouns are used for male and female professionals. For example: bāzigar (بازیگر) means both actor and actress. Pish khedmat (پیشخدمت) might mean waiter or waitress. The noun suffix -ash (اَش) serves either as a possessive adjective or an object pronoun for both males and females as well as things, situations, etc. For example,
- ketābash (کتابش) means "her/his book";
- pāyash (پایش) means "/her/his/its leg";
U labash rā busid (او لبش را بوسید) means "He kissed her lips" or "she kissed his lips" or "he kissed his lips" or "she kissed her lips" or even "a person of indeterminate gender kissed another person of indeterminate gender's lips." If we consider -ash as an object pronoun we can translate the sentence as "she/he kissed her/him on the lips".
In Maithili, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya and Nepali, there are different nouns for professions, but they are not commonly used, so these languages have become gender-neutral. In addition, objects, pronouns and almost all adjectives are gender-neutral.
In all of these languages, nouns that denote male and female beings are sometimes distinguished by suffixation or through pairs of lexically differing terms. Beyond this, nouns are otherwise not overtly marked (i. e., inanimate nouns, abstract nouns, all other animates).
Other natural languages
Japanese has no grammatical gender or number. Thus, isha (医者?) can mean one or many male doctors, one or many female doctors, or many male and female doctors. Another example of the lack of European-style gender in this language is the using of compound characters. The sha in geisha (芸者?, art person) and the ja in ninja (忍者?, sneaking person) are the same character. Pronouns are generally avoided unless the meaning is unclear.
The plural of kare, karera (彼ら?), may also refer to groups of females[clarification needed], and is preferable to the rather demeaning kanojo-tachi (彼女達?, those women). Gender neutral language modification advocates suggest avoiding karera by instead using "those people" (あの人達 ano hito-tachi?), which they praise as gender neutral, grammatical and natural-sounding. However, until the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century, kare (彼?) was used for both genders; kanojo (彼女?) meant "girlfriend", as it still does.
In general, Japanese, unlike most European languages, has no grammatical gender, although certain words and expressions semantically refer specifically to males or specifically to females (such as haha "mother", bijin "beautiful woman"). However, the language spoken by Japanese women is markedly different from the speech of Japanese men in terms of vocabulary, use of grammar and idioms, pronunciation, etc.
An increasing number of Japanese avoid the traditional common terms for "[your] wife" (奥さん okusan?) and "[your] husband" (ご主人 goshujin?), which literally mean "the person inside" and "the master". Japanese custom has also dictated that women be expected to use a polite form of language (keigo) in more situations than men. This expectation has diminished more among urban young female Japanese in the past decade.
The major issues with regard to gendered language in Japanese are overall speech patterns. There exists a "woman's language" (onna kotoba) . Women's speech has different sentence endings than that of men, especially in non-polite speech. (Polite speech tends to be less differentiated, with male speech becoming more similar to female). A good example is the gender-neutral use of watashi or watakushi for "I" in polite speech. In informal speech, women are still more likely to use watashi or atashi, while men use boku, ore or washi. Women's speech is characterized by sentences ending with wa (rising intonation) and by dropping the verbs da or desu (meaning "is"). Male speech never drops the word da in a sentence. The differences are quite intricate, but very persistent, and there is little or no movement in Japan to change male/female speech patterns, since changes can sound awkward or confusing. However, some historians note that over time Japanese usage as a whole is shifting toward the feminine forms. Before recent times, men never used words like kane ("money") with the honorific prefix o-. Today okane is standard Japanese and is used by men in non-polite situations, something unthinkable a hundred years ago.
Korean, like a few other East Asian languages such as Japanese, does not use pronouns in everyday language, relying on context to clarify the intended meaning. In case of confusion, there are pronouns to clarify the position, but normally the actual subject (person) is named rather than the pronoun. As for job titles, these are not gender-specific. Again, the meaning is normally clear in the context.
Turkish is a gender-neutral language, like most other Turkic languages. Nouns have a generic form and this generic form is used for both males and females. For example, doktor (doctor), eczacı (pharmacist), mühendis (engineer) etc. Very few words for person reference contain a clue to the gender of the referred person, such as anne/baba "mother/father", kız/oğlan "girl/boy", hanım/bey "lady/sir"
The Turkish equivalent to "he", "she", and "it" is o. For example:
- O, gece yürümeyi çok seviyor — He/she/it likes to walk at night.
- Onu çok seviyorum — I love him/her/it so much.
There are a few exceptions, where it is mandatory to provide gender (because of a word's foreign origin):
- iş + adam + ı = işadamı — business + man = businessman.
- iş + kadın + ı = işkadını — business + woman = businesswoman.
Very minor exceptions were constructed from native Turkish words after the 1900s:
- bilim + adam + ı = bilim adamı — science + man = male scientist.
- bilim + kadın + ı = bilim kadını — science + woman = female scientist.
However, there is an alternative gender neutral use for words like these, which has become more popular in the 2000s:
- bilim + insan + ı = bilim insanı — science + person = scientist.
At the same time research have shown a significant presence of semantically-implied genderness (covert gender) in Turkish. In addition to the absence of semantic gender neutrality it was also noted that the usage of gender markings in Turkish is asymmetrical. In translations of sentences from English texts where the gender is evident (e.g., usage of he/she or male vs. female context, such as police job vs. pregnancy, etc.) it was noticed that feminine gender was marked in 50% of cases, while masculine was marked only in 5% of cases. While translations is not a typical representative of linguistic data, similar asymmetry was also observed in Turkish literary and newspaper texts.
This is a Kwa language spoken in Nigeria, the Yoruba people refer to their language as Ede Yoruba. Is also a gender neutral language. Gender pronouns such as he or she simply do not exist in Yoruba language. Words like brother, sister, and son /daughter also do not exist. The most important organizing category is age. Therefore people are classified by whether they are egbun (older sibling) or aburo(younger sibling). In order to say brother, one would need to say aburo mi okunrin ( this roughly translates to my younger sibling, the male). Male and Female are also quite unlike man and woman in English language. "Obirin" and "okorin" which mean "one who has a vagina" and "one who has a penis" are used to mean female and male respectively. Due to European colonization, western pronouns are becoming more widespread.  Lugones observes that among the Yoruba people there was no concept of gender and no gender system at all before colonialism. She argues that colonial powers used a gender system as a tool for domination and fundamentally changing social relations among the indigenous.
The Basque language is largely gender-free. Most nouns have no gender, though there are different words for females and males in some cases (ama, "mother"; aita, "father"; guraso, "parent"). Some words are differentiated according to gender, like in the English language (akt+oresa, "act+ress"; akt+ore, "act+or"), but they are not the main rule. For animals, there are particles (oil+o, "hen"; oil+ar, "cock"; hartz eme, "female bear"; hartz arra, "male bear") or different words (behi, "cow"; zezen, "bull").
While there are no gender-specific pronouns, Basque verbs can agree allocutively with the gender in the intimate singular second person (this provides no information since the listener already knows the gender): hik dun, "you (female) have it"; hik duk, "you (male) have it". The verb is marked for addressee's gender, if they are intimate singular, whether or not they are referred to in the clause. Non-sexism supporters propose substituting those forms by the more formal ones: zuk duzu "you have it". In earlier stages, the relation between hik and zuk was like that of you and thou in early modern English. Some Basque dialects already avoid hik as too disrespectful.
Swahili is a Bantu language spoken in many parts of Africa such as Kenya and Tanzania. It is largely gender neutral in specific nouns. Words such as actor/actress (mwigaji wa hadithi) and waiter/waitress (mtumishi mezani) are gender neutral among most others in the language. The words he, him, she, her translate to a single word in Swahili, yeye.
There are gender specific words for man/woman (mwanadamu/wanawake) and mother/father (mama/baba), so it is not completely gender neutral, although a vast majority of the words do not distinguish between male or female. The language does not have an grammatical gender either.
The Chinese language or languages/topolects are largely gender-neutral, and possess few linguistic gender markers, even though the Chinese society has historically been shown to have significant degree of male dominance in the social structure as well as education and literature.
Comprehension of written and spoken Chinese is almost wholly dependent on word order, as it has no inflections for gender, tense, or case. There are also very few derivational inflection; instead, the language relies heavily on compounding to create new words. A Chinese word is thus inherently gender-neutral, but any given word can be preceded by an adjective/root indicating masculinity or femininity. For example, the word for "doctor" is yīshēng (醫生) and can only be made gender-specific by adding the root for "male" or "female" to the front of it; thus to specify a male doctor, one would need to prefix nán 男 (male), as in nányīshēng (男醫生). Under normal circumstances both male and female doctors would simply be referred to as yīshēng (醫生).
Spoken Mandarin Chinese also has only one third-person pronoun, tā for all referents (though -men 們 / 们 can be added as a plural suffix). Tā can mean "he", "she", or "it". However, the different meanings of tā are written with different characters: "他", containing the human radical "亻", from "人", meaning person, for he or a person of undetermined gender; "她", containing the feminine radical "女", for "she"; and "它/牠" for "it"; whereas, "她/它/牠" are westernized from English, Mandarin Chinese could only use "他" to refer all the genders, "he/she/it".
The character for "she", containing the "woman" radical (glyphic element of a character's composition), was invented in the early twentieth century due to western influence; prior to this, the character indicating "he" today was used for both genders — it contains the "person" radical, which, as noted above, is not gender-specific.
In written Cantonese, the third-person singular pronoun is keui5, written as 佢; it may be used to refer to people of either gender because Chinese does not have gender roles as English in third-person pronouns. The practice of replacing the "亻" radical with "女" (forming the character 姖) to specifically indicate the female gender may also be seen occasionally in informal writing; however, this is neither widely accepted nor grammatically or semantically required, and the character 姖 has a separate meaning in standard[clarification needed] Chinese.
Pipil, like other Uto-Aztecan languages, is a gender-neutral language. The word yaja is gender-neutral and means both "she" and "he". Even though, the preffix siwa can be added to the end of some words (mostly family roles) to make them feminine, these nouns are in their basic form gender-neutral: piltzin (boy, son), siwapiltzin (daughter). This is rather common. Nevertheless, most of the professions are gender-neutral: tamachtiani (teacher), tisewiani (fireman or firewoman, firefighter), tapajtiani (medic, doctor), takwikani (singer), tasumani (soldier), mutaluani (runner), even tajkwiluani (writer). Some exceptions concerning gender would be siwateutzin (goddess) and siwataktuani (queen).
The only definite article in Pipil is the word ne, denoting person(s) or thing(s) already mentioned, under discussion, implied, or otherwise presumed familiar to the listener or reader.
"Ne" can be used with both singular and plural nouns, with nouns of any gender, and with nouns that start with any letter. This is different from many other languages, which have different articles in those situations.
With the exception of mama and tata, and wallpa and k'anka (hen and rooster), no nouns are gender-specific. In Southern Quechuan, qhari (man) and warmi (woman) are very seldom used along with a noun referring to a person, as in warmi wawa and qhari wawa for daughter and son. For animals urqu and china serve the same purpose, as in urqu khuchi and china khuchi for pig and sow.
No pronouns distinguish gender, the third singular pay being he/she/it.
Dravidian languages have a gender-neutral form for the third-person plural, which is also used for the third-person singular in all formal communication. Most job titles are derived from this form as they are mostly used in a formal context. They are thus gender-free. It is commonly used to address also, people of higher status, age or stature.
Esperanto follows the pattern of more natural languages, in assigning the male genders to specific roles (family member, aristocracy, etc.), and further deriving the female term from that. The generic form of nouns is the same as the male form and different from the female form—for example, doktoro(j) means "doctor(s)" (male or unspecified sex), while doktorino(j) means "female doctor". Some words, like patro (father), are intrinsically masculine, but there is no root word to express "a parent".
The prefix ge- may be used for groups of mixed sex, for example, gedoktoroj (male and female doctors). Reformers have used ge- to create explicitly sex-neutral singulars such as gepatro, "a parent". Though not generally adopted, this usage has appeared in some authoritative reference works.
Explicitly marked feminine forms such as doktorino may be used to emphasize the noun's female character, but unmarked forms are also commonly used for females. Reformers have proposed morphologically well-formed but rarely used forms like virdoktoro (literally "man-doctor") and neologisms like -iĉ- (doktoriĉo) to emphasize maleness. The first form is somewhat insufficient because viro traditionally means "man, male", but does not really show any male lexeme or morpheme, virino meaning "woman". This is discussed about, some people prefer viriĉo for "man, male" as opposed to virino.
Concerning pronouns there is much discussion: ŝi is clearly female, like English she. For male persons li is used and for (not personified) animals as well as for inanimate objects ĝi. It is not clear however what form to use when a person of unknown sex is spoken of. It is officially accepted, though very rarely practiced, to use ĝi in this case. Also li is officially accepted to refer to both sexes, what of course causes some opposition. There are some suggestions for neologisms like ŝli or ri. On the other hand some people consider li to be sex-neutral, and recommend a new only-male pronoun, e. g. hi.
Arguments about the character and implications of "gendered" or "sexist" features in Esperanto closely parallel those raised for other, particularly European languages.
In Ido, only two couples of nouns are gender-specific: viro-muliero (man-woman) and patro-matro (father-mother). Other nouns referring to people, and all nouns referring to animals can equally be used to refer to a male or female: doktoro (a doctor), frato (a brother or a sister, i.e.: a sibling), hundo (a dog). And even the two pairs of words above have related nouns that are ambiguous about gender: homo (a human being), adulto (an adult person), genitoro (a parent).
When it is necessary to specify the gender, the suffixes -in for females, and -ul for males is inserted right before the final -o of any noun referring to either human beings or animals. Thus, from frato (sibling) the words fratino (a sister) and fratulo (a brother) can be obtained. However these forms are to be used only if the gender is relevant for the context, as in the following examples:
- El esas mea sola fratino. (She is my only sister, implying I may have brothers)
- El esas mea sola frato. (She is my only sibling)
- Me ne prizas doktorini. (I don't like female doctors, implying I prefer male doctors)
- Me ne prizas doktori. (I don't like doctors, male or female)
As for pronouns, they are not gender-specific in the first or second persons, singular and plural. In the third person singular, there are four pronouns (the U between brackets can be used or left out, mostly according to personal choice): il(u) (he), el(u) (she), ol(u) (it, when it refers back to an actual inanimate noun, and not in sentences as "It's raining"), and additionally lu, which can be used instead of any of the other three pronouns, whether it be for stylistic purposes, personal choice, or to refer to an indefinite being (usually human or animal) that can be thought of indifferently as male or female. For example:
Mea kapo doloras. Me advokos doktoro e lu decidez quon me agos (My head aches. I'll call a doctor, so he/she decides what I'll do)
Since I don't know whether a male or female doctor will come, I cannot use here il(u) or el(u). And I definitely cannot use ol(u) since I know for a fact that the doctor who comes is going to be a human being.
Now if instead of "a" doctor, I decided to call "my" doctor (therefore, knowing whether it will be a man or a woman), I could use any of the following:
1.- Mea kapo doloras. Me advokos mea doktoro ed il decidez quon me agos (My head aches. I'll call my doctor, so he decides what I'll do)
2.- Mea kapo doloras. Me advokos mea doktoro ed el decidez quon me agos (My head aches. I'll call my doctor, so she decides what I'll do)
3.- Mea kapo doloras. Me advokos mea doktoro e lu decidez quon me agos (My head aches. I'll call my doctor, so he/she decides what I'll do)
In sentence number 1, the doctor is a man, so the masculine pronoun is used. In sentence number 2, the doctor is a woman, so the noun is referred back with a feminine pronoun. But in sentence number 3, even though I know if the doctor is a man or a woman, it is perfectly possible to still dodge the definition by using the always available gender-neutral pronoun lu. Notice however that doktoro is never marked for gender in these sentences, since the doctor will be called in his/her professional capacity, and not for being a man or a woman. Actually, saying Me advokos mea doktorino (or mea doktorulo) implies I have a choice between a male and a female doctor, and I have decided on either of them.
In the third person plural, all of these pronouns have a correlative: ili, eli, and oli (only if a group of men, women or inanimate things or concepts respectively is referred). And li if no gender-specificity is required or even possible (for example, if the pronoun refers to a group including both men and women). In practice, the first three pronouns are usually avoided unless a point wants to be made as to the gender of the people referred, or in complex sentences, where gender information is given to clarify the meaning. For example:
La matri e sua filii recevis la premio quan eli decidis. ("The mothers and their children received the prize they -i.e.: the mothers, not the children- decided", provided that the children are not all girls).
Me pruntis ta libri de mea amiki, e nun me ne povas trovar oli ("I borrowed those books from my friends, and now I can't find them -i.e.: the books, not the friends who are not inanimate beings that can be referred back with oli").
Lingua Franca Nova
Lingua Franca Nova completely lacks grammatical gender. The word el means "she", "he", and "it". If gender is significant, one may use words such as la fem, la om, la xica, la xico, etc. (the woman, the man, the girl, the boy). In place of "it", one can use words such as la cosa, la idea, esta, acel, etc. (the thing, the idea, this, that).
Terms for various professions are gender neutral, as are terms for animals. If need be, mas o fema can be used as adjectives for "male" and "female", respectively. Certain traditional roles have -esa for the female, such as prinsesa, contesa, etc. Most family terms distinguish male and female by varying the final vowel, such as tia/tio, fia/fio, ava/avo etc. (aunt/uncle, daughter/son, grandmother/grandfather). Only madre/padre and sore/frate (mother/father, sister/brother) use distinct terms.
Interlingua is an auxiliary language that was developed to have a widely international vocabulary and a very simple grammar. In Interlingua, nouns have no gender except to reflect natural sex. For example, the words homine (man) and femina (woman) are masculine and feminine, respectively, but persona (person) has no gender. Adjectives are invariable and so never have to agree in gender with the nouns they modify. There is a separate nongender pronoun (illo, "it") and the possessive pronoun su ("his", "her" or "its") is gender-neutral.
Nouns such as professor and conductor denote both men and women, but specifically feminine forms such as professora conductora have been used occasionally over time. Interlingua has largely escaped charges of sexism, perhaps because the language changes easily as social values change.[clarification needed]
- Gender-neutral language in English
- Gender neutrality in languages with grammatical gender
- Gender-neutral pronoun
- Gender marking in job titles
- IGALA (International Gender and Language Group)
- Grammatical gender
- Gender role
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- Yasir Suleiman (ed.) (1999) "Language and Society in the Middle East and North Africa", ISBN 0-7007-1078-7, Chapter 10: "Gender in a genderless language: The case of Turkish", by Friederike Braun
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- Lugones, María (Winter 2008). "Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System". Hypatia 22 (1): 196–198. doi:10.1353/hyp.2006.0067.
- Perrott, D.V. (2010). Teach Yourself: Essential Swahili Dictionary. ISBN 978-1-444-10408-0.
- * "Chinese Character Database: Phonologically Disambiguated According to the Cantonese Dialect". Chinese University of Hong Kong. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-16.. The entry for "佢" (humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk) notes its use as a third-person pronoun in Cantonese, but the entry for "姖" () does not; it only gives the pronunciation geoi6 and notes that it is used in placenames.
- On the Creation of "She" (Japanese)