Re: Pronouns & sexuali
|From:||Paul Kershaw <ptkershaw@...>|
|Date:||Thursday, February 26, 2009, 5:51|
----- Original Message ----
> From: Mark J. Reed <markjreed@...>
> A loglang might have a mechanism for making certain types of framing
> assumptions explicit, but I suspect the general problem is not
> linguistically soluble.
I think we already do make certain assumptions explicit through word choice. For
instance, there are four cats who live in my house; I call them pets. Other
people might call them animals; I might say I own four cats, while others might
laugh at that notion (you don't own cats, cats own you!). My choice of "pet"
over "animal" implies a certain perspective on their place in the household, as
does my choice of "own." (In the abortion debate, for instance, word choice of
"fetus" or "child" often reveals something about the speaker's perspective.)
The framing, though, is unreliable. Ask just about anyone, including scientists,
if the sun is likely to come up tomorrow, and they'll say yes. A few clever
folks will point out that, in fact, the sun has never "come up" once in the
history of the solar system. But even people who "know better" continue to
frame the sun's motion in egocentric terms, in casual conversation.
Going back to the place this started, why do English and related languages
distinguish "that male" and "that female" using pronouns, but not any other
salient feature (like sexual orientation)? Indeed, (standard) English doesn't
even distinguish between "you, the single person I'm addressing" and "you, the
multiple people I'm addressing": Why ought gender be so much more a salient
feature that it's used for pronominal distinctions, even to the degree that
it's difficult in (standard contemporary) English to refer to "that person
whose gender I don't know"?
Of course, for modern speakers, it's linguistic happenstance that most of us
perpetuate due to inertia, but historically, it says something about how our
distant forebears saw the world. That said, I see it as perfectly reasonable
that some conlang might choose any other clearly salient feature (skin tone,
orientation, handedness*, etc.) as a basis for pronoun distinctions, such as
"fee" for "that gay person."
* Handedness is not as silly as it sounds: We have several words for "right"
that have come to mean something positive (dexterity, right, adroit), and
several words for "left" that have a negative meaning (sinister, gauche). For
much of European history, left-handedness was seen as evil, and children were
encouraged or even forced to do things right-handed.