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For a Gender Free Language
by Shankar Gopalkrishnan Bookmark and Share
English is a particularly simple language. The only language simpler and more powerful is possibly C or maybe Java! Little  wonder that English has found acceptance across the globe. The creators of the language resorted to a masterstroke - freeing the language from the fetters of gender "mania" or is it "womania"? The neuter gender - "It" envelopes the entire inanimate world in one, uniform, neutral sweep.

Constructs in English are easy - "the blue table" or the "blue mountain". A sentence as innocuous as this can be a major stumbling block in several "gender" oriented languages- French and Hindi to name a couple. Is it "neeli mez" or is it "neela mez" in Hindi?  Both seem equally fine to me. Anatomically, a table has no feminine features. Neither is the sound of the word "mez" particularly revealing. A newbie trying to make inroads into Hindi is genuinely flummoxed. The adept in Hindi claims that the gender is to be sensed only though usage. It seems a chicken and egg problem - I need to know the gender to have a certain fluency over the language and it needs a mastery of the language to know the gender!

Gender oriented languages surely have a broader, catholic ("samam") outlook. They refuse to accept only human beings as the sommum bonum of creation and bracket the entire world of plants, animals and inanimate objects disdainfully under a measly pronoun- "it"! For them, Shiva and Shakti or the Yin and the Yang pervade the entire cosmos and every inanimate object is "alive"- with the "Shiva" element and masculine or with the Shakti principle and hence feminine. While philosophy has lofty, egalitarian ideas, conversation is common-place and needs simpler constructs. That's where these languages pose a problem for the novice. Is it "Chai peeni hai" or is it "Chai peena hai"? There's many a slip between my tea-cup and the lip....slips which provoke laughter for others and a scalded tongue for the language challenged!

A more complicated problem in these languages is the necessity to adopt newer English words and assign a gender to them. While a "Cricket bat" has the Hindi equivalent "balla", "wicket" is used as "wicket" in Hindi commentary too. We are particularly "stumped" and batting on a rather "sticky wicket" to make a choice between the phrases - "accha wicket hai" or "acchi wicket hai"!
 
Another example - Is it "Keyboard par type karni hai" or is it "keyboard par type karna hai"? We are tempted to answer that it all depends on who is typing, but unfortunately the verb has to follow the object and not the subject!

"She set sail on April 10, 1912". We are not talking about someone's great-grandmom, but actually about the ship Titanic. The 1939 headlines on the Second World War read - "Russia defends herself". These are instances of gender-based quaint usage in English, but thankfully, a very rare exception.
 
Tamil may be a challenging language for those from the devanagari belt. The sounds are foreign, the words complicated and some letters- truly a tongue twister. Surprisingly, Tamil throws its weight with languages like English when it comes to usage of gender. Every inanimate object can be safely referred as "adhu" (it) instead of "avan" (he) or "aval" (she).

Every rule has an exception, except this rule! The sage of Arunachala, Ramana Maharishi was a spiritual master who lived in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu in the last century. His ashram teemed with people from different parts of undivided India. He was also very popular with birds and animals, some of whom regularly bonded with the Master. We have elaborate accounts of his life and times compiled in several books.
We learn that "Bhagwan" treated everyone alike - even the lame monkey "Nondi", the cow "Lakshmi" and the dog "Jackie". He never used the neuter gender "adhu" (it) for these creatures but addressed them just like human children - always as "avan" or "aval". To this day, we see a shrine for these animals at the ashram.

Mumbai is a great melting pot. The Bihari is equally at home as is the Madrasi. Certain elements in the city may have a problem in being so hospitable, but Mumbai herself has no issues and welcomes all with her open arms. Mumbaiyya Hindi has made some unique adjustments to "shuddh" Hindi and solved the gender problem so that it is the language of currency for all - natives and migrants alike. "Train aayelai" (the train has arrived), "bus gayelai" (the bus has left) - the tapori screams and in one stroke simplifies and elevates the language. Why bother about "bus aaya hai" or "bus aayi hai"? He follows Buddha's middle path and uses a gender-free suffix for every noun! Any takers for Mumbaiyya Hindi as the national language? You have my vote!
 
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11-Oct-2011
More by :  Shankar Gopalkrishnan
 
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