[tlhIngan Hol] Expressing "neutral gender"

SuStel sustel at trimboli.name
Tue May 28 14:48:37 PDT 2019

On 5/28/2019 5:13 PM, Will Martin wrote:
>> On May 28, 2019, at 3:17 PM, SuStel <sustel at trimboli.name 
>> <mailto:sustel at trimboli.name>> wrote:
>> On 5/28/2019 2:52 PM, Will Martin wrote:
>>> A person using English to talk about an entity needs to know whether 
>>> that entity is a “he”, a “she”, or an “it”, or you can’t replace the 
>>> noun with a pronoun, and talking about the entity gets awkward.
>> Style guides have begun recommending the gender-indeterminate /they/ 
>> for these situations.
> This points out the arbitrary nature of gender, since English could 
> just as easily have come up with masculine, feminine, and mixed 
> versions of plural pronouns, but instead arbitrarily decided that 
> while singular had to indicate whether singular entities were insees 
> or outsees, but plural ones didn’t have to.

English didn't /decide/ anything. Its speakers did, slowly, due to 
changing social pressures. This is not arbitrary. It may look arbitrary 
to someone examining it without any historical context, but that's their 
lack of perspective, not the language itself.

>>> You gave no indication what the relevance is of the alien being male 
>>> or female or not.
>> No, he didn't, and he doesn't have to. He just asked if there is a 
>> way to say someone is of neutral gender. This is a perfectly 
>> reasonable and complete question. It doesn't require special context 
>> to answer.
> Okay. Of course, the less context a person provides, the easier it is 
> to be misunderstood. Communication is always incomplete. Context makes 
> it more complete.

This question needs to further context. How do you say that someone is 
of a neuter sex? You STILL haven't offered an answer.

>>> I’m not saying that the Klingon language lacks sex-based grammatical 
>>> gender for a reason. It’s completely arbitrary, as is the case in 
>>> every language.
>> Not the case. Languages develop the way they do for reasons, not 
>> arbitrarily. "Singular /they,/" for example, is becoming common as a 
>> reaction to the perceived sexism of using "impersonal /he./" /Thou/ 
>> and /thee/ disappeared in part due to social classes becoming more equal.
> Not really. Thee and thou disappeared during the Restoration period 
> because English people were falling all over themselves trying to be 
> more French.

And why was that? Because after the Norman-French conquered, French was 
the upper-class language and English was the lower-class language. What 
do you do when you want to appear higher-class? One inexpensive thing to 
do is to adopt the speech of the higher class.

> There’s also the other way to fix the “you” plural/singular problem 
> with the northern “youse guys” or the southern “y’all”. Likely, we’ll 
> never get everyone to agree on either. If we did, then the old plural 
> would be the new singular and we’d have a new plural.

/You/ as both singular and plural is not a problem. /We/ as both 
inclusive-/we/ and exclusive-/we/ is not a problem. /They/ being 
sex-inclusive//but /he, she,**/and /it/ not being sex-inclusive is not a 
problem. These are simply the features of Modern English pronouns.

> It really is arbitrary, and since nobody controls the language, it 
> just depends on whatever trend catches on and sticks. “Cool” still 
> works. “Groovy”? Not so much.

That's not arbitrary. Arbitrary would be without reason or system. 
Language change is very systematic.

> Language isn’t particularly reasonable. Efforts to find the reasons 
> for language stuff happening are driven by the desire to have reasons 
> for things. It’s a strong human desire, even when an effect has no 
> single, determinable cause.

If you have access to good enough sources, you can usually find the 
reason for any given change in language. Do you know about the field of 

>> I said earlier that English effectively has no gender, but it 
>> actually does have some, also based on biological sex: 
>> /widow/widower;/ /steward/stewardess; waiter/waitress/ (a whole bunch 
>> of /-ess/ endings in fact) and so on. And the female forms of these 
>> are starting to disappear as reactions to the perceived sexism of the 
>> language.
>> This stuff isn't arbitrary.
> Again, you are confusing linguistic gender for sex.

No I am not, though you would dearly like to find fault with me, so you 
imagine I am doing this.

> There are a lot of languages with linguistic gender drawn on 
> boundaries other than sex and plenty of languages with no gender. 
> English has lots of gender stuff based on masculine, feminine and neuter.

English gender, such as it is, is based on a real-world mapping of the 
biological sex of what a noun represents. What is male is given a 
masculine gender, what is female is given a feminine gender, and what is 
sexless is given a neuter gender. However, English gender, for the most 
part, doesn't extend beyond its pronouns.

Yes, there are other languages with masculine, feminine, and/or neuter 
genders that aren't determined by real-world biological sex. I'm not 
talking about those, I'm talking about English.

> Getting back to the original question about an alien that isn’t male 
> or female, how would one handle that in French?

Who frikkin' cares? This is the Klingon list; how would you say it in 

> The original post seemed to be in a huff about how incomplete Klingon 
> is because it doesn’t work like English to describe a neuter alien.

No, the original post was in a huff because mayqel was trying to head 
off exactly this argument. He didn't want people telling him whether 
he's allowed to talk about neuter; he wanted to set up a situation in 
which one would WANT to talk about neuter, and how would it be done?

He KNEW you guys were going to tell him that he shouldn't WANT to talk 
about neuter. And you did.

>>> Do you care if a chair is a boy chair or a girl chair?
>> No, he cares if an alien is neuter. How do you translate /The alien 
>> is neuter/?
> loD be’ ghap rurbe’ nov.

done that to begin with?

> Or I’d just point and say, {nov ‘oH} or {nov ghaH} depending on 
> whether I considered it to be capable of using language, and if 
> someone wanted to read maleness or femaleness or the need to be one or 
> the other, that would be on them and not on me, unless someone 
> explained a context about why I’d care whether it was male, female, or 
> neuter.

The context is "I care whether that alien is neuter." Why isn't that 
clear? Why does a speaker have to justify the things they care about 
before you'll translate it?"

> Alien means “Not like me.” So, if it’s not like me, and I don’t want 
> to mate with it, why even feel curious as to whether it’s male or 
> female or neither? It’s not part of my culture, human or Klingon. It’s 
> alien. What it does when it has sex IF it has sex is none of my 
> business or concern. This is the extreme of sexism: Caring about 
> whether an alien is male or female or neuter.

This is warped.

Suppose you want to have sex with an alien that speaks Klingon. How do 
you ask if they're neuter?

Having answered the question, is the answer only correct when proposing sex?


"How do I say that I am hungry in Klingon?"

"Well, without further context, unless you've invited me to dinner, why 
should I care about the biological processes your body uses to acquire 
nourishment? The details of your intestinal track are nobody's business 
but your own. In some cultures it is very rude to eat in front of 
others. Expressing your hunger would be the extreme of cultural 
effrontery to them."

"*jIghung!* The answer is *jIghung!*"


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