07 July 2006

Fr. John Whiteford's News, Comments, & Reflections: Gender Neutral Language and the Trinity

Fr John Whiteford links to a cartoon that sums up thoughts about American Presbyterians trying to find gender neutral language for referring to the Holy Trinity. Fr. John Whiteford's News, Comments, & Reflections: Gender Neutral Language and the Trinity

He notes that that Turkish and Chinese do not have genders, but that doesn't seem to stop Turks and Chinese from being sexist.

And Zulu has nine genders, or 18 if you count singulars and plurals separately, and none of those genders is linked to sex, but it doesn't seem to stop native Zulu speakers from being as sexist as anyone else.

Actually, for theological purposes Zulu is better than English, because it has two words for man-human being and man-male, where English has only one, which causes endless problems.

For man in the inclusive sense (including both sexes, that is), Zulu has umuntu (plural abantu). The umu- aba- class (or gender) in Zulu is sex-neutral, that is, it refers to people of either sex.

The word for a male man is indoda (plural amadoda). The i-/ama- class (or gender) in Zulu is also sex-neutral, though the word indoda is not -- it means an adult male human being. But ihashi can refer to either a stallion or a mare, just like horse in English.

Perhaps we need to revive the old English word werman for man in the exclusively male sense.

One of the best comments on this was made by the sociologists Peter and Brigette Berger, in their book War over the family
Sexist language is an invention of the feminist movement... Taken literally (it) is a theory that elevates infantile misunderstandings to the level of hermeneutics. But it would be a mistake to take this literally. It matters little, in the final analysis, that here is a theory of language that rests on little or nothing beyond the emotions of the theorists. What matters a lot is that the theory legitimates a linguistic offensive that is part of a general political strategy. In this strategy, every masculine pronoun purged from a text, every insertion of `person' as a generic suffix, constitutes a symbolic victory in the larger struggle.

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