The Daily Tar Heel decided to switch to gender-neutral terms to promote inclusivity in 2015. This included using the word “first-year” instead of “freshman,” and “chairperson” instead of “chairman” or “chairwoman.”
English has the potential to become a completely genderless language with words like “ze” and the singular “they” becoming more common. Yet in a modern society where homophobia and transphobia are still prevalent, a removal of gender from our language seems unlikely.
Now imagine how different this issue would be in another language. In French, for example, everything is assigned a gender, even objects. Objects’ genders are not necessarily linked to gender stereotypes, but the grammatical structure of a sentence still depends heavily on the gender of the noun. The total gender neutrality and genderlessness that is theoretically possible in English would require a complete foundational shift in French.
So what are students in foreign language classes to do? What about students who identify as nonbinary learning these languages on campus? How should they address themselves?
Gender neutrality is a largely neglected topic, even in foreign language classes at UNC.
It is still a fairly new concept, so perhaps it just hasn’t had the chance to be integrated into the curriculum yet. But ask any 101- to 204-level student in a foreign language class about how to address people who are nonbinary, and they won’t know.
A topic that is so dependent on the limitations and use of language should be taught to students in lower-level foreign language classes. Just as we learn the words for “he” and “she” in the 101 class, we should learn the words for people who are gender-fluid, agender, bigender and everything in between.