gmalivuk wrote:Sure it has grammatical gender, but I'm assuming French speakers don't think everyone referred to as "a person" is female, right?
To be fair, I don't think most English speakers assume that every generic person referred to as "he" is a man either. People understand pragmatics, and if a language doesn't offer a gender neutral option ("they" being historically unacceptable in formal/prestige contexts), they don't read more than necessary into an arbitrary choice.
Use of "he" as a generic does happen in English, but it's very similar use as a gendered term makes it a little more ambiguous than I'd like. He/she works in many cases, I suppose, but it quickly gets verbose and unwieldy. Using the same term for the specific as a more general case happens a lot in English, but it's often imprecise or context dependent.
Derek wrote:("they" being historically unacceptable in formal/prestige contexts
"They" as a gender-neutral pronoun for an indefinite person is only recently unacceptable in formal/prestige contexts. Historically it was fine at all registers.
If by "recently", you mean late 18th, early 19th century. Or at least significantly contested, if not overtly unacceptable, English being somewhat less standardized back then. I'd say that's a little more time than "recently".
Sometimes one becomes acceptably generic, I guess. Actor seems to be cool all round now, despite the whole actor/actress terminology of old. This is far from universal, though. When a term seems to get used as generic, it usually seems to be the male term, but it wouldn't really be right to assume that masculine versions of all split job titles are acceptable generics.
It's pretty obvious which ones that works for just by looking at the form of the word.
Nah. Actor/actress, it's grown pretty normal to use actor as a generic, but waiter/waitress is exactly the same form, and referring to an obviously female waitress as a waiter would be kind of wierd.
This is a completely different situation from words like "chairman" or "policeman", where the use of "man" may once have been universally gender-neutral but is very nearly never neutral nowadays. In these cases, we also generally already have alternatives like "chairperson" or "police officer" or "firefighter".
I agree that those are different, but some of those are similarly problematic. Chairperson seems a little overwrought. The simple use of "Chair" works pretty well, though. Concise. Unlikely to be confused with the objects you sit on in most contexts. Firefighter is good. It's more descriptive than it's gendered counterparts, and lacks confusion issues. Police officer is ugly. The term "officer" contains a great deal of baggage. Using it to describe literally everyone who in the police force, especially when they have ranks that explicitly match up with current military ranks(many of which are clearly non-officer) is irksome. This is both for pedantic reasons, as well as feeling that police are basically cribbing stuff from the military, and don't even have the common courtesy to do it accurately.