To clarify: what I mean is that in Australia for instance there is a trend in English to use words that do not distinguish between men and women. E.g. Chairperson instead of Chairman.

So the question relates to whether or not English is (both in terms of the adoption of new words and the adoption of words into common usage) moving away from distinguishing between masculine and feminine gender terms.

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    I'm voting for the addition of the word "s/he" to a standard dictionary. – Lie Ryan Sep 30 '10 at 10:39
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    Whenever I see "s/he," I think to myself "suhee." I of course associate that with the word "sahib." It makes sentences quite interesting sometimes..... – kitukwfyer Sep 30 '10 at 23:07

I doubt that this move towards gender-neutral terms for professions is enough to risk the loss of gender from English completely. We still retain it in our pronouns (he, she, it), and while there is a trend towards using "they" as the neutral 3rd-person singular, the gendered pronouns seem to be going strong. We still have kinship terms like mother, father, uncle, aunt, etc. that are gendered, and that show no signs of being replaced. So, I think we have a long way to go still before there would be a real likelihood of English becoming genderless.

Is it possible in theory for English (or any language) to lose all grammatical gender over time? Yes. Grammatical gender is not present in a majority of the world's languages. Also, English used to have fully grammatical gender for masculine, feminine, and neuter, like German, and what we have today is all that remains. So these things can certainly come and go.

We won't see it in our lifetimes, in any case.

  • Yep this is what I wanted to know. I'm going to edit my question to refer to gender terms (as oppossed to words). – Anonymous Type Sep 30 '10 at 4:55
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    Except for male and female (or man and woman), no gender differentiation isn't strictly necessary. You can theoretically replace mother with female parent; and uncle with parent's male sibling. Having gendered words is convenient though, so it's unlikely we will lose them any time soon. – Lie Ryan Sep 30 '10 at 10:37
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    @Lie Ryan: Of course, this is only theoretical in the case of English. For example, the language of Pirahã only has a word for parent and sibling: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirah%C3%A3_language#Kinship_terms – Kosmonaut Sep 30 '10 at 13:14

masculine and feminine tenses

Masculine versus feminine versus neuter are genders, not tenses. Past, present, past prefect, etc, are tenses.

Just because English uses the neuter gender, while several latin-based languages assign genders, has nothing really to do with how "general" an idea that can be expressed in the language is. The word for "map" in Spanish ("Él mapa" -- interesting word because it's masculine yet still ends in "a" -- tripped me up quite a bit in my Spanish classes) is masculine. That doesn't mean that there's anything inherently "male" conveyed about the map, just that the word map is masculine. It's just something you have to remember about the word.

English is similar, but more so for it's pronunciation. You can always pronounce a Spanish word because the language itself is phonetic. However, in English there are a few general patterns, but there are plenty of oddballs with respect to pronunciation -- "pterodactyl" anyone?

EDIT: The short and sweet answer to your question is: no, English is not "more general".

  • ok good point. After reading your answer I realised I was confusing two concepts one being genders for words (sorry about using tenses) with genders for terms. – Anonymous Type Sep 30 '10 at 4:54
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    English doesn't use the neuter gender. It doesn't have grammatical genders. – Marcin May 23 '11 at 12:15

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