Grammatical Gender Trouble and Hungarian Gender[lessness]. Part I: Comparative Linguistic Gender


  • Louise O. Vasvári Stony Brook University



Hungarian language, Grammatical Gender, Genderlessness, Lexical Gender, Pronominal Gender, Feminist Linguistics


The aim of this study is to define linguistic gender[lessness], with particular reference in the latter part of the article to Hungarian, and to show why it is a feminist issue. I will discuss the [socio]linguistics of linguistic gender in three types of languages, those, like German and the Romance languages, among others, which possess grammatical gender, languages such as English, with only pronominal gender (sometimes misnamed ‘natural gender’), and languages such as Hungarian and other Finno-Ugric languages, as well as many other languages in the world, such as Turkish and Chinese, which have no linguistic or pronomial gender, but, like all languages, can make lexical gender distinctions. While in a narrow linguistic sense linguistic gender can be said to be afunctional, this does not take into account the ideological ramifications in gendered languages of the “leakage” between gender and sex[ism], while at the same time so-called genderless languages can express societal sexist assumptions linguistically through, for example, lexical gender, semantic derogation of women, and naming conventions. Thus, both languages with overt grammatical gender and those with gender-related asymmetries of a more covert nature show language to represent traditional cultural expectations, illustrating that linguistic gender is a feminist issue.

Author Biography

Louise O. Vasvári, Stony Brook University

Louise O. Vasvári (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley) is Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and Linguistics at Stony Brook University and presently teaches in the Linguistics Department at New York University. She works in medieval studies, historical and socio-linguistics, translation theory, Holocaust Studies, and Hungarian Studies, all informed by gender theory within a broader framework of comparative cultural studies. Related to Hungarian Studies she has published with Steven Tötösy, Imre Kertész and Holocaust Literature (2005), Comparative Central European Holocaust Studies (2009), a special issue of CLCWeb (2009), as well as Comparative Hungarian Cultural Studies (2011), all in Purdue UP. In the 2010 issue of this journal she published “A töredékes (kulturális) test irása Polcz Alaine ‘Asszony a fronton’ című művébem.” She is the Editor of AHEA E-Journal.






Gender Cluster - Articles