To say, “This is my uncle,” in Chinese, you have no choice but to encode more information about said uncle. The language requires that you denote the side the uncle is on, whether he’s related by marriage or birth and, if it’s your father’s brother, whether he’s older or younger.
“All of this information is obligatory. Chinese doesn’t let me ignore it,” says Chen. “In fact, if I want to speak correctly, Chinese forces me to constantly think about it.”
This got Chen wondering: Is there a connection between language and how we think and behave? In particular, Chen wanted to know: does our language affect our economic decisions?
Chen designed a study — which he describes in detail in this blog post — to look at how language might affect individual’s ability to save for the future. According to his results, it does — big time.
Oh this is incredibly interesting and I’ve been thinking about similar things fairly often in connection with gender neutral pronouns. There are people who asked me to use them when referring to them and of course I respect their wishes and do it when using English.
The confusing and troublesome thing is that I can’t think about them in a gender neutral way and end up randomly picking one gender for them to use in my thoughts. Why? Because I think in my language and it doesn’t support gender neutral, unless I’ll think about these people as “it”, which would be rude, derogatory and it’s used for inanimate things and it would make me feel like filth to think in such a way about living people.
You see, my language doesn’t express gender only with pronouns, like English. The verbs, too, are shaped according to grammatical gender, as well as the adjectives. Of course, our nouns all have their assigned gender (and masculine nouns are even divided into animate and inanimate - “male” or “dog” are animate “castle” is inanimate).
Let me give you example. I can’t even say/think in my language “failed” in a gender-neutral way. It’ll be “selhal” (singular) or “selhali” (plural anim.)/”selhaly” (pl. inanim.) if masculine, “selhala“(sg)/”selhaly“(pl.) if feminine gender… and if it happens with things it’ll be “selhalo”/”selhala”. Even when I think or talk about myself, the words are shaped according to my gender.
I’m pretty much tangled in this issue and not sure which solution (picking random gender or using derogatory neutrum) would be the least offensive to these people.
So if I circle back to the reblogged topic - for speakers of language like mine it is much harder to accept and understand gender-neutrality and third gender because of a language that makes it difficult to work with such concepts.