Are Pronouns Gender Neutral in Chinese?

However, in written Chinese, characters for 他 and 她 do show the gender difference. 他 is composed of the radical for "man" 亻and the phonetic component 也, while 她 is composed of the radical for "woman" 女 and the phonetic component 也. This distinction allows for written Chinese to differentiate between male and female pronouns. It’s important to note that these pronouns are still relatively new in the Chinese language, as historically there was no gender distinction in pronouns. While the spoken form of these pronouns is indeed gender neutral, some argue that the written form introduces a gendered element. Additionally, there are those who advocate for more inclusive gender-neutral pronouns to be used in Chinese, such as the singular pronoun "ta" (它) traditionally used for inanimate objects and animals. The issue of gender neutrality in pronouns in Chinese is complex and multifaceted, reflecting broader discussions surrounding gender and language in the country.

What Is Gender-Neutral in Chinese?

In Chinese, there’s no grammatical distinction between male and female pronouns. The pronoun “tā” is used to refer to both genders, making it a gender-neutral pronoun. Unlike some other languages, Chinese doesn’t have separate pronouns for he and she. This characteristic of the Chinese language allows for a certain level of gender neutrality in everyday communication.

It’s important to note that gender-neutral language is a concept that’s gained traction in recent years. The aim is to create a linguistic environment that’s inclusive and respectful of all genders. This is done by avoiding the use of gender-specific language and instead using terms that encompass all genders or don’t reference any gender at all.

In Chinese, this can be observed in the neutralizing of gender-specific words. For example, the word for actor, “yǎnyuán,” can be used to refer to people of any gender, rather than having separate words for male and female actors. Similarly, the use of the word “tā” helps to eliminate the need for gender-specific pronouns in everyday conversation.

Moreover, the lack of gender-specific pronouns in Chinese grammar can be seen as a more inclusive approach in itself. Speakers don’t need to mentally keep track of everyones gender when using pronouns, as the same pronoun can be used for any individual. This allows for a more natural and inclusive form of communication, where the focus is on the person rather than their gender.

LGBTQ+ Rights and Language: This Topic Could Explore the Intersection of LGBTQ+ Rights and Gender-Neutral Language in Chinese, Discussing How the Language Accommodates Non-Binary and Genderqueer Individuals.

  • The importance of inclusive language in LGBTQ+ advocacy
  • The challenges faced by non-binary and genderqueer individuals
  • The history and evolution of gender-neutral language in Chinese
  • Examples of gender-neutral pronouns and terms used in Chinese LGBTQ+ communities
  • The impact of gender-neutral language on LGBTQ+ rights and visibility in Chinese society
  • The role of education and awareness in promoting LGBTQ+ inclusivity in Chinese language and culture
  • Comparisons between Chinese gender-neutral language and gender-neutral language in other cultures
  • Potential future developments and advancements in gender-neutral language for LGBTQ+ individuals in China

In recent years, the issue of gender-neutral language has gained increasing attention worldwide, including in Japan. When it comes to first-person pronouns, traditionally, Japanese language has used distinct pronouns based on gender. However, with a growing recognition of diverse gender identities, efforts have been made to develop gender-neutral first-person pronouns that are inclusive and respectful of all individuals. This article explores the emerging use of gender-neutral first-person pronouns in Japanese and the ongoing discussions surrounding this linguistic evolution.

What Are Gender-Neutral First-Person Pronouns in Japanese?

In Japanese, the concept of gender-neutral first-person pronouns is still evolving. Traditionally, Japanese language has had gender-specific pronouns such as “watashi” for females and “boku” for males. However, society is becoming more aware of gender diversity, and as a result, new gender-neutral pronouns are being introduced.

One of the most commonly used gender-neutral pronouns in Japanese is “watakushi.”. This word was originally used by both men and women in formal settings but is now being embraced as a way to express gender neutrality. It’s considered polite and can be used by anyone, regardless of gender identity.

Another gender-neutral pronoun in Japanese is “atashi.”. This pronoun is commonly used by some females and occasionally by individuals who identify as non-binary. It’s seen as a softer and more gentle way of referring to oneself.

Additionally, the pronoun “boku” is sometimes used by individuals who identify outside of the binary gender spectrum. It’s traditionally associated with males but has been adopted by some non-binary individuals as a gender-neutral option.

Some people may still prefer to use gender-specific pronouns, while others embrace the gender-neutral options. Thus, it’s essential to respect individual preferences when addressing someone in Japanese.

Usage in Different Contexts: Explore How Gender-Neutral Pronouns Are Used in Various Contexts, Such as Formal Settings, Informal Conversations, or Social Media.

  • Formal settings: Gender-neutral pronouns are increasingly being used in formal settings, such as business meetings, conferences, and academic presentations. They promote inclusivity and respect for individuals who don’t identify within the gender binary.
  • Informal conversations: Gender-neutral pronouns have become common in informal conversations among friends, family members, and colleagues. They allow for more inclusive and open dialogue, ensuring that everyone feels seen and respected.
  • Social media: Gender-neutral pronouns are widely used on social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Many individuals include their preferred pronouns in their bio or username to promote inclusivity and create a welcoming online environment.

Source: Which Japanese pronouns should I use if I’m non-binary?..

In Chinese, distinguishing between genders isn’t limited to verbal or visual cues; it extends to written language as well. When it comes to pronouns, such as referring to he and she, the Chinese language uses distinct characters for each gender: 他 for masculine humans, 她 for feminine humans, and 它 for non-human entities. This unique linguistic feature demonstrates China’s attention to gender specificity, enabling effective communication and accurate representation in written texts.

How Do You Differentiate He and She in Chinese?

In Chinese, the distinction between he and she’s quite straightforward. Written pronouns are categorized into masculine human 他 (he, him), feminine human 她 (she, her), and non-human 它 (it), which is also applied to the plural form. This division of pronouns allows for accurate representation of gender in written communication.

The usage of 他 (he) is primarily reserved for referring to males and male entities. This pronoun is used to identify masculine individuals and is commonly employed when discussing male figures in narratives or conversations. On the other hand, 她 (she) is specifically used to denote females and female entities. It’s applied when describing women or discussing female characters in literature or conversation.

In cases where a gender-neutral pronoun is required, Chinese utilizes 它 (it). This pronoun is generally used when referring to inanimate objects or animals without explicitly stating their gender. By employing 它 (it), the language remains neutral and free from any gender associations.

The plural forms of the pronouns follow a similar pattern. The plural form of 他 (he) is 他们 (they, them) and is used when referring to a group of males or a mixed group of males and females. Conversely, 她们 (they, them) is used when referring to a group of females. For non-human entities, the plural pronoun 它们 (they, them) is used. This allows for clear communication while maintaining gender neutrality.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns in Chinese: Apart From 它 (It), Are There Any Other Pronouns Used to Refer to Gender-Neutral Individuals or Entities in Chinese?

In Chinese, the pronoun “它” (tā) is commonly used to refer to gender-neutral individuals or entities. It’s similar to the English pronoun “it”. However, there are no specific gender-neutral pronouns in Chinese that are widely used and accepted. Mandarin Chinese generally relies on context and the use of specific nouns to indicate gender. The use of “它” is limited to referring to inanimate objects or animals, rather than people. Therefore, when discussing gender-neutral individuals in Chinese, it can be more challenging to find a widely accepted pronoun.


Although the third-person pronouns for people in Mandarin, 他 and 她, don’t differentiate between genders and are pronounced the same way, it’s important to note that the concept of gender neutrality in pronouns is still a topic of debate and progress in the Chinese language. While pronouns in Mandarin may not overtly enforce gender distinctions, societal norms and cultural attitudes towards gender continue to influence perceptions and usage of pronouns in daily conversations. It’s crucial to recognize that language is a dynamic and evolving tool that reflects and shapes our understanding of gender, and as such, efforts towards inclusive language and promoting gender-neutral pronouns are crucial for a more equitable society.

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