1. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    When the English Language Fights You?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Killer300, Feb 27, 2014.

    The main times this has come up, for me, is when I've wanted to write stories that involved genderless characters. There aren't very many genderless pronouns for persons to utilize, and the ones that do exist are... awkward. "It," doesn't work because, "It," implies something of revolting, or otherwise insulting, nature when applied to a person or even living creature. "They," doesn't work because, "They," implies a group, and also doesn't work in every sentence structure. So, I'm left saying the genderless person's name almost every single time, which I'm sure gets nauseatingly repetitive for readers.
    If I tried applying this to an entire species, I get the feeling many readers would throw the book down because of how repetitive it gets hearing someone's name every single time.

    However, this isn't the only time I felt the English language fought me when trying to write a particular concept. I remember trying to write a Hive Mind in first person, however stopped, and one of the reasons was I wasn't sure how to proceed with it. To be fair, I probably could've just said, "We," or even used traditional first person pronouns, however I'm not sure whether that works or not. The story is called, "I Am 10,000," for a reason after all.

    Now, let me get something in the open. I'm not trying intentionally to screw with the language I write in, as I've never been the most technically skilled writer ever, and, by extension, am not the type of person who likes messing with basic language mechanics for fun. I wouldn't write say, 2nd Person, because it sounds interesting, I would only do so if I felt a story absolutely required that perspective for some reason, as an example. However, as I noted above, there are concepts that seem to almost require one to break the English language to make work as intended.

    So, have you ever had this issue? Additionally, is this a sign that I should try, say, creating new words from scratch to make a concept work? No concept is good or bad in of itself, but it seems the above shows some are possibly far harder to execute(although I'm sure there are counters to this statement.)
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think you should create a new pronoun for your genderless character.

    I bet every piece of fiction ever written in English has used gender-specific pronouns, because everyone assumes gender. If you want to step out of bounds of gender (which is perfectly valid), you pretty much have to invent the language you need. Doing so will drive home the inadequacies of English.

    If you're not willing to go that far, then your stuck with what English offers, and that isn't much. Do you want to refer to your character by the default masculine pronouns "he, him" etc.? You have to decide if they work or not. If not, invent.

    Good luck!
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Octavia Butler's Dawn, Imago and Adulthood Rights all contain important characters called ooloi that are neither male nor female but a third gender altogether. Perhaps a peruse of her technique in handling the dynamic might prove fruitful.
     
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  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You might want to look for gender neutral pronouns in other languages and use one you like. This is assuming you don't want to invent your own word, of course.
     
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  5. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Thank you! Okay, her writing will indeed be very helpful in finding a solution to this particular language difficulty.

    Also, something I should've gone over, I have written, sort of, a story involving genderless beings, however, this lead to the repetition I described. Since it was a short story, I wasn't comfortable introducing a whole new word.

    Finally, I think I will try to find words in other languages to utilize, as coming up with my own could be... difficult. Granted, either way, I have to figure out how to introduce the reader to a totally new word.

    On another note, has anyone else had the English language interfere with a particular story?
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    All language is insufficient for writing fiction. When we write fiction, we're essentially trying to show readers what's happening in our heads. Words can never be enough to show others what we see in our mind's eye.
     
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  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. English lacks a substitute or alternative pronoun for either male or female that makes it easier to keep track of who and whom when there are multiple players but only one gender. Spanish has él and élla for he and she, but it also has éste and ésta, which are used when reference is being made again to the same person as was just in reference, and also aquel and aquella, which are used to denote the other him or her that was not just in reference. The love interests in my stories are always two fellahs, so I often keenly feel the lack of these alternative pronouns in English.
     
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  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm currently fascinated with Dan Simmons' invention of a whole new technological vocabulary. He exerts little effort to tell you what things are, yet this entire set of things you've never heard of work fairly well. I still can't quite picture a tree ship, but I get most of the rest of it. :)
     
  9. Mckk
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    "They" is actually an accepted form of a genderless pronoun, though it seems to have fallen out of academic/standard usage as some academics/teachers believe it's an error when it's not.

    I've seen "xe" as the alternative.

    Or maybe "one" could be adapted to work?

    As for your Hive Mind person, I see nothing wrong with "we" :)
     
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  10. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    A language can't 'interfere with a story'. A language is your vehicle for translating a story from an abstract figment of your imagination into something you can share with other people. But you need to be able to express your thoughts adequately in a language you use. You have loads of options, it, they, he, she, he/she or any invented word or a word from a different language. If you aren't comfortable with using any of them, then it's probably a sign that you aren't full comfortable with writing about a genderless character. So focus on that, and choose any word, and just go with it. You can always change it later, or as you get used to it, you might embrace whatever word you've chosen. Just don't give up on a story on the account of one word. That'd be a shame.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'd go with this suggestion. Don't just invent a word that means a genderless character, but invent all the forms of the word as well. The plurals, the possessives, etc. If you're writing about hive minds, etc, I assume this is sci-fi or fantasy? So invent it.

    Who knows? Your invention may well become the 'standard' by which genderless pronouns are judged!
     
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  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sez who?

    we use 'it' to refer to all of our fellow members of the animal kingdom and we don't think they're all revolting, nor are we insulting them by doing so...

    do you see a cute little kitten as 'revolting' when you refer to one as 'it'?... are you insulting the sweet little fur ball by doing so?

    frankly, i don't see why you think you have a problem with using 'it'...
     
  13. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Reminded me of the quote by Iris Murdoch: "Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea." :)
     
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  14. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Hmm, I've seen that argument elsewhere. Perhaps it doesn't apply.
     
  15. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Perhaps, although "they" isn't perfect for this.
    Xe on the other hand... well, the start is there, so I think its time for me to roll up my sleeves and expand the word's variety.
     
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  16. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    I'm really starting to see that, especially as I have a possible base word, but it needs to be expanded immensely.
     
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  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Oh! I just remembered another franchise where there is a genderless population, the Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine. This goes with the above quoted bit:

    Individuals are referred to as har. The plural is hara. Ever har is a member of a group in which all the hara answer to a tribal name. Everyhar is equal to anyhar that is of the same cast in the tribe and nohar is without cast.

    It works like that. ;)
     
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  18. Thomas Kitchen
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    Sounds interesting. :)
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    To be fair, using 'it' to refer to a child often connotes the user has some kind of animosity or lack of affection for the child.
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I forgot to ask, @Killer300, is this 'genderlessness' a neutral third gender of this species? In other words, does this species also have males and females?
     
  21. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Well, in my case, I'm writing a story where, through bio-technology, somebody essentially becomes a member of a third gender which has features of the first two, but also lacks certain aspects of both.
     
  22. Robert_S
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    In first person, there is at least two: Me and I. In third, there is only "it."

    The human race is a two sex race, so it's natural that English developed to infer sex with the pronouns in second and third person. I use the word "sex" because that is the terms we grew to think about. Gender being independent of sex is a recent ideology and I may be too old to adjust my thinking beyond being respectful of the individual as a human being even if I have trouble wrapping my thoughts around their sexual identity.
     
  23. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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  24. Killer300
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