Sunday, February 7, 2016

The So-Called Gender Mixed Plural

The English version of the Pope's most recent tweet (which I believe is the language of composition) includes both genders explicitly:



The Latin translation, however, makes use of the supposed ability in certain languages to use the masculine plural form to imply a mixture of genders:



We are expected to understand that the word filios, which in certain contexts would mean "sons" means "sons and daughters" in more general discourse.

It's not just Latin where this is supposedly in force. One could walk up to a crowd of females, all of whom are your friends, and you could say, "Hola, mis amigas!" 

Throw in one male in the crowd and supposedly you are could then say, "Hola, mis amigos!"

And the females are then expected to accept, "I'm an amigo now because that one single guy showed up."

Now, this phenomenon extends outside the Romance family. Famously in Biblical Hebrew the בני ישראל  (bney-yisrael), literally, the Sons of Israel, means the "Children of Israel," all of them, male and female.

But I suggest that even in Latin and the Romance tradition, this didn't really work. And proof of that is the emergence of gender inclusive liturgical texts in the Middle Ages.  

The original Latin of the Mass describes the priest saying:

Orate, fratres...
"Pray, brothers (and Gender Mixed Plural implied sisters)..."

But something very interesting happens in the Middle Ages. All over the place the prayer takes on the following form:

Orate, fratres et sorores...
 "Pray, brothers and sisters..."

I'm betting that the females of the community never truly felt included when the so-called Gender Mixed Plural was employed. 

And so, faced with the scenario above, I would say, "Hola, mis amigas, y mi amigo."


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