I'm not sure if this is the place to ask this as this is more of a "curious" question instead of a research specific question, if that makes sense(which I guess all research starts from curiosity). Anyway, I was speaking to a friend of mine who is Finnish and I only speak a little of her language. I want to learn it, so, every so often, we'll have very basic-level conversations in Finnish as a way to help me practice. Anyway, she told me that she was talking about me to a friend of hers and that this friend had found me "interesting" and wanted to get to know me. I had to specifically ask what gender the friend was to know whether or not I would at least be curious because, unless I'm still very noob in my Finnish, nothing she said even remotely implied his gender. So I guess my question is, in languages where gender isn't implied by the 3rd person pronoun, without specifically having to state that the person being referred to is male(or female), how exactly could you gather someone's gender from a simple sentence like "My friend is interested in you" in Finnish? Or is it impossible for most Uralic-type languages? I'm aware that the sentence isn't even gender-specific in english, but in english we could/would use a 3rd person pronoun("he") as a way to say "the friend I'm referring to is male by the way..." somewhere later on. In Finnish, the 3rd person pronoun is the same for males and females(gender-neutral or genderless). Kaveri ystävä could be used, maybe(I'm not entirely sure)? If not, then miesystävä is the way to go, huh? Btw, I'm also interested in how other genderless/gender-neutral languages handle things like this :D

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    You just don't specify the gender. Hundreds of languages around the world lack gender marks. If you ask me, I find indo-european languages unbearably focused on gender. In Spanish, to say "I'm tired" you have to specify if you identify as a woman or a man. In Czech, the same applies to something like "yesterday I ate apples". There's no escaping it. Personally, I find the lack of gender marks liberating. Olen väsynyt, söin eilen omenoita ja sukupuoleni on tuntematon! Eikö tämä ole kaunis? – Qwertuy Dec 29 '20 at 15:05
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    I do agree and I do find specifications for gender in such languages unnecessary, but I do love the simplistic approach to gender that is found in English. The fact that the only time gender is ever implied in English is when you use certain pronouns and/or certain nouns(brother, sister, etc.) brings an easier story telling approach to me. I can communicate more information to a subject, if necessary or expected, without necessarily needing to say more words :D "he" has wrapped up in it both the information of maleness and personhood, and I don't have to state it separately. – Eliza Ann Dec 29 '20 at 19:12
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    But ofcourse, for some, i completely understand the liberation it must bring to not have your gender assume such relevancy in conversation :3 It is beautiful, in the way that languages are so nuanced that in some tongues, your gender makes up the whole context, whereas, in others, it doesn't and it's fine either way. Gender is assumed differently from Spanish to English to Turkish. How cool is that? :D – Eliza Ann Dec 29 '20 at 19:19
  • It feels simple to you because you grew up with it - you hardly have to think about it at all, it's all natural to you. To a Finnish speaker, not having to worry about gender would be the natural way of thinking, and the English way of having to imply gender everywhere would feel incredibly cumbersome - they'll constantly have to think "Wait, was the doctor a he or a she?" even when it was completely irrelevant to what they're saying, and they'll need years of practice before they can do it naturally. – jick Dec 29 '20 at 19:32
  • @jick of course, as I would never assume it wasn't natural to them otherwise. You could say that for every native speaker of any language; that their way of approaching communicating information is always the most "simple" or "natural". Even though gendered thought is not absent in Finnish, but rather, needing to attach an unfamiliar and separate 3rd person pronoun to either sex would seem "unnatural", as the one their familiar with has no such function in their native tongue :) I actually grew up speaking Japanese and learned English :D – Eliza Ann Dec 29 '20 at 19:41

It is very common that people cannot imagine languages which have extra ways of talking about the universe, or don't require you to specify some fact, compared to how it is in their mother tongue. Some languages require you to specify whether the action took place just moments ago or did it happen yesterday; some languages don't have any means of inflecting verbs for "present" or "past" or "future", and it is often a puzzle to the student, how do you get along if you always have to specify / can't specify when this happened.

So it is with gender, or other noun classification schemes. Some languages require you to indicate whether the referent is animate, versus inanimate, some do not. Some require you to distinguish singular, dual and plural, others only singular and plural and some don't mark number at all. But every language has some way of expressing any fact about the world, you just have to pick the right set of words. Saying "cat" versus "cats" is one conventionalized way of expressing the number of things involved, but in any language you can say "cat" and "many cats(s)". You can say "male cat" and "female cat". Finnish has words for "boy" and "girl", "man" and "woman", so if you have to communicate "him", you can use an extra word. The question is, when is it really necessary to provide that information?

In languages that require you to specify gender on 2nd person pronouns, you simply have to specify that in choosing your word for "you". The way to "get around" the grammatical requirement is to say something like "We like you-fem. or you-masc". In languages that don't allow you to specify gender on 2nd person pronouns, you just say "you", unless you want to circumlocute and say "you, either being a man or a woman". Practically speaking, people don't usually talk that way, but if necessary, you can elaborate with additional words to add to subtract information derived from the grammatical system.

As far as I know, the lack of gender marking on pronouns is a fact about all Uralic languages.

  • Thank you for this answer :D I would say its pretty necessary in the context of my example, as I would have been pretty disappointed to meet said friend and they were a woman xD But it could just be my fascination with gender as a social category that I find it interesting how it's communicated to us if we aren't face to face with the referent first-hand. The different approaches to communicating gender in different languages was always pretty cool to me. Somehow, some way, there's always a way to, as you said, express a fact about the world. Gender is never largely uncommunicated. – Eliza Ann Dec 29 '20 at 19:30

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