Question: German gender-neutral language

Someone asks…

Does anyone have any information on gender-neutral language/pronouns in German?

I’m about to move to Berlin for a year, and I’m not happy about the idea of having to gender myself by using masculine or feminine nouns, or my friends by using masculine or feminine pronouns.

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on June 19th, 2014 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 9 comments »

9 Responses to “Question: German gender-neutral language”

  1. KJ

    Hey there, I am german and I have to say: no, there is no solution to that yet.
    People are experimenting with different things and prefer different options, which all have some awkwardness. None of which is compatible with a mainstream that still refuses to use female forms as well, when referring to a mixed gendered group of people.
    With some nouns it’s possible to use neutral forms, like “Studierende” instead of “Student” and “Studentin” , but that often only works in plural. In singular it’s almost impossible to avoid articles that are connected to gender. Some people use forms like “Student_in” to refer to other people, but that kind of marks them as queer. It is also possible to use verbs instead of nouns. So instead of saying “XY is a student”, which would be a construction impossible to avoid gender, you can say “XY studies”.
    Some people experiment with neutral articles for themselves, but for many people that feels weird, because it easily creates a feeling of being seen as a thing, especially when uses by unfriendly people, who sometimes use it to humiliate androgynous people.
    Another thing is to just use the name insted of pronouns. But that gets uncomfortable too, after a while. Some people use er_sie, sein_ihr instead of just one pronoun, some people wish others to switch between male and female ones. But within a queer scene it’s quite common to ask for pronouns. and as long as you don’t know or if you don’t want to tell, the most common is to use the name and avoid pronouns.
    Have fun, meet you in Berlin!


    Anonymous replied:

    Original question-asker here: thank you! I’ve definitely tried using verbs instead of nouns, but it feels quite clumsy, and it’s hard to do quickly as German isn’t my first language. I might try the thing of switching between er and sie; that sounds like the most useful way to work around the pronoun issue for now.


  2. kaberett

    I’ve talked about this issue a bit elsenet, which has a fantastically helpful comment that hopefully contains enough keywords to help you find more info! Good luck.


    Anonymous replied:

    Thank you! I’d never thought about how forms like LehrerInnen in German can actually allow the male and female versions of the noun to coexist equally; that’s really interesting.


  3. Xaroc

    I think it depends on the people you socialize with. I’m a genderqueer transguy who’s still read female most of the time, and I now live in Berlin for about a year, but not in a very queer-friendly environment . In my experience it’s quite difficult, that people use at least male pronouns, even if I ask them. I can’t imagine that many would use new gender-neutral (pro)nouns.
    My love is genderqueer too and for them I alternate male and female (pro)nouns. Other people are usually still confused (and insist in getting to know their “real” gender), but at least they understand that I talk about a person. By using “xier/sier” most people think that I try to say “sie” with a bad German pronunciation, and if I use “nin” (although I quite like the sound of it), no one understands anything.

    Hope you have a good time in Berlin and more luck with gender-neutral language than I have.


    Anonymous replied:

    Thanks for your reply! I have quite a strong English accent when I speak German, so I also worry that people will think I’m mispronouncing ‘sie’ if I use ‘xier’. I hope your experience gets better soon and you find more people who will use your pronouns. :)


  4. Luca

    Yes There are gender neutral pronouns in German!
    They are not as common as in English yet- but they are coming!
    xier like the one above is mostly common around Munich. In Berlin there is a other neutral gender pronoun which is way more common there.
    There is a professor of the Humboldt University of Berlin, how established a gender neutral language and still is working on it. They themselves don’t identify as female or male and the students use gender neutral terms to address this professor. You use x instead of he or she and also -as German is a gendered language- for every gendered term, so for example professor would be Professor (male) or Professorin (female) in German, the gender neutral term is Professx

    The gender neutral pronouns x also works outside of university, I also go with them ;)
    at least, as long as you move in your queer bubble which is quite big in Berlin. People outside this bubble will most likely never have heard anything about gender neutral pronouns before, but we’re working on that ;)


    Anonymous replied:

    Thank you so much for this comment; it’s given me a lot to investigate! I’m actually going to be studying at the Humboldt next year, so it’s really exciting to read about that professor. I really like the idea of using x to make gender-neutral nouns; I’m going to try using that from now on. I feel a bit better about the next year now, so thank you. :)


  5. Anonymous

    Hey, I study German and French at school, and I identify as non-binary, but I go to an all girls school, and according to my teahers there isn’t a gender neutral pronoun in either language. Anyone know what I could do, as alternating between er/sie and il/Elle is confusing for all of the people who have known me since I solely used she/her and I really dislike being misgendered. Please correct me if I’m posting in the wrong place. Thanks


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