Genderless language

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A genderless language is a natural or constructed language that has no distinctions of grammatical gender—that is, no categories requiring morphological agreement for gender between nouns and associated pronouns, adjectives, articles, or verbs.[1]

The notion of a "genderless language" is distinct from that of gender-neutral language, which is neutral with regard to natural gender. A discourse in a genderless language need not be gender-neutral[1] (although genderless languages exclude many possibilities for reinforcement of gender-related stereotypes); similarly, a gender-neutral discourse need not take place in a genderless language.

Genderless languages do have various means to recognize natural gender, such as gender-specific words (mother, son, etc., and distinct pronouns such as he and she in some cases), as well as gender-specific context, both biological and cultural.

Genderless languages are listed at list of languages by type of grammatical genders. Genderless languages include all the Kartvelian languages (including Georgian), some Indo-European languages (such as Bengali, Persian and Armenian), all the Uralic languages (such as Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian), all the modern Turkic languages (such as Turkish, Tatar, and Kazakh), Chinese, Japanese, Korean, most Austronesian languages (such as the Polynesian languages), and Vietnamese.

Language contact[edit]

Through language contact, some words that are originally part of a genderless system (or a mostly genderless system, such as English, which retains gender in some cases) develop a grammatical gender.

There are two primary ways linguists currently classify and understand this process as occurring: the first is through language contact impacting a language independent of borrowings, and the second is explicitly in the context of loanwords or borrowings.

Language contact[edit]

Grammatical gender may arise or be lost due to language contact.[2][3]

A survey of gender systems in 256 languages around the world show that 112 (44%) have grammatical gender and 144 (56%) are genderless.[4] Since the languages studied in this case were geographically close to each other, there is a significant chance that one language has influenced others. For example, the Basque language is considered a genderless language, but it has been influenced by the Spanish feminine-masculine two-gender system.

Additionally, there are approximately 7,000 languages in the world,[5] thus a sample of 256 languages constitutes roughly 3.7% of all spoken languages. Thus, although this particular survey indicates a high proportion of gender neutrality, it does not take into account the other 96.3% of languages.

Loans from other languages[edit]

Some linguists have an interest in studying the development of gender in nouns that have been borrowed from other languages.[6]

For example, while English nouns no longer exhibit gender (with legacy exceptions that are themselves borrowed from gendered languages), loanwords borrowed from English into Italian are assigned grammatical gender, as is required of Italian nouns. Linguists examining this phenomenon have noticed there are five common ways for gender to be assigned to the loanword:[6]

  1. Using the "natural gender" (i.e., the common association in the culture) so that a word like "girl" is feminine.
  2. Using phonological similarities between the word as it is heard and the receiving language's associations. For instance, in Boston, an Italian immigrant may hear "freezer" pronounced with a schwa at the end (freezə) and, due to the similarity between the /ə/ and an /a/ (which is feminine in Italian), assign the loanword a feminine gender.
  3. Using cognates and homonyms in a process called "rhyme analogy". Thus, "quart" (English) becomes "quarto" (masculine) in Italian due to its similarity to the preexisting Italian word for quarter.
  4. Using native synonyms for gender so that "paint" becomes "la pinta" in Italian, as other Italian words for paint are already feminine.
  5. Using a default gender. Romance (and some other) languages, like Italian and Spanish, default to the masculine for describing mixed gender groups, for example, and so masculine becomes the default for new nouns that are not easily assigned a gender.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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
  2. ^ Kuteva, Bernd Heine ; Tania (2006). Language contact and grammatical change (Reprinted. ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0521608282.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^
  4. ^ Vanhove, Martine; Stolz, Thomas; Urdze, Aina; Otsuka, Hitomi, eds. (2012). Morphologies in Contact. Berlin: Akademie Verlag Berlin. p. 97. doi:10.1524/9783050057699. ISBN 978-3050057019.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Rabeno, Angela; Repetti, Lori (1997). "Gender Assignment of English Loan Words in American Varieties of Italian". American Speech. 72 (4): 373–380. doi:10.2307/455494. JSTOR 455494.