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As an example of the level of discourse this issue has received in the U.S., in July 2019, NBC reported that three Democratic 2020 presidential candidates had added their pronouns to their twitter bios:

(Since then, it looks like Cory Booker (@corybooker) has also added his.)

Recent polling indicates that "about one-in-five U.S. adults know someone who goes by a gender-neutral pronoun."

Is this only an issue of concern in the US1? Or are other countries concerned about pronoun usage and whether it could be harmful to some groups or individuals?

Answers should provide evidence such as significant news reporting, polling, or official political party statements, indicating whether this issue is/is not a concern in countries outside of the US.


1As several have claimed in discussing the recent changes to the Stack Exchange Code of Conduct.

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    Germany has a similar debate regarding gender in job titles and the like. (Think waiter vs. waitress, only for many more nouns.) The German debate is often heated and "political overcorrectness" can lead to astounding grammar. – o.m. Oct 14 at 17:10
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    This will depend in part on how you define "few" and how broad a trend you're looking for. It's also going to be influenced greatly by whether their language is gendered, or if there is a prescriptivist organisation that controls language there ie en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Académie_française – divibisan Oct 14 at 17:10
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    I think this needs to be more tightly phrased to avoid turning into a opinion-filled flame war. – divibisan Oct 14 at 17:13
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    Note that using "preferred pronouns" is a bit different than using non-gendered language. "Preferred pronouns" often enough are gendered. – Fizz Oct 14 at 18:16
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    It's probably worth remembering that the idea that calling a man "she" or a woman "him" is insulting has been a pretty universal idea in English-speaking cultures for a very long time. This isn't something trans people made up only recently. – Princess Ada Oct 15 at 9:29
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There are movements for gender-inclusive language in almost every language that has grammatical gender, though the extent and favored solutions differ in each.

Wikipedia has a long document discussing gender-inclusive language choices in many languages. Obviously, it's hard to know how prevalent or accepted these are as a foreigner, and as you can see, the specific form they take depends on each countries unique linguistic, cultural, and historical factors. The sum total of these examples, though, should be enough to show that this isn't just an American issue.

Unless otherwise stated, these quotes are from the above Wikipedia page:

German:

There is no universally accepted solution to the trade-off between inclusiveness and wordiness. As a result of campaigns by advocates of feminist language modification, many job advertisements are now formulated so as to explicitly include a grammatically male and a female word (Informatiker oder Informatikerin)

Since the 2010s, a form is sometimes used in academic and feminist circles in which an underscore (_) or an asterisk (*) is inserted just before the gender-specific suffix, as in "liebe_r Student_in" or "liebe*r Student*in" ("dear student"). This form, called Gendergap (not to be confused with the English-language term "gender gap") or Gendersternchen ("gender star") respectively, is meant to convey an "open space" for all gender identities

Terms like Lehrer (teacher) are increasingly being replaced by abstract or collective nouns such as Lehrkraft (teaching force; faculty) or Lehrperson (teach person). Kellner (waiter) and Kellnerin (waitress) are often transformed into Bedienung (service): "Fragen Sie bitte die Bedienung, falls Sie einen Wunsch haben" ("If you need anything, ask the service/help").

This article from Smithsonian Magazine talks further about the efforts and difficulties with gender neutrality in German.

Swedish:

Hen is a gender-neutral personal pronoun in Swedish intended to replace the gender-specific hon ("she") and han ("he") to some extent ... with reference to the Finnish hän, a personal pronoun that is gender-neutral, since Finnish does not have grammatical genders. ... Since 2015 hen is included in Svenska Akademiens ordlista, the official glossary of the Swedish Academy

A subtler strategy of gender-neutralizing pronouns is the replacement of man (which means either man or one, as in: One ought to gender-neutralize pronouns) with en (which, literally translated, means one). The problem with this is that en is already used in some dialects and contexts as a replacement for man, and some native speakers of Swedish would thus consider the word as belonging to regional or low-prestige language.

Icelandic:

The policy of gender neutrality in the Icelandic language is that the speaker uses the normal grammatical gender of the word of a public office or another office, no matter the gender of the holder. For example, the masculine words president and minister (forseti and ráðherra) were used when Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was the president of Iceland.

French:

The use of non-gendered job titles in French is common and generally standard practice among the francophones in Belgium and in Canada. By law in Quebec, the use of gender-inclusive job titles is obligatory if the writer has not opted for gender-free terms.

To make words or phrases gender-inclusive, French-speakers use two methods:

  • hyphens, brackets or capital letters to insert feminine endings: étudiant-e-s, , étudiant·e·s, étudiant(e)s or étudiantEs (the brackets method is now often considered sexist, because brackets are used to show something less important) ; most writers avoid this practice in official titles such as Governor General and favor the next process;
  • hendiadys containing a feminine word and a masculine word: toutes et tous, citoyennes et citoyens.

Spanish

There seems to be more available information (at least in English) about Spanish:

Two methods have begun to come into use. One of them, seen most often in Spain, Mexico and Argentina, is to use the at-sign (@) or the letter x to replace -o or -a, but use of the slash (/) as in (el/la candidato/a) is more common. The ligature æ can be used in the same way (escritoræs for writers of two genders, although escritores/as is more common)

Some Spanish-speaking people advocate for the use of elle/elles. Its former use is similar to Spanish lo (alive in Portuguese) and ello, which cannot be used for objects, non-human living beings or people, as there are no neuter nouns or descriptive adjectives in Ibero-Romance languages. Despite this, some still employ this pronoun in a gender-neutral personal third pronoun fashion, even if not allowed according to the historical use and etymology of the now-defunct word (in the spirit of a revival of the neuter form in early Romance that died off in most Romance languages).

Some politicians have begun to avoid perceived sexism in their speeches; the Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada, for example, was famous for repeating gendered nouns in their masculine and feminine versions (ciudadanos y ciudadanas)

Some evidence for similar efforts and backlash to the US:

Spanish bid for gender neutral constitution sparks row

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo asked the Academy to study updating the 1978 constitution with "inclusive" language

Serbo-Coration

Advocates of gender-neutral language find it difficult to avoid specifying gender in Serbian, since it is so built into the language. But one area where they have a bit more flexibility is the word "person," in its various forms: a person can be referred to as човек čovek ("human"; masculine gender), особа osoba ("person"; feminine gender) or људско биће ljudsko biće ("human being"; neuter gender).

Russian

In Russian, it seems like the push for gender neutral language has taken the route of "unmarking" the masculine gender, so it can be used in a gender neutral sense:

Job titles have a masculine and a feminine version in Russian, though in most cases the feminine version is only used in colloquial speech. The masculine form is typically treated as "unmarked", i.e. it does not necessarily imply that the person is male, while the feminine form is "marked" and can only be used when referring to a woman. ... Even in cases where the feminine term is not seen as derogatory, however, there is a growing tendency to use masculine terms in more formal contexts that stress the individual's membership in a profession.

For this reason, use of the masculine occupation terms when referring to women, is in fact seen as more politically correct and constitutes a growing trend.

Comments from actual Russians suggest that gender-neutrality in Russian actually has a much longer history and the use of the “unmarked” masculine gender has been uncontentious (in a way it isn’t in English) for a long time:

Regarding Russia: it's not a new trend, same language (with a single word being used for a profession regardless of gender) was used for at least a century. It was pushed a lot after the revolution, but was pretty normal even before. -- Alice

Estonian:

According to this article, Estonian has a gender-neutral pronoun tema:

A young Estonian agender person interviewed for this article who prefers the name Paul does find “tema,” the genderless Estonian pronoun, helpful. Temais used only for humans, and when used in a sentence, it is neither masculine nor feminine.

“Usually people use the gender-neutral ‘tema’ [when] talking about any person, and because it’s the most common way to refer to a person, there is no issue with which pronoun to use.

Finnish:

Finnish only has a single, un-gendered pronoun:

Finnish has only gender-neutral pronouns and completely lacks grammatical gender. The word hän is gender-neutral and means both "she" and "he". As in Estonian, the suffix -tar or -tär can be added to some words (mostly professions) to make them feminine if required, for example näyttelijä (actor), näyttelijätär (actress), but these forms are not commonly used any more; using the basic word for all genders, equally meaning female/male professions (näyttelijä for f/m actors) is the norm.

In the comments @JiK adds that there is a public discussion about developing gender-inclusive forms of profession names that contain a gender (similar to using firefighter instead of fireman):

many actually used profession names end with -mies (-man, such as fireman, chairman etc.), and there is actually public discussion about changing those. For example, one of the biggest newspapers in Finland announced two years ago that they will try to avoid using those names in the future -- JiK

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    Note that using "preferred pronouns" is a bit different than using non-gendered language. "Preferred pronouns" often enough are gendered. The confusion from the OP's question make his question rather unanswerable. – Fizz Oct 14 at 18:19
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    Germany also has the issue of *das Mädchen" -- singular young women aren't feminine. – Denis de Bernardy Oct 14 at 18:51
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    @DenisdeBernardy Re: 'das Mädchen', sex, gender and grammar are three distinct categories. To confuse any two, or even three of those, is understandable. It is just not a reason to base policies on. We have comparatively solid linguistics on one side, very flimsy psychology and politics on the other. Taking German again: Frau Bundeskanzler Merkel (grammatically male office title) would have been the correct form (cf der Sitz, Vorsitz, Vorsitzende*; Pharao Hatshepsuth, der Tisch). It was just so easy to conform to the times, give in to the fad, add the -in. – LаngLаngС Oct 14 at 23:31
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    Regarding Russia: it's not a new trend, same language (with a single word being used for a profession regardless of gender) was used for at least a century. It was pushed a lot after the revolution, but was pretty normal even before. And while for most professions it uses masculine gender as default, some have feminine gender (e.g. "няня" - "nanny", a feminine gender word that can be used to describe a male doing that job). As for neuter gender (grammatical and pronouns), I've never heard anyone use it for persons other than as an insult, as it's associated primarily with inanimate things. – Alice Oct 15 at 5:19
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    @LangLangC: Your claim that it's incorrect to add a female suffix to nouns that describe office titles is, let's put it bluntly, nonsense. Kanzler is not a word like Mädchen where grammatical gender and biological sex diverge. To put it in the same group as abstract nouns such as Sitz or Vorsitz is a very, well, unconventional stance from a linguistic point of view. Claiming that adding the feminine suffix -in to male-gendered nouns is an effort "to conform to the times, give in to the fad" shows a lack of understanding of how word-formation works in German. – Schmuddi Oct 15 at 7:17
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The Netherlands

While not specifically mentioning pronouns, there is talk about language with respect to gender neutral people and a general effort to accommodate other genders.

There are gender neutral passports (and one more) having the option X in addition to the M and Vrepresenting the male and female genders. According to the deputy minister for the Interior and Kingdom Relations getting a gender neutral passport requires changing the gender on one's birth certificate which can only be done via a court order, see question 4 in the PDF.

There are now gender neutral announcements in trains. Rather than welcoming ladies and gentlemen, staff welcomes travellers in their announcements.

The government will try not to note gender when it's not necessary. From its own website (roughly translated by me, see link for original in Dutch):

  • Per 1 January 2017 public transport cards will no longer denote gender. This applies to both student public transport cards and business public transport cards.

  • The minister for Education, Culture and Science has consulted with education organisations on the use of gender notation. More and more institutions will leave them off of student cards and out of their communication with pupils.

  • More and more municipalities will communicate with their constituents in a gender neutral way, for example on the voting pass by using only the initials and last names of the addressee and by leaving out gender on as many forms as possible.

The government believes that in the Netherlands there is an eye for the problems of some groups associated with gender registration. It will continue to promote activities that lead to more awareness of this topic.


Is it true that outside the US few are concerned about how usage of gendered pronouns may be harmful to some groups or individuals?

I'd say (after searching) that the topic of pronouns in the Netherlands is mostly confined to news reports, most of which directly references examples in the United States. That said, the government and other institutions seem to try extensively to accommodate gender neutral people in simple ways.

  • I guess Wikipedia needs to be updated wrt NL on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_recognition_of_non-binary_gender Or maybe your post does "In May 2018, Leonne Zeegers was the first Dutch citizen to receive the “X” marked gender on the passport instead of "male" or "female" [...]. Leonne, then 57, was born intersex and raised male, before having gender reassignment surgery and become female, but still identifies as an intersex person." (continues) – Fizz Oct 14 at 19:35
  • "Leonne won a court case which meant that preventing someone from registering officially as gender neutral is a "violation of private life, self-determination and personal autonomy". It will, however, still be the decision of the court on whether the “X” will be issued on anyones passport in the future. The ruling opened doors for Dutch LGBT groups to ask the government for anyone to be able to identify as gender neutral in the future." – Fizz Oct 14 at 19:38
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Australia

I'm not aware of any current political reps listing pronouns in their Twitter bios and couldn't find any on a quick search, but the issue certainly is discussed here.

For instance, from the Victorian State government's inclusive language guide:

Most but not all men (including trans men) use the pronoun ‘he’. Likewise, most but not all women (including trans women) use the pronoun ‘she’. Some people use a gender-neutral pronoun such as ‘they’ (e.g., “Pip drives their car to work. They don’t like walking because it takes them too long”).

If you’re unsure what someone’s pronoun is, you can ask them respectfully, and preferably privately. Use a question like “Can I ask what pronoun you use?”.

And from the Australian Defence Force Academy's LGBTI Guide:

Staff can create an environment that is safe and supportive for members to come out by making LGBTI topics a non-controversial part of discussion, such as through acknowledging same-sex relationships and ensuring they use the right pronouns for transgender members.

...

For members identifying as sex or gender diverse (TI+), there could be a number of issues which require the member’s chain of command to become involved in order to support and manage the member’s expectations. Staff may be required to assist with: ... Coming out to other division members (especially emphasising the importance of correct pronoun use)

Outlets including the Daily Telegraph and The Australian (newspapers) have reported on "preferred pronouns" several times - see e.g. The Australian search hits for "pronouns".

(caveat lector: I am most definitely not recommending their coverage as an accurate or even-handed representation of the situation in Australia, only as evidence that the issue does get press coverage here.)

So, no, it's not just a US thing.

Update: and just this morning I received a reminder from our workplace news system encouraging staff to include pronouns in their email signature, and to get other people's pronouns right.

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