I study Swedish and I have a question. I know ancient grammatical masculine and femenine gender fused into one ("common gender") at some point in time, but I was wondering... They say that the grammatical gender a word has in our native tounge can shape the way we think of talk about that specific thing. I once read an article about how people whose native language is a Romance language, when asked to say the first adjective that came to their mind when thinking of the word "chair" (feminine in most Romance languages), tended to use adjectives like "comfortable" which depict a "nice" characteristic. On the other hand, when German-native speakers were asked to take part in the same task, they would more likely use words like "hard" or "heavy", words usually associated with masculinity and manhood ("chair" is masculine gender in German). Hence, my question would be: if your native language has no grammatical gender (or does but has no distinction between masculine and feminine, like Swedish), would it be less likely for a native speaker to have biased thoughts or use biased adjectives about a specific word? Could speaking an agender language have as a direct result a minor bias?

I would like to write a paper about that so it would be really appreciated if you could link me any resource or research about that matter.

Thank you all in advance.

  • It doesn't work in Russian which has 3 genders (masculine, feminine, neuter). Стул (stul, 'chair') which is masculine in Russian, just like in German, induced the people I asked to say the adjective associated with the word say "soft", a "nice" characteristic. Sure, I asked few people, maybe a bigger poll will give a different result.
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 26, 2018 at 13:03
  • Keep in mind that this is something "they say", that grammatical gender shapes our way of thinking about things and people: one theory that I would consider if I saw it substantiated. At the same time, in languages with grammatical gender, there are usually some words referring to people, yet with a grammatical gender that does not "match" the person's gender: "Mädchen" (girl, neuter in German) and "Kind" (child, still neuter) are well-known examples, but you also have simple concepts, like "vittima" (victim, feminine) in Italian, that don't somehow turn masculine if a victim is male.
    – LjL
    Feb 26, 2018 at 13:58
  • What I know for sure, as a person living in an environment of gendered languages, is that some animals are perceived as always being of just one gender, the gender of the word they are named with. Some important, mostly domestic, and dangerous wild animals have names for both males and females, like 'stalion' vs. 'mare' or 'lion' vs. 'lioness' in English. But minor animals and birds, like squirrel, frog, mouse, or crow, have just one name for both sexes, and in fairy-tales they are usually of the same sex that corresponds to the gender. Squirrels, frogs, mice, and crows are all "women". :-)
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 26, 2018 at 14:27
  • This happens in English with cats and dogs. Whorf remarked on it in one of his papers. The unmarked pronoun for a dog is he, and for a cat is she, unless there is evidence to the contrary. As someone who's had both female dogs and male cats, I can testify to this covert gender assignment in American English.
    – jlawler
    Feb 26, 2018 at 18:08
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Does Swedish always had common and neuter genders? Mar 29, 2018 at 10:32

2 Answers 2


Chinese lacks gendered pronouns, and always has. The language is as un-sexist as you can get; there aren't even words for man and woman. The only 'gendered' words that exist are literally just the words for 'male' and 'female'. To translate 'man' or 'woman', you would have to say 'male person' and 'female person'. But I believe its common to make that distinction anyway. And besides, ancient China was hardly egalitarian. When it comes to gender equality, surprisingly enough, medieval Europe was one of the better cultures out there.

  • 2
    I think you are conflating "word" and "morpheme/syllable/character" in this post. My understanding is that 男人, 男子, 婦女/妇女, and 女人 are all considered to be disyllabic words in Chinese. The English word "woman" itself originated from a combination of two morphemes ("wife" + "man"). Feb 27, 2018 at 2:50

Examples of languages with no grammatical gender at all, not even in pronouns:

Basque, Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish, Persian, Mongolian, Kazakh, Tajik, Kyrgyz... and generally the languages of Afghanistan.

It makes no difference.

  • 1
    "Languages of Afghanistan" - Pashto has two genders.
    – fdb
    Feb 26, 2018 at 13:13
  • @fdb "generally" Feb 27, 2018 at 6:56
  • 1
    @fdb The whole line of thought that inspired this question is a joke. Feb 27, 2018 at 6:58

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