Why Filipinos Mix Their Gender Pronouns

I distinctly remember in the fifth grade having a Filipino supply teacher. Being one of the only ethnically Filipino students for most of my school life up to that point, it took seven years to have a teacher that looked like me. He was kind and knowledgeable and he had a slight accent.

One of my female classmates asked our supply teacher a question during a lesson, and he accidentally addressed my classmate as a he. My classmate was offended and the entire class busted out laughing. He was clearly embarrassed by his mistake. I felt bad because being the only Filipino in the class I knew why he made the mistake and I regret not taking the opportunity to educate my classmates.

So why do Filipinos mix their gender pronouns?

Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines, is a genderless language — there’s no concept of female or male. For example, the english pronouns: she, he, her, and him, translate to one word in Tagalog, siya.

This linguistic pattern is missing in Tagalog thus when speaking a gendered language such as English it may take a moment for a native Tagalog speaker to distinguish between the genders. However, Tagalog has become a gendered language through colonization. Around 35% of Tagalog are Spanish loanwords. For example doctor (masculine) and doctora (feminine) are two Spanish gendered loanwords included in the Filipino lexicon.

October 12, 2020

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