Faculty of Arts Declares Female Grammatical Gender “Neutral”

By , 29 May 2018, 10:54 AM Politics
Basic English syntax tree Basic English syntax tree Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

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The move prescribes the female gender form for all grammatical contexts in the faculty's legal documents for the next three years, causing a linguistic mess and doing the far-right a big favour just days before the parliamentary election.

May 29, 2018

The Senate of The Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana recently passed a decision that prescribes the exclusive use of the female grammatical gender form in all legal documents for the next three years, Delo noted on Sunday.

The Work Group for Preparation of the Proposal for Delicate Language Use in the Documents of the Faculty of Arts, comments Delo, might have prepared its proposal a little too hastily. The author of Delo’s article, Kozma Ahačič, further suggests that the group could have made its decision in the absence of any significant linguistic knowledge or consultation with those members of its institution who are more familiar with the matter, and therefore aware of the problems that arise from such a simplistic yet authoritative intervention in language.

It is also plausible that the authors attempted to borrow the idea from English, which cannot really be applied to Slovenian. This is because in Slovenian gender is something that is applied to every noun, objects included, while in return it is the noun’s gender that defines the grammatical forms of other word classes, such adjectives and verbs.

A Slovenian learner might remember how things used to go. For the feminine form of a noun:

'Profesorica Maja Tainta je pametna.’
(Professor(+feminine suffix) Maja Tainta is smart (+suffix follows the gender of the noun)).

A masculine example would go like this:

'Profesor Marko Tainta je pameten.'
(masculine basic form, no suffix).

With the new rule of feminine neutrality and the prescribed replacement of the masculine form, the first sentence remains the same, but the second one, when introducing “profesorica” as a gender neutral title for Marko, changes to something like this (if we keep the grammatical consistency by adjusting the form of the adjective to the form of the noun):

'Profesorica Marko Tainta je pametna.'
(Professor(+feminine suffix) Miro Tainta is smart (+suffix follows the gender of the noun).

Which in “old” Slovenian grammar means that Marko is a woman.

The arguments against this conclusion might go somewhat like this: we only think Marko is a woman because we have not yet entirely internalised the neutrality of female gender.

Slovenian, however, points out Kozma Ahačič for Delo, already knows gender neutral words in a female form (e.g., priča – witness). Furthermore, the question arises about how far to go, should this “feminine gender neutrality” prescription be applied to pronouns as well? For example, should we change 'Kdo je vzel svinčnik?' (Who took the pencil?) into 'Kdo je vzela svinčnik?'

The rule is already becoming a joke among the public, with various suggestions appearing in social media comments, such as a “solution” to the aforementioned problem by changing the pronoun ‘Kdo’ itself (into ‘Kdoja’, to fit the verb that follows) and even Kdor koli (whoever) into a very imaginative Kdora kola, and so on.

Although this impetuous decision might have been taken in good faith, it couldn't have happened at worse time, especially since its effects seem to be exactly the opposite from those intended. Did these intellectuals – who believe their mission is in shaping the public discourse, providing those of lesser minds with the mental food that would allow them to shake off the shackles of oppression –forget that we are less than a week away from the elections, or are they just ignorant of the fact that politics requires some basic understanding of tactics? To increase the embarrassment, apart from hosting most of the liberal arts departments, the Faculty of Arts is also the University of Ljubljana’s main language research facility.

This double display of incompetence has been playing well with the far-right in the last two days, since the fiasco was also reported by Hungarian-owned and SDS/Janez Janša-friendly Nova24 TV, which under the title Gay Dean of the Faculty of Arts Puts a Ban on Male Sex/Gender warns of chaos and nonsense reigning inside the (privileged) heads of the liberal left, and calling on undecided voters to choose “order”, noting that “order is always conservative as it rests on a ‘norm’”.


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