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Sword Dancers 12/23

Sword Dancers 12/23 published on 15 Comments on Sword Dancers 12/23

Rowan: Hey, Juniper, who’s in the lead to win those tickets?

Rowan: That would be telling.

Róta: Wasn’t there supposed to be more than one observer? The knight said “they,” but I only see one. Is it a translation thing?

Alruna: I think so.

Ceanska is an awkward language. It doesn’t have a proper word for “ze”, so for people like me it just reuses the word for “they.” Then you just have to guess, every time, whether it means them them, or zer.

Róta: I tried to learn Ceanska, but got stuck on how it has two words for “you.”

Alruna: Even more awkward! It uses extra pronouns when it doesn’t need to!


Let’s hope there’s not a Fantasy!Japanese here, or a Fantasy!French. That would just make things even worse for these poor people.

Actually, I wonder which of these is Fantasy!English, if either of them are. Because I can only imagine how awkward translations would be with that.

They tried to introduce new pronouns to English several times but the fact is, most of English-speaking popular culture refused to take non-binary gender seriously. Which I think is the core of the issue.

A side note: don’t think that pronouns have a connection with acceptance of non-standard genders. Hungarian has NO pronoun system, meaning that you have to “guess” whether a third person discussed is a men or a women. Yet you won’t find most Hungarians taking non-binary gender seriously or even tolerant of it.

Which actually raises the question of Ceanska history.

In light of all this, I want to know what’s special about Sweden that they got a neopronoun to mostly work.

A naive guess: simple, they have (mostly) accepted people having neuter gender. Or at least, it has gained enough support and wide enough usage to be accepted academically. Same way “texting” and other neologisms are made. For example, a quick check at Wikipeida also shows it used as a replacement for “he or she”, simply because it saves space.

You can use neuter in English, but generally it is considered rude to call someone an it.

Again, the core of it is acceptance of non-binary gender. Pronouns are a side-effect, not cause or even effect.

If I may share my opinion, insisting that people use pronouns in a non-standard way is an ass-backwards approach (it can create a situation where you trap someone with “do as I want you to do or I’ll call you a bigot!” or they feel trapped with that). Convince people to accept non-standard gender(s) and then they’ll naturally adopt new pronouns or new uses for existing ones. It is also confusing to someone who is not exposed to such ideas.

I bet at least part of it is that they managed to get one that sounded good. The existing ones were “hon” and “han”, so “hen” is easy-to-pronounce and slots naturally into the same sentences.

English hasn’t managed to hit on one that sounds as good. Even discounting the way some people are really into weird spellings (who’s gonna know how to pronounce “xyr” unprompted?)…”ze”, for example, is perfectly legible, but doesn’t fit in the anglophone mouth as effortlessly as “he.”

So why can’t I call someone an “it”? It is easy to say. It already exists and unlike with “they”, there is no ambiguity whether it is singular or plural.

We both know that because “it” is considered demeaning. Why should it be? Why is it not used for neutral gender or when the gender of person is not known (which would be a use that someone who isn’t warm to neutral-gender would also find sensible)? From a quick look-up, that is exactly (more or less, without diving into linguistic details) what the Swedish “hen” does.

Except there is a very much different culture (and frankly, a much smaller amount of speakers) that has different attitudes. When I looked this up, I am reading about supermarket magazines having boys in spiderman costumes pushing pink (toy) baby carriages. About teachers having regulations for not pushing children into the roles of “boys and girls”. And so on. It is easy to see that it is the people accepting the usage that is the key here.

Because using “it” in English isn’t just an indication of gender neutrality, but also an indication that something is an object, not a living being with feelings. We often don’t use “it” for strange animals of unknown gender, and we can use “he” or “she” for objects if we want to indicate an emotional connection. (This happens a lot with boats, for instance.)

So calling a person “it” implies that they aren’t human. That they don’t even deserve as much care and respect as a favorite boat.

You can’t speak a language by ignoring half the meaning of every word. How are the people you’re talking to supposed to know which half you’re ignoring? They’re not mind readers.

Besides, the common English way to refer to a human of unknown gender is singular “they”, which is neutral without being dehumanizing. Just use that.

I am fully aware of the connotation that English has with the use of “it” on a person. I noted that.

I’m merely pointing out that if you could change the language, you could simply just remove the negative cannotation and remove ambiguity. I am not saying that it would be practical, just better from a standpoint of usage.

Check out Orion’s arm and pronouns (just google it). It has several fairly organic English pronouns for non-binary genders, including neutral-genders, or neuts. Je/jer/jers/jers/jerself seems to work just fine to me. The problem wasn’t and isn’t making the pronouns cool, it’s making the concept behind them cool.

Just so you know, as you appear to be defending an effort to communicate in good faith here…

“So why can’t I call someone an “it”?” made me jerk my head six inches back from the screen and keep reading the thread in cringing defensive anger rather than interesting linguistic discussion.

This is the first time in nearly 20 years as an actively non-binary person that I have seen that sentiment (and sometimes that exact arrangement of words) from someone who claims to be on my side. Please consider the impact of your phrasing.

In older books babies are often referred to as ‘it.’ However, they probably weren’t considered fully human, really. Babies can do nothing by themselves and probably died so often at that point that it didn’t really do to get too attached.

My language (Finnish) has one third-person word: hän. Someone mentioned Hungarian, which is in the same language tree, having the same/similar feature. It does get a little confusing in narration sometimes, but completely eliminates the “what pronoun should I use for this person” issue.

Oh, also: in colloquial speech, it’s completely fine to refer to people with the pronoun “se” (“it”), whatever their gender or lack thereof. I’d never do that in other languages unless it was someone’s preference, but this fact does sometimes make me wonder whether there’s an equivalent.

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