for the language nerds and gender nerds

(I know there are at least… two of you)

Guess it figures that the kind of sex song I like would be the really melancholy kind… preferably styled as a vague jab at colonialism…

So I don’t know Arabic well enough to give a full analysis of this song (“Kalaam” by Mashrou’ Leila) but here’s what I can tell you: in Arabic, not only are third-person pronouns gendered like in English, but all second-person pronouns are gendered as well.  That means there is no gender-neutral “you.”  There’s “she-you” and “he-you,” for standalone pronouns as well as verb conjugation.

And this song manipulates and/or omits vowels to somehow make the second person form of address sound ungendered.

And it includes the lyric “They wrote the country’s borders upon my body and upon yours.”

So.  That’s something.

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4 responses to “for the language nerds and gender nerds

  • Arrela

    I feel targeted in the best possible way.

    Also! That is so cool, that that’s possible! I don’t speak any Arabic at all, but that’s a language with quite a bit of template morphology, right? What’s the difference between the masculin and feminin forms and what is it this song does that makes it ambiguous? Would it be possible to also do it in speech?

    • Coyote

      I don’t… know… what template morphology is… But normally you use “anta” to mean he-you and “anti” to mean she-you (if memory serves). Then you have the verb suffixes, which is -ka for men and -ki for women. In this song, the singer pronounces “you” as “ante” and ends verbs on just a hard “k.” It’s a lot more noticeable than English singular they.

  • lengray

    What a cool song. Thanks for sharing :)

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