Archive for Gender

Hermaphrodite vs. intersex in Mandarin

[This is a guest post by Charles Belov.  To show what a dedicated, eclectic listener of Asian popular media Charles is, I've left his signature block intact.]

As a frequent, essentially monolingual consumer of Asian popular media, one of the issues for me has always been how translations succeed or fail at communicating both the particular Asian culture and how it can be expressed meaningfully in English. ¿Where does the translation reflect current or past Asian culture and where does it reflect American or British culture of the audience?

A term of concern for me at the moment is "cíxióngtóngtǐ 雌雄同體" (lit. "male female same body"), which Wiktionary translates as "hermaphrodite." However, Wiktionary also notes in the English entry for "hermaphrodite" that this term is now considered offensive and that "intersex" is the preferred term.

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Once again the Voynich manuscript

This is one of the most novel theories on the Voynich manuscript (Beinecke MS408; early 15th c.) that I've ever encountered, and there are many.

The Voynich Manuscript, Dr Johannes Hartlieb and the Encipherment of Women’s Secrets, by Keagan Brewer and Michelle L Lewis, Social History of Medicine, hkad099 (22 March 2024)

Keywords:  Voynich manuscript, Dr Johannes Hartlieb, women’s secrets, sex, gynaecology

A floral illustration on page 32

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Mix and match Japanese orthography

Most Language Log readers are aware that the Japanese writing system consists of three major components — kanji (sinoglyhs), hiragana (cursive syllabary), and katakana (block syllabary).  I would argue that rōmaji (roman letters) are a fourth component, as they are in the Chinese writing system.

How do people decide when to switch among the different components of the Japanese writing system?  Of course, custom and usage determine when to use one and when to use another.  (It's a bit like masculine, feminine, and neuter in gender based languages [a frequent and recent topic on Language Log] — you don't ask why, you just do it].)  In most cases, convention has fixed which of the three main components of the writing system is used for a particular purpose.  On the other hand, since I began learning Japanese half a century ago, I noticed a fairly conspicuous slippage regarding what I had been led to believe were predetermined practices.

Sanae Heist, a senior studying linguistics at Columbia University, brought this whole matter to the surface when she wrote to me as follows:

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Chinese (il)logic from inside

[Prefatory note:  The Chinese author of this guest post, TCI (encrypted acronym to protect her identity) holds a humanities M.A. from a top tier American research university which she attended from 2016 to 2018.  She has been employed for several years as an adviser to  students in China who desire to study abroad (especially the USA) in high school, college, or university.  Her statement will be followed by the remarks of a long experienced, well established practitioner of that profession (application counselor) in China who explains its aims and modus operandi.

The author (TCI) emphasizes what she considers to be a lack of logic in Chinese thought.  It is ironic that her focus is very much on the gender of personal pronouns at a time when many people in America are trying to do away with or downplay that aspect of personal pronouns.  Before dismissing what she says out of hand, bear in mind that for TCI it is a cri de coeur.  She grew up in China learning one system of thought, came to America and struggled to learn another, and now she has gone back to China and is trying to teach the next generation of students who want to come to America and think like Americans how to be less fraught in learning this new way of thinking.

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From Jeff DeMarco:

This is the de Young Museum in San Francisco, doubling down the -x construction for Spanish: Bienvenidxs.

Are most Spanish speakers ok with this?

I also note that none of the Chinese language materials use simplified characters (viz., huānyíng 歡迎 but not 欢迎).  Is this a snub against the mainland? They do feature a dress made up of images of Mao….

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Degendering "maestro"

Masterful essay by the Music Director of Symphony Nova Scotia.

"Maestro, Maestra, or Holly?"

We asked our Music Director Holly Mathieson how she prefers to be referred to on the podium!

Her reply may surprise you — or not:

The earliest record we have of the Italian term Maestro in connection to music is from 1724 (maestro di cappella, which translates as Master of the Chapel, similar to the German Kapellmeister). By the end of that century, there is evidence of it being used more generally in Italy as a single word, referring to a master or great teacher of music, or a composer. Etymologically, it shares its roots with the Latin magister, the offshoots of which include the musical term Maestoso, which instructs us to play majestically or in a stately manner, as well as more common language descendants such as magisterial and magistrate, words which connect to ideas of qualified authority.

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Opacity of the week: all pills $11.95

That's the sign on the door of a gas station that I saw in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  It had pictures of four different packages of pills, but the lettering on them was so blurred that I couldn't see what types or brands of pills they were.



That was the only sign on the door, and it was very prominent:  right in the center of the door as you entered.  As I stepped inside the store, I was wondering mightily:  why are they selling you pills when they don't tell you what kind of pills they are?

After going inside and paying for my gas, I asked the two female attendants, who were all dressed up in holiday attire, what kind of pills they were, both of them said in unison, "male enhancement", as though they had rehearsed the answer hundreds of times.  I was embarrassed and so were they, so I got out as fast as I could.

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A new, old letter: spellings and the pronoun wars, part ∞

Thæ're serious:

Why There's A Campaign To Re-Introduce A Historic Letter Back Into The Alphabet

It all stems from Old English

By Kate Nicholson, HuffPost (9/6/23)


A new campaign hopes to make day-to-day life more gender-inclusive by reintroducing the ancient symbol Æ back into the alphabet.

Five global organisations, Divergenres, Aunt Nell, Gender X, Utopia and WongDoody, are working together to launch a campaign in London and New York called: “Let History Say Thæ Exist.”

People who don’t identify with male or female pronouns currently tend to use they/them to describe themselves – but this campaign suggests making it thæ/them instead.

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PIE *gene- *gwen-

I asked several Indo-Europeanist colleagues:

In Hittite, Tocharian, Indo-Iranian (Indic and Persian), Greek, Albanian, Germanic, Armenian, Celtic, Anatolian, Italic, Lithuanian, Balto-Slavic, Macedonian, Phrygian, and other IE languages, do you ever find reflexes (derivatives) of these two PIE roots in close association / linkage with each other?

PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget," with derivatives referring to procreation and familial and tribal groups.    could also be related to "king", which is of uncertain derivation

PIE root *gwen- "woman."  ("queen; gynecology")

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Mandarin pronouns

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The "socialite" phenomenon in China

Source: China Media Project (12/7/2022)

Once signifying graceful women of a distinguished background, the term “socialite,” or yuan (媛), has in recent years become a misogynistic umbrella term used on digital platforms in China to disparage women who advertise fancy lifestyles. The term has also been used by state-run media to roundly criticize perceived materialistic excesses, reinforcing their unfair association with femininity.

The Chinese word yuàn (媛) has traditionally referred to the “virtuous and comely woman” as mentioned in the Shuowen Jiezi (说文解字), a Chinese dictionary compiled in the Han dynasty. Since 2020, however, the word has rapidly evolved — or perhaps devolved — into a catchall word used on the Chinese internet, and also in state media, to denigrate modern-day beauties as disgraceful and degenerate.

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Three negations in one headline

From François-Michel Lang, "I had to read the article to be sure I understood what exactly had happened!"
The Kentucky measure bans access to gender-transition care for young people, and West Virginia’s governor signed a similar bill on Wednesday. Passage of bans also appears imminent in Idaho and Missouri.
By Campbell Robertson and Ernesto Londoño, NYT (March 29, 2023)


Here follow the first five out of seventeen paragraphs in the article:

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Female voyeuristic literature on male homoerotic themes

When I first heard of this phenomenon about three years ago, I could scarcely believe my ears.  I was told in no uncertain terms that, by and large, Chinese women (especially in their 20s and 30s, but even in their teens) much more enjoy watching or reading about men making out than engaging in hetero- or homosexual love themselves.  I know of several Chinese women who write such literature and supplement their income with it.

The genre is explored in considerable depth by Helen Sullivan in this Guardian article (3/12/23):

China’s ‘rotten girls’ are escaping into erotic fiction about gay men

Danmei is by some measures the most popular genre of fiction for women in China, and its popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Communist party

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