gender voice variants

John Cowan cowan at
Fri Dec 21 00:02:26 CET 2012

Michael Everson scripsit:

> > It has already been shown that [the sex of speakers and listeners]
> > does affect [the choice of words, grammatical forms, etc.] in all
> > languages, though the degree varies.  I believe it's therefore
> > appropriate to encode it within, rather than just alongside, the
> > language variety system.
> Why, exactly?

Because I believe it to be similar in character to the things we already
encode as language variants that do not affect intelligibility that
much, but are important to distinguish in some cases.  Looking over
the subtag registry, I find the distinctions represented there are:
like the speaker's or writer's point of origin, the period of use,
the writer's spelling conventions, and the use of unusual terminology.

(Indeed, when this discussion dies down, I think we should next look
at formality levels, if only on an oversimplified formal/informal
basis, with additional details (if needed for, say, Javanese) left for
language-specific subtags.)

> <lang>
> <speaker>
> <audience>

I would not advocate tags like 'cowan' for how I talk vs. 'everson'
for how you talk: the differences are vague, evanescent, and uncodified.
But the same is not true for the sex-based variations we are discussing
today, which are exceedingly well-understood matters appropriate to
every language, though the details vary, as does the overall importance
of the distinctions.

> > I propose that we have four tags spkrmale, spkrfeml, targmale,
> > targfeml.
> What about children?

Children are, the last I looked, either male or female in their speech
habits; indeed, those habits are laid down in childhood.  Here's Peter
Wimsey explaining it to his friend Charles Parker in the story I spoke of:

    "I have mentioned to you before, Charles," said Lord Peter,
    "the unwisdom of falling into habits of speech. They give
    you away. Now, in France, every male child is brought up to
    use masculine adjectives about himself. He says: Que je suis
    beau! But a little girl has it rammed home to her that she is
    female; she must say: Que je suis belle! It must make it beastly
    hard to be a female impersonator. When I am at a station and I
    hear an excited young woman say to her companion, 'Me prends-tu
    pour un imbécile' — the masculine article arouses curiosity. And
    that's that!"

Indeed, an anglophone boy who said to himself "How pretty I am!" where
others could hear would have problems even today.

(All praise to the Canadians, who have successfully resisted the
worldwide trend toward life+70 copyright; and all further praise to
Project Gutenberg Canada, which has published many works available in the
Canadian public domain, including this one, as well as works by Canadians
or about Canada.)

De plichten van een docent zijn divers,         John Cowan
die van het gehoor ook.                         cowan at
      --Edsger Dijkstra               

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