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I read a great article once about an apparent "controversy" in Esperanto - the fact that words are considered by default to be male, and the "-in-" suffix is added to make them female.

It discusses adding a "male" syntax marker:

It has been suggested, but is not an official part of the language, to use the -iĉ prefix to denote maleness (Viriĉo, Patriĉo, Fratiĉo, Filiĉo, Edziĉo), while using the original roots (Viro, Patro, etc.) as gender-neutral forms.

This seems like a great idea to me, and I would like to start using it, but how common is it? Would most speakers be confused if I referred to my husband as mia edziĉo?

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First note that only about 30 roots in Esperanto have an explicitly male meaning. These are mainly the familial roots like "patro", "filo" and "edzo", nobility roots like "reĝo" and "princo" and a handful of others, like "viro", "knabo" and "monaĥo". Most other roots for naming people, e.g. profession roots like "piloto", "kelnero" and "studento", nationality roots like "germano" and "ĉino", and many others, like "amiko", "najbaro" turisto" etc. are not inherently male, even though traditionally there was a strong habit to add the suffix "-in-" whenever talking about a specific woman, so that when used in the singular to talk about a specific person known to the speaker, these words without the "-in-" suffix would often have been understood to refer to a male. However, this habit is already fading slowly for some decades, so that they are becoming even more neutral than they already were in the early days.

As for the 30 explicitly male roots: There are only very few people who use them with a gender-neutral meaning, and use "-iĉ-" for the male meaning, mainly some young Esperanto speakers in some Western countries. This usage is called "iĉismo", and is often combined with riismo, the usage of "ri" as a gender-neutral pronoun. Iĉismo can bring about misunderstanding, as most people would understand "patro" to mean "father", no "parent". (However, one of the active user of iĉismo has written on Facebook that he is rarely misunderstood in practice.)

I consider the lack of a gender-neutral word for "parent", "sibling", "spouse" etc. in traditional Esperanto a serious problem. After thinking hard about this problem for a long time, I have concluded that the best solution is to use the prefix "ge-", which traditionally only meant "of both genders", also in the sense of "of any gender", i.e. use "gepatro", "gefrato", "geedzo" etc. as gender-neutral terms for "parent", "sibling", "spouse" etc.

In my article "Esperanto kaj sekso" I have written about this problem (and the related issue of a gender-neutral pronoun) in great detail: http://lingvakritiko.com/2014/10/16/esperanto-kaj-sekso/ (But note that when I wrote that article, I didn't yet favour the idea of expanding the traditional meaning of the prefix "ge-".)

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    There was one time when I told someone in an Esperanto chat room "mi estas usonano", and they said, seemingly surprised, "cxu vi ne estas virino?", and I responded "mi estas ina usonano!" So apparently the default-male connotations of nationality words and the others you mentioned are still out there, but I agree that they are fading. I think they may be more persistent among speakers of languages that automatically distinguish gender like that, but that's just speculation on my part. – kristan Aug 24 '16 at 22:51
  • I think your are quite right with your speculation. – Marcos Cramer Aug 25 '16 at 15:27
  • I absolutely love the effort put into "Esperanto kaj sekso" and I am glad to see its author participating in this question. From personal experience I agree with your observations. Younger people from Western countries tend to use and combine iĉismo and riismo, and I think many of us who do not use them actively at least passively understand them and know that there is the possibility someone is using any root in a gender neutral fashion. I also agree that neutralizing "ge-" and making it applicable to non-plural words is possibly the tidiest solution. – Kat Ño Oct 8 '16 at 21:09
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It is very uncommon; a lot of people have heard of it, but very few use it. Not only would the use of roots like "patro", "viro", "frato", etc. as gender-neutral be confusing, but the use of innovations like this is very distracting to readers, and can even provoke anger in some. So, for example, if you're writing about some family outing, using words like "filiĉo" and "edziĉo", your readers will probably be thinking more about how much they hate iĉismo, or why it would be better if all people would use -iĉ-, than about your story. So I would certainly not recommend using it.

Now, some say, "well, how will it become generally accepted if we don't use it?" And I do acknowledge that the lack of a single word for "sibling", "spouse", "parent", etc. is inconvenient. But frankly, I don't think that usage is going to catch on, since it runs counter to the Fundamento, and, if it became standard, would interfere with the comprehensibility of... just about everything written in Esperanto up to this point. So while a solution may be found, this isn't it.

  • That can be a huge problem, when the content you're talking/writing about gets overshadowed by word choices. It happens in English too, not as much when you produce content, but when you try and influence the content produced by others. "Please don't use gendered language all the time, people feel left out." – sevenseacat Aug 24 '16 at 5:31
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    wouldn't "gepatro" be the single word for "parent" that you want? – Lokathor Aug 24 '16 at 6:27
  • @Lokathor That's one possibility, also much disputed, but, I think, more viable than than the system with -icx-. – kristan Aug 24 '16 at 6:46
  • I don't see why gepatro would be disputed. To me that seems to come from a very, very, very, very narrow interpretation of the original definition. – marcus Aug 24 '16 at 12:31
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    The Fundamento itself says "ge' : of both sexes; e. g. patr' father ― ge'patr'o'j parents". Since "parents" is given as a plural form then the singular form of that plural would be "parent", and I can't imagine any other way being at all logical. – Lokathor Aug 24 '16 at 17:36

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