Hungarian to English, Non-Gender Specific Pronouns

Fri Feb 21 13:56:38 PST 2003

For the interest of David Silberstein, Philip Hart and others that care:

I reposed the question to my grandfather regarding gender-specific pronouns 
in the Hungarian language. This time, however, instead of asking in person 
or by telephone, I e-mailed him, thereby obtaining a response in writing. 
(Now I can't mess up his words again!) I have copied his e-mail below for 
anyone interested, though I think much of this was already said by David 
Silberstein in his response to my post requesting his knowledge on the 

>P.M.C.T. wrote:


>I remember our little conversation about gender specific pronouns, or the 
>lack thereof, in the Magyar language.  Actually Hungarian does not 
>differentiate between male and female genders in pronoun usage, but there 
>is differentiation between personal pronouns and impersonal referring to 
>inanimate objects. For example:
>In English, there is gender differentiation in the third person singular 
>pronouns, such as "he" "she" and "it".  The Hungarian equivalents are "o" 
>(with an umlaut, that looks like the  double quote mark -"-, on top) for 
>"he" and "she", and "az" for "it".
>The result is that in Hungarian there is no feminist controversy, as we 
>have in English, for using a male oriented pronoun for gender-
>neutral reference to people in the singular who in the context could be 
>either male or female.  In English we are attempting to overcome this 
>controversy by using, incorrectly, I might add, the plural pronoun "they" 
>instead of "he" for this generic singlular reference.
>Does this make sense to you?
>By the way, you did not ask but here is another related item.  In English 
>while the words "man" and "woman" refer to the male and female persons, 
>respectively, "man" is also used as a gender-neutral identifier of human 
>beings. In Hungarian there are three words for these references.
>"ferfi" (with a single quote mark -'- on top ot the e) means "man" in 
>gender-specific sense,
>"no" (with a double quote mark -"- on top of the o) means "woman", and
>"ember" means "man" in a generic sense, or more loosely, "human".
>Here again, the language does not interfere with the women's movement.

[... and then bunch of personal stuff that has no bearing on this message 

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