Gender Neutral Pronouns

Gender neutral pronouns: A possible solution to loosing number specification in “Third person they” but only in the abstract context of a translation exercise

I would like to thank the  superlinguo folks for giving me an idea about translating the 3rd person singular pronouns form Māori to English.

I, like many younger  (\ka kata \cough) speakers of English, use ‘they’ for both the singular and the plural third person pronoun when I do not know or wish to specify the gender of the referent. Here are some links to other people explaining why this is both righteous and proper (\ka kata \cough) (HT the superlinguo post)

Motivated Grammar

Language Log

Now that you’ve been convinced that this is good English 🙂 (\ka kata \cough) let’s talk about Māori.

Māori does not distinguish gender in any of its personal pronouns. Hooray! Lucky Māori. So the sentence Kua ʻaere atu aia. Can mean: She has left. He has left. Or possibly, depending on the context, It has left. I get a lot of students who want to translate this sentence as: They have left. Unfortunately this can’t work in the context of our formal tests because one of the things we are testing for is whether or not the students know all the personal pronouns. The personal pronouns in Māori distinguish singular, dual and plural number so this is important. I propose the following solution for people who want to use the gender neutral third person ‘they’ whilst still specifying the number.

Kua ʻaere atu aia.
TAM go away 3SG.
‘They(SG) has/ have left.’


Kua ʻaere atu rāua.
TAM go away 3D.
‘They(2) have left.’

Kua ʻaere atu rātou.
TAM go away 3D.
‘They(PL) have left.’

Obviously only necessary when giving a close translation of a sentence in isolation in the context of a written test. Not a very natural sphere of language use though eh.

Also I started this post months ago and only finished it today. #mixedgenretext #ha!


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