We live in another Age of Discovery, this time concerning the discovery of ourselves. Our language is finally evolving to become as diverse as we are all. But while neopronouns seem new, they were as commonplace as he or she. Research shows that the grammar of the early Indoeuropean languages paved the way for expression of true self, and that Xir is older than Sir.
“recognizing the eight basic grammatical cases of Indoeuropean is the least we can do”– Sophie, Lingustics professor
Ungendering Spanish, allowing 3rd gender in German passports, receive (mostly online) hate for being “revisionist” and out-of-place. But they are really a return to tradition. I interview Sophie, a professor in linguistics in California for cinchnews.com:
“Latin, the foundation of Romance languages, had a grammatical agender or gender neutral language.” Sophie tells me as we meet in a covid-friendly café during her conference in Scandinavia.
“With the rise of Christianity, it fell out of favor to accommodate the patriarchal puritanism that arose in its inception. Eunuchs, feminine-presenting men, and intersex folks no longer had a grammatical way to describe themselves.”
Not only is the loss of genders in our language happening, it is also a time where the traditional expressive identifying pronouns present in Indoeuropean starts to drop off.
“A student of mine had their personal pronouns be conjugated depending on their grammatical uses”– Sophie, lingustics professor
“Indoeuropean has much of what we call ‘cases’ in lingustics. The way we refer to people, things, an animals depend on their count, their gender, their sex, and what we perceive them to be doing.”
In pre-Christian European and Indic languages, a person didn’t have to “choose” he/him or she/her, instead they could choose up to 100 different pronouns, for at least three genders, plural or non-plural, and in counts of one, two (e.g. two-spirit folks), or more than two. The inflection of words was also personalized, and they could include use cases and contexts like locative, instrumental case, and many others.
“Some indigenous languages like Finnish have preserved 15 cases for their personal pronouns, which despite the efforts of the Swedish imperialists, allows both the indigenous Finns and the native indigenous Sami peoples to correctly identify themselves.”
“A student of mine, at their own accord, desired to have their personal pronouns be conjugated depending on their grammatical uses. In the vocative case, they preferred their first name, whereas in the instrumental case preferred the pronoun ‘thu’”.
“This to me speaks volumes of how important correctly referring to people means. It also allowed them to contribute to a teachable moment about grammatical case to their peers, and the vast majority left the conversation feeling ecstatic to know the grammatical analysis needed to form and apply the instrumental case.”
This especially applies to modern English, the “I don’t see color” of grammar. We should learn from our ancestors, and recognizing the eight basic grammatical cases of Indoeuropean is the least we can do to accommodate folks with expressive pronouns.