Is everyone male?

I thought the Guardian was talking about specialty pronouns in German but it turns out to be more interesting than that.

Berlin’s recently appointed conservative mayor has said he will refuse to use gender-neutral language in office, insisting he wanted to use a language “that everyone understands”.

Surprise twist.

This is arguably more complicated than it would be in English because the German language genders words into male, female, and neutral.

Not “words”; the reporter means “nouns.” Nouns have genders in all the European languages I know anything about, while English doesn’t. That fact does indeed make things more complicated.

According to traditional language rules, a male citizen is a Bürger, a female a Bürgerin. But when male and female citizens are referred to collectively or plurally, the generic masculine automatically applies and they are termed Bürger.

In French (and perhaps all the rest of the languages) you can’t ever use the female plural “elles” if there is even just one “il” in the crowd. A billion “elles” and one “il” – “ils” it is. (At least that’s the “rule.” I suspect it’s not obeyed quite that rigorously.)

So yes, I think a move to gender-neutral language of that kind would be a good thing. English too please.

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