Posted in English

Mansplaining Pronouns to an Actual Linguist

A video drifted into my feed yesterday by someone I’d never heard of before and it looked interesting so I listened to it while I was getting ready to go out. The chap who made the video is a linguist and he decided to weigh in on the controversial topic of pronouns and how they are being used, mainly in English, mainly by younger people in relatively affluent communities. If you don’t know why pronouns are controversial, well, consider yourself lucky, but basically whether we refer to people as he or she or something else, and under what circumstances is currently occupying a lot of social media and traditional media output. Frankly I’m baffled, but middle-aged people being baffled by stuff the youngs are obsessed with isn’t exactly news, is it? ūü§∑ūüŹľ

Anyway, as weird as it is in English, it’s even weirder in languages like portuguese where gender-specific pronouns are ascribed not only to people but to pens, apples, books and the concept of liberty*.

I’ve written a few posts about pronoun shifts a while ago um… Now where did I leave those? I started with this one, and a few people said the pun on the word “neuter” was problematic but that doesn’t seem to have stopped me repeating the crime a few weeks later when I really expanded on the subject here and then for a little reprise here.

Anyway if that kind of thing is something that interests you, I can recommend the whole video: it’s full of thought-provoking stuff. On the other hand, if you’re not, no worries because I only wanted to focus on a few seconds in the middle anyway. So, let me at least tell you why I decided to contradict him despite the fact that he is an expert and I am not.

At around 8 minutes and 25-ish seconds, he is discussing instances of relatively new pronouns that have been drafted into languages, relatively late in their development and he says “Portuguese has the impersonal ‘a gente'”. Except he says it in a Brazilian accent so it’s more like “a Genchee”.

Why, Brazilians? Why?

Gente is a feminine, singular noun that refers to a group of people but it’s true that portuguese speakers do use “a gente” as a stand-in for a group of people in place of “we”. It makes the grammar simpler because you don’t have to wrap your tongue around the n√≥s form of the verb, you can just conjugate it in the third person singular – “a gente fala…” in place of “n√≥s falamos”. It sounds a bit odd to English speakers but it works. As far as I can tell, it’s much more common in Brazil but it does exist in Portugal too. Of course it’s very informal, but I think it’s wrong to say it’s a pronoun. Even though it’s playing a similar role in the sentence – filling in in place of what could be a list of names, you could say the same about other collective nouns. Take “The family” as in “The family are getting together for Christmas” which could easily have been “We are getting together for Christmas”. Or what about “guys” in situations like “It’s just the guys, together again” or “hello guys, and welcome to another video”. Definitely not pronouns, right, but they are really fulfilling the same role as “a gente”.

Using nouns as stand-ins for people happens in formal speech too. You will almost certainly have heard people addressing each other as “o senhor” or “a senhora” or even “o doutor” Again, these are behaving in a fairly pronoun-like way, but they’re both nouns. You’re just talking to the person in the third person. “How is the gentleman?” instead of “How are you?” It’s the same kind of thing.

I felt like I was being a but of a reply guy, challenging someone in their academic discipline. Luckily we are both dudes, so I can’t be accused of mansplaining but even so, it’s a bit… Well, let’s say “hubristic”.

The Results Are In, You Bastards

Mansplaining cat

So, I made a reddit poll to ask native speakers on r/portugu√™s to tell me if I’m right in my thinking. To my huge annoyance, judging by the early results, ‘yes, it’s a pronoun” seems to be winning over “no, it’s just a noun”. It’s a pretty close result in Portugal but overwhelming in Brazil.

In my defence, democracy is overrated. But if that brilliant argument doesn’t convince you, the explanation someone gave is that although “gente” is a noun, “a gente” os technically known as “uma locu√ß√£o pronomial” with “the same value as the personal pronoun ‘n√≥s'” s√≥ it’s not a pronoun per se, but it works like one. Meh, I can live with that form of words, I think.

Finally, a European speaker said he was taught never to use it as a pronoun because it was “extremamente errado” and whenever he used it his grandpa would say “A gente? Agente √© da pol√≠cia!”

Preach it!


*Respectively: lady, lady, gentleman, lady, if you’re keeping score.

Posted in Portuguese

This L√£ Is Your L√£

I wrote a couple of knitting-related texts so here they are with corrections. To explain the puns: L√£=Wool, Tric√ī is knitting, from the French Tricot. The verb form can be “tricotar” or “tricotear” or just “fazer tricot” and finally, Malha can mean knitwear (among other things; it’s generally any kind of mesh or netting), but confusingly the verb form “malhar” doesn’t mean “to knit”. If you look it up on Priberam it has heaps of different meanings but none of them is what you think it’s going to mean. Likewise if you Google “malhador” you’ll find it’s mainly personal trainers and people in the fitness industry. It’s confusing. There are corrections at the bottom of each. I’m out here trying to learn from my mistakes and I hope they’re helpful to others too. As usual, thanks go out to the correctors on r/Writestreakpt – in this case, Dani Morgenstern and Cataphract – for their patient explanations.

The Many-Coloured L√£

1 РMalhasculinidade Tóxica

Sou velho e por isso h√° muitos aspectos da cultura moderna que n√£o entendo. Entre eles, h√° uma comunidade de tricotadeiros (e outros f√£s de l√£s) que √© uma das comunidades mais “politicamente correctas” e condenat√≥rias na Internet (Intermalha?). H√° v√°rias hist√≥rias de sites dedicados √† malha nos quais os membros se juntam em v√°rias fa√ß√Ķes rivais que acreditam serem mais santas do que as outras e entram em guerra civil*

O exemplo mais recente √© uma pol√©mica que tem a ver com um site chamado knitting.com. O site √© assunto de uma s√©rie no YouTube porque uma empresa chamada “ecom crew” (basicamente “equipa de neg√≥cios online”) comprarou o dom√≠nio com o prop√≥sito de estabelecer uma loja Online. Boas not√≠cias n√£o √©? Mais lojas significa que haver√° mais op√ß√Ķes. Mas h√° um problema: foi fundado por dois homens brancos. Para mim, isto √© positivo. Tradicionalmente, o tric√ī era considerado uma atividade feminina; se houver homens que** querem tricotar, for√ßa, digo eu. Mas nem todos v√£o concordar comigo e n√£o h√° problema. Afinal, se n√£o gostares de um site, h√° um rem√©dio f√°cil: n√£o o visites.

Mas isso n√£o chega. Membros da comunidade ficaram zangados. Apesar de o site ainda n√£o ter aberto, havia j√° den√ļncias contra estes homens: iriam “homensplicar***” o tric√ī: iriam roubar padr√Ķes de outros sites; eram racistas contra chineses (por acaso, ambos os homens s√£o casados com chinesas, mas ningu√©m quer saber). A empresa encara um grande desafio: j√° contratou muitas pessoas e investiu muito dinheiro em construir o site, mas, uma vez que tantos dos seus clientes est√£o a espalhar boatos de que os homens querem principalmente tricotar bandeiras nazis ou seja o que for, a sua estrat√©gia de comercializa√ß√£o est√° √† beira de ser frustrada antes da estreia do site!

*I think this is a pretty complicated sentence and my first attempt went so wrong that the correction ended up saying something other than what I was driving at. This is my second go and I hope it’s better. I’m talking about rival factions breaking out on message boards and denouncing each other for their lack of purity.

**There’s a whole show dedicated to men who knit in the A√ßores in this video from RTP. Their accents. Wooh, mama!

***This word actually does exist as an equivalent of “mansplain” although if you paste it back into gtranslate it translates it as “mensplicate” which is now my favourite word.

Mensplication Femsplicated

2 – Tric√£√ī

Escrevi um texto ontem sobre os malucos na comunidade de tric√ī, mas no mesmo dia ouvi falar de um projecto que est√° em andamento aqui nesta ilha h√ļmida que restaura a minha f√© neste passatempo. A nossa rainha est√° quase a chegar ao sexag√©simo anivers√°rio do seu reinado. O instituto de mulheres hum… Como posso descrever o instituto de mulheres? √Č um clube de senhoras que tem* uma reputa√ß√£o de ser tradicional, antiquado, talvez conservador**. O instituto est√° a fazer um jogo. V√°rios membros tricotaram c√£ezinhos*** de l√£. S√£o corgis (a ra√ßa preferida de sua majestade). Ir√£o esconder estes brinquedos em v√°rios s√≠tios na cidade. Quem encontrar um pode ficar com ele, claro, mas h√° um que cont√©m um corgigo… hum… um c√≥digo que d√° acesso a uma festa para celebrar o anivers√°rio da Rainha Isabel

Gosto muito disto. √Č a minha hist√≥ria preferida da semana que tem a ver com a malha.

*We have this dilemma in English too, but it’s not often that’s its as clear as this. The way the sentence is set up, the subject is a club (masculine singular) for women (feminine plural), so when we get into the verb, are we talking about the women – in which case we have to use t√™m – or the club – which would be tem. My thinking was that the Women’s Institute has a slightly old-school vibe and thats what some people like about it – so I’m talking about the club’s reputation. If you look at it the other way then we have to imagine that there are all these women who have a reputation for being a bit fuddy-duddy and one day someone takes them aside and says “Hey, Violet, nice twinset. The rest of us were chatting and we wondered if you had considered joining the WI with the rest of your kind?”

**Who knew one sentence could have so many pitfalls in it? OK, so we’ve established that we need “tem” and not “t√™m” but now we’ve got another noun in the mix. When I wrote the first draft, I was thinking in English and translating “a conservative reputation” – uma reputa√ß√£o conservadora. But is it really the reputation that’s Conservative? Don’t we mean that the club (or the women) has (or have) a reputation for being Conservative? So if I’m thinking of the club, my adjectives need to align with the gender of the club, surely? And for good measure, I needed to reword the sentence slightly.

So, taking those last two bullets into account, I changed “O Instituto de Mulheres (…) √© um clube de senhoras que t√™m uma reputa√ß√£o tradicional, antiquada, talvez conservadora.” to “O Instituto de Mulheres (…) √© um clube de senhoras que tem uma reputa√ß√£o de ser tradicional, antiquado, talvez conservador

***C√£ozinho is one of those tricky words like Qualquer whose plural form changes in the middle. It’s not surprising though because it’s related to “C√£o”.

C√£o->C√£es… so… C√£ozinho ->C√£ezinhos