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I am trying to translate some things into Russia which use pronoun «ze». I would prefer not to have to make stuff up or use footnotes. Is there a gender neutral pronoun in Russian language?

(Перевод)

Я пытаюсь перевести некоторые вещи на русский язык, которые используют местоимение «ze». Мне-бы не хотелось придумывать несуществующие слова или использовать сноски. Существуют-ли гендерно-нейтральные местоимения в русском?

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    Gender-neutral pronouns would be futile even if they existed - you'd still have to pick wether your "ze-equivalent" would be used with masculine, feminine or neuter verbs and such. – Peteris Jul 16 '14 at 21:19
  • @Peteris Yes, this problem is well understood. But this is not what the question is about. If, of course, you have knowledge of it is being resolved by any community, please share as the self-answered question. I will definitely vote up if it is legit. – v010dya Jul 17 '14 at 15:19
  • Try to popularize оне Оне походиле в магазин У неге есть кошка Еме нравится кофе Еге зовут Сам Мы с ним поехал в Китаю Мы говорили о нем – Беня Нетцер Jul 22 '18 at 20:23
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    You can say "оно" but this will have negative connotation. You also can say "они" (plural addressing dingular) like in medieval Russian was referring noble persons, this will mix sarcasm and respect. We don't have modern gender word in Russian yet. – Dims Jul 24 '18 at 6:44
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    "которые используют местоимение «ze» (...) не хотелось придумывать несуществующие слова" - am I the only one here who sees the irony of this predicament? – Headcrab Jul 26 '18 at 3:22
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+100

Uh, that's difficult. As it was said, you can use imperative constructions to hide gender, but you can't use them always. Other option is plural forms (most of them are genderless), but again, you will need to explain why these creatures are called in plural form.

As a person with amount of LGBT friends and close to LARP community in Russia, I can say that there is always big mess with gender-specific forms words and constructions. There is no way to really avoid them...

Sometimes we use neuter, but it doesn't sound really good. Sometimes we just use masculine as "default" grammatical gender. By the way, in laws and contracts two workarounds are used: something like "лицо, совершившее..." (neuter) or things like "человек должен..." (masculine as default gender).

Problem with neuter is that it sounds like no gender at all, not like unknown gender.

Maybe you could give some examples for better understanding of question?

  • I guess in a perfect world i would be looking for something like this: genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/tag/ze-and-zir – v010dya Jul 15 '14 at 13:35
  • Yeah, in perfect world. Unfortunately, in Russia gender problems "do not exist". No one widely speaks about it. Most people here say it's "illness" or "show-off" or something like "you'll grow up and get normal". So, we do not have any special pronouns or anything. – Alissa Jul 16 '14 at 12:46
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    Uh, almost forgot. I meant examples of texts you are trying to translate. – Alissa Jul 16 '14 at 12:52
  • Basically you have answered the question. The thing is that it is not a single text that i can point to. Often it is just trying to relate the concept of the gender neutral pronoun to a russian speaker. And yes, i do know very well what some people say, but i try to speak to people like this as little as possible, i have only a limited time on this planet, no reason to waste it on somebody like this. – v010dya Jul 16 '14 at 13:09
  • In Russia, nobody cares about the gender of words. I understand, I can't state this about all people but... I am 30 years old. I have not heard ever about the gender problem. 1) Лицо, совершившее преступление... - neutral, fine, I do not care! 2) Персона, посетившая наш город... - female, fine! I do not care :) 3) Человек человеку - друг, товарищ и брат! - male, ok, I do not care :) – Gregory Petukhov Jul 27 '14 at 12:19
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They do not. As you may have heard from video games localisation companies, there are ways to translate things to obfuscate the gender of a person. But they are not quite natural — actually, any direct usage of an adjective or a Past tense verb applied to that person will immediately require it to take masculine or feminine agreement.

  • Thank you. I have upvoted, but for now will hope to find an established subcultural equivalent to «ze». I am not interested in obfuscating the translation, but in actually making it clear that the gender is unknown/unknowable. – v010dya Jul 7 '14 at 11:02
  • @Volodya - The only way out for you is using the plural pronouns, adjectives, and verbs, they all are gender-neutral. – Yellow Sky Jul 7 '14 at 11:05
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    Actually, one can also use impersonal constructions. Is huge help in the past: Я закончил/закончила вовремяМне удалось закончить вовремя. – Shady_arc Jul 7 '14 at 11:25
  • Sometimes I start thinking that constructing artificial gender-neutral language is just a game people like to play. The concept of gender is absent in lots of languages. We have a good example, actually. It is Japanese. Its structure does not even allow for gender to exist. Yet, I would argue that it is not exactly the most feminist country over there. Which probably means that gender-neutral language plays little to no role in the rights of women. After all, why would calling a person man/women be inherently bad (unless being a man or a woman is somehow "sinful" or having a penis is illegal). – Shady_arc Jul 7 '14 at 14:34
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    @Volodya a somewhat established subcultural equivalent would be он/она. Another widely used option is to inflect pronoun according to the actual noun, e.g. сторона (в договоре) = она, пользователь = он. – Eugene Pankov Jul 8 '14 at 10:13
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There are no gender-neutral pronouns that can be applied to a person. "Оно" has pretty much the same connotations as "it" in English. You can probably make something up, if you're familiar with how verbs and adjectives are formed in Russian, but I doubt it will be easy to read for a native speaker.

There are, however, ways to conceal one's gender in speech. That includes using passive verbs instead of active ones when it comes to past tense, but this is not always feasible (it can be done to a phrase like "я оплатила счёт", turning it into "счёт был оплачен мною", but good luck doing the same for stuff like "я вышел на улицу"). If the bulk of a text is written in past tense, you may try using present tense instead ("я вышел на улицу" becomes "я выхожу на улицу").

You can also refer to a person by name instead of using a third-person pronoun, but it's generally recommended that you avoid using tautology.

Some people use the so-called "gender gaps". The practice is controversial to say the least, as many find them confusing and hard to read. Basically you just put an underline after the gender-neutral part of the word is over, and then write a gender-specific ending, usually feminine, but usage of masculine is not unheard of. That way, the adjective "жёлтый/жёлтая" becomes "жёлт_ая" or "жёлт_ый". Thread with caution, however, as how acceptable its usage is largely depends on the audience it's meant for. If it's meant for the general population (and has nothing to do with feminism and so on), then I suggest using something else.

There's a different, but more accepted way of gender-neutral speech - putting the alternative ending in parentheses. "Грустный/грустная" can either be written as "грустный(ая)", "грустн(ый/ая)" (that's a bit weird though) or left as it is.

And some people just use masculine pronouns everywhere when they mean common gender. Some people do mind it, some don't.

Hope that helps.

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Ze is quite new word, isn't it? So, why don't you just invent another word for your russian translations?

But keep in mind Russian gender is way less related to sex. I mean English has no idea of gender (in common sense, i.e. grammatical gender) by contrast with Russian, where every thing has gender: bridge (male), tower (female), bird (f), dog (primary female), rhino (m), ring (neutral), shoulder (n), body (n), et cetera. And native speakers don't mind.

Sure you know it. I mentioned it just to emphasis that the idea of gender neutralization in language is borrowed from narrow English, so your any try will probably look strange and alien to Russian. You should creatively work on every sentence.

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