Opportunities arising from contemporary evolutions in modern languages

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jean-christophe Lurenbaum

Mar 16, 2021, 11:02:25 AM3/16/21
to The Bodyguards - General Forum
I open this topic to explore the links between the international coalition and contemporary pressures to neutralise gender oppressions in the evolution of modern languages. There is a centre of interest that can inform the coalition's thinking: Towards non-sexist language usage.

jean-christophe Lurenbaum

Mar 16, 2021, 11:04:02 AM3/16/21
to The Bodyguards - General Forum

Here are some thoughts for collective reflection and opportunities related to the evolution of modern languages.

1 - the need for most modern languages to evolve to include intersex people

If we want to put an end to intersex mutilation, which is linked to the social assignment to the fe/male gender binarity, it is essential to give intersex people a legal place and therefore a linguistic place.

In order to achieve its mission, the international coalition must therefore contribute as best it can to this inevitable evolution of modern languages.

2 - the value of a holistic approach to the evolution of all modern languages

Of course, it would be enough to modify each living language independently, with the sole aim of making a place for intersex people. But we can do much better, because a living language is like a metropolis: it is better to have an overall plan when we want to change a single district, because there is a whole network of relationships and interdependencies between a district and the city of which it is a part.

The evolution of a living language without a holistic vision can lead to a degradation of the efficiency and economy of this language, by successive patches: there comes a time when it is better to change the whole inner tube! Typically, as far as the French language is concerned, it has been under double pressure for several decades: on the one hand, feminists want to put an end to the patriarchy that infuses it (the famous grammar rule that "the masculine always prevails over the feminine"), and on the other hand, it is necessary to make room for intersex people (and, more generally, for the queer issue of gender liberation/neutralisation). The options currently available are disastrous and this already complicated language is becoming increasingly unreadable and cumbersome through stratification without an overall vision. Its cognitive efficiency is reduced all the more, which has the consequence of reducing the collective intelligence of French speakers and will probably lead to a cultural decline of the French-speaking world in the short term.

The problem is that a language is nobody's property and that there is no actor with the mission or the legitimacy to make all languages evolve with a minimum of global vision: nobody is legitimate to make such a global evolution, neither intersex people nor feminists, nor other interested people.

This opens up the opportunity for a broad international coalition to occupy the centre of the playing field by offering a win-win to all parties: only a broad grouping has sufficient legitimacy and power to undertake such an ambitious initiative.

3 - opportunities for the different actors of the coalition

Since it is inevitable that most living languages will have to be changed to make room for intersex people (except for a few languages such as Finnish), the coalition can take advantage of this historical break (which only happens once every 10,000 years, so it is an extremely rare opportunity) to join in a comprehensive plan to optimise languages for maximum relief from the suffering that these sometimes damaging traditions generate. I don't know how many lateral alliances are possible with such a "lateral" project (the so-called "lateral project strategy" consists of offering "lateral" projects to the main mission in order to attract the energy of the "lateral" allies for the benefit of the main mission), but I see at least 3:

  • Of course, intersex people around the world can only find in the international coalition an actor capable of carrying their expectations in a vast project of evolution of all modern languages: they cannot do it alone.

  • Feminists are also eager for an initiative to end gender oppressions (such as the French language rule that institutionalised male domination through language).

  • Animalists, a rising social cause that may well become a tsunami in the next decade, are very interested in ending 'speciesism' (discrimination between sentient beings in favour of humans) which infuses many languages (this is the case in English but not in French or Finnish). 

  • The promoters of each language, who want their language not to die out and to be a vector of cultural influence. Typically, there is significant funding to promote "francophonie" which could be part of a plan to modernise the French language.

At this early stage of reflection, I suggest that the coalition should be aware of the challenges and opportunities associated with the inevitable evolution of most modern languages, and should explore the possibilities of opportunities.

For example, it is clear that if the coalition takes a stand for the evolution of the English language with the use of "it" as the only 3rd person singular personal pronoun (see this thread dedicated to intersex people), which is technically very simple to implement and could be deployed tomorrow by every member of the coalition, it could considerably draw media attention to the coalition, which would be a great opportunity to communicate on male circumcision. Another huge advantage of this strategy to start with the English language is that it is the most spoken language in the world and the 1st lingua franca, which would allow to attract the attention of almost all humanity (having access to the Internet!), on the way to the coalition and thus on male circumcision. After this first cultural "shock" in breaking with traditions, it would be easier to initiate similar reforms in other languages, which would understand the interest of such simplifications for their own language.  

jean-christophe Lurenbaum

Mar 25, 2021, 10:56:51 AM3/25/21
to The Bodyguards - General Forum

Further presentation of the "Modern Languages Evolution" project

1 - On the opportunity of the project: the forced assignment of newborns and children

2 - My proposal to the international coalition

3 - The special case of the English language

1 - On the opportunity of the project: the forced assignment of newborns and children

At birth, in the vast majority of countries, there are only the two boxes "male / female" to categorise them legally (civil status) and in language. This constraint is particularly devastating for intersex newborns (and to a lesser extent for transgender people). On the one hand, it exerts social pressure to fit them "with a scalpel" into one of the two boxes (mutilations), and on the other hand, these people find themselves assigned to a "gender" (social role) that does not necessarily correspond to them, which can have serious psychological or physical consequences. Language is at the heart of this problem, including its legal consequences.

It is therefore necessary to change most modern languages, which will also help to change the legal categories. Not only is it necessary to end gender binarity, but it is probably best not to force newborns and the children they will become to adopt a gender (or category) that may not be appropriate for them in the developmental years following birth.

2 - My proposal to the international coalition

My proposal is to launch a 'project', a 'modern languages evolution' project. A project is a process composed of typical phases, with the need for collective validation at each stage [idea > opportunity > feasibility > experimentation > generalisation]. At present, this project is at the idea phase and this phase is not yet validated: we are only at the very beginning of the process.

This project would be led only by interested coalition members, with no obligation on other members or the coalition. 

The first step of this project would be to make a list of actors interested in such a project internationally and to invite them to join the project. In doing so, the formation of such a working group will draw the attention of multiple actors to the existence of the international coalition, which is an objective in itself.

This project would have as its main objective ending intersex (and partly transgender) oppression, but could have 'side' objectives to bring more actors into the international coalition, such as eradicating the patriarchal oppression that has infused many languages for the past 8000 years or so, or ending the speciesism of some languages.

If the opportunity of this project is validated, then it could be proposed to the coalition (via the Agora) to adopt a very simple official statement along the following lines: "The international coalition wishes that an evolution of modern languages be initiated, in a way that facilitates the abandonment of sexual mutilation, especially related to intersex." Such an official position would provide the project group with a communication base for building a broad international constituency for the project.

3 - The special case of the English language

The case of the English language is particularly interesting since it is the main vehicular language: an evolution of this language would attract attention all over the world and would be a stimulus for the evolution of other languages. Among the possible options, let's make a quick comparison between the two options "they/them" and "it/s" for the 3rd person singular, so as to open the reflection to several parameters of the problem.

Technically and in target English, the option of "it/s" as the only 3rd person singular personal pronoun (for the non/living and for the non/human) seems preferable to the option of "they/them" for intersex people only, for several reasons:

  • the "it" option (comparable to the Finnish "han" option) avoids the assignment of a newborn to a particular gender or category, which is a very considerable advantage. If intersex newborns are assigned to the category "they" at birth, there is a twofold risk that this category will change into a gender over time, and that each intersex child will feel uncomfortable being assigned without their consent to a category that may not be appropriate for them (apparently a majority of intersex people prefer to identify as male or female rather than "they").

  • the personal pronoun "they" refers to the plural. It is therefore problematic to use "they" as the singular only for intersex people, which may introduce confusion and even stigmatisation of intersex people. If the use of "they" in the 3rd person singular for an intersex person does not cause confusion with the plural, then this would mean that distinguishing between singular and plural personal pronouns is not particularly relevant. In that case, one could propose an even greater simplification of the English language, using 'they/them' for all living and non-living entities, human and non-human, in both singular and plural forms! This would even avoid the diversions with "it".

So technically and purely as a societal target, I think for the moment that "it" as the only 3rd person singular personal pronoun is preferable to "they" used exclusively for intersex people in the 3rd person singular. But this hypothesis is open to debate and we will see the best arguments emerge.

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