Sunday, March 31, 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo - daily blog posts in April

Once again I'm taking part in a writing challenge. This time, Camp NaNoWriMo allows participants to set their own word count targets, and actively encourages people to write things other than novels (if they want).

I decided that during April I will use the motivation these challenges give me to write a blog post every day. I really enjoy writing my blog, and feel disappointed in months when I find I haven't written very often. Perhaps writing every day will help me make this part of my routine, so that I will continue to write every day, or at least more frequently, even when the month is over. I hope that eventually I will write my blog often, even when I am working on other writing projects (in addition to my paid translating work, which I also consider a form of writing).

The title of my blog, Reality and Fiction, gives me a lot of freedom to choose subjects. I will review some of the books I have read in the past few months, but also refer to things that happen to me and things I learn about the world. I am not worried about not being able to think of a subject to write about, or about not reaching my chosen word count target, which is, admittedly, lower than the 50,000 word target for writing a novel in the "classical" NaNoWriMo challenge.

If any readers would like to ask questions or make suggestions in the comments, I will be happy to address them during the month.

Happy writing to all Camp NaNoWriMo participants, and to bloggers everywhere!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

My father, John Glucker, at eighty

My father, John (Yohanan) Glucker, celebrates his eightieth birthday today. Here are a few photos of him, marking different stages and aspects of his life.

He was born in Haifa on 23 March 1933. He is pictured here with his father, Dr. Isaac Glucker and his mother, Hannah Glucker (Bly).

After his military service, he studied Classics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and then at Oxford, before teaching Classics at Exeter University, where he met my mother, Carol Evans.
Some of their wedding photos have appeared in a previous blog post. They have two children, myself (born 1969), and my sister Ilana (born 1973).

In 1978 he was appointed Professor in the Classics Department at Tel Aviv University (featured in the photo below), where he taught until retirement, and we immigrated to Israel.
He has always had a strong connection to Greece, and is one of very few non-Greek scholars to be completely fluent in modern Greek. He was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Athens, and has also taught at the university of Crete, and visits Greece almost every year.
In his retirement he has been editing the review journal Katharsis, and is now also a grandfather to my sister's children.
I would like to wish him continued health and happiness in the coming years.

Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Gender in language

This Friday is International Women's Day. There are many issues relating to gender equality that are worth discussing, but one that particularly interests me is the use of gendered language.

Most languages have not only different words for men, women, boys, and girls, but different personal pronouns for males and females, and different nouns for various professions depending on the person's gender.

Many people's first names also tend to be either male or female, though there is a trend in Israel to give girls what used to be male-only names. This might be considered as empowering to girls, but in many classrooms now people have to distinguish between two children with the same name but different genders, so they end up saying things like "Tal-the-girl" and "Tal-the-boy", rather than using full names as they would when there were two children of the same gender with the same name.

It seems that in most societies it is considered important to know whether a person is male or female, even in cases where this fact is, objectively, completely irrelevant. For example, if someone says: "I went to my doctor", a listener might ask: "What did he say?", and if the doctor is female, the reply would probably start "She said...", emphasizing that the person being discussed is a woman. This would seem to be more common when discussing non-traditional gender roles. For example, in Hebrew there are feminine forms for the professions "nurse" and "teacher", and because the vast majority of these professionals are female, the feminine plural noun is usually used. Similarly, in English people have to specify "male nurse".

The desire to use more inclusive forms in English has made people try to avoid saying "he" as the general form, and because "he or she" is inconvenient, the tendency is to use the plural wherever possible and say "they". However, many people seem to be using "they" as the gender-non-specific pronoun even in the singular, and I have heard this said even when the person's gender has been determined. For example, "My friend's sister had a job interview, but they didn't get the job". Perhaps just as "you" became both singular and plural eventually "they" will replace "he" and "she", though at the moment this seems unlikely.

Hebrew has an even more clearly gendered system, because even "I", "me", "you" (singular and plural), and "they" have masculine and feminine forms, and the verbs agreeing with these subjects are also gendered. This makes it impossible to be vague about gender, for example in a love song. "I love you" will specify whether the "I" and the "you" are male or female.

I have been wondering what it is like to have a language without genders. Apparently the following languages either have no genders or fewer ways of marking a gender: Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Persian, Basque, and Turkish. I am more confused by what I have read about Chinese and Japanese.

Would speakers of such languages still feel the need to find ways to convey whether their doctor was male or female? Do they have clearly gendered first names? Could we live in a society where language and naming conventions did not make everyone's gender such a big issue?