Additional Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira SpecGram Vol CLX, No 2 Contents ’Trilaas in Manila—An Anthropological Linguistic Study of Multi-Trill Counting—Claude Searsplainpockets & Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets

Just Friend?

Helga Langenase & R. Lola Rennt
Universität zu Ausland

“Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was a separate word like me?”
—The Possessive Cat-Dolls’

Criticizing or, in our overly sensitive times, merely even pointing out that there is some residual sexism inherent in various European languages has very much fallen out of favor among practitioners of linguistics and language science since the advent of the Political Correctness movement in the 1980’s (see Sharpe 2008 for recent, potentially disturbing developments in international policy concerning linguistic castigation on politically correct grounds). Early pioneers in the field (Schouwiniste-Pigge 1979 and Files 1990) nonetheless bravely (or perhaps foolhardily) laid a reasonably solid philo(soph/log)ical foundation upon which the present work can be built.

We the authors believe that one of the most fundamentally crippling social mythseven in our politically correct timeis that, fundamentally, “men and women can’t be ‘just friends’.” Now, while everyone knows that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis isto understate the case somewhatgenerally not accepted, and has even been empirically “disproven” under certain laboratory conditions (Jenkins 1990), it is hard to completely give up on the intuitive and psychologically soothing idea that the ways and habits of languageif not totally controlling in a destiny-inducing waycertainly color the ways and habits of the mind.

Specifically relevant to the issue at hand, many European languages lack distinct native terms for the relationships that in English are referred to as having a friend versus having a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Some examples illustrate the point:

Latviandraugs draudzene
Greekφίλος (fílos)φίλη (fíli)

This lack of specific vocabulary for romantic involvement, and the clear parallel between the word used for a comrade of the non-sexually-attractive gender and the word for a romantic partner encodes and encapsulates the notion that a person of the sexually-attractive gender can never be a platonic compatriot, thus perpetuating the uneasiness between individuals who have potential (but not actual) sexual and romantic feelings for one another. In the broader culture, this manifests itself as gender inequality and the so-called “battle of the sexes”.

Fortunately, many of the younger globalized generation have taken it upon themselves to address this vocabularic deficiency and inefficiency by borrowing or calquing the words “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” from English. While the infantilization of romance inherent in such terms is a separate affront to mature lovers, it is at least a tentative step in the right direction.


Files, Douglas S. 1990. “Perpetuation of Traditional Gender Roles by European Languages,” Babel I.1.

Jenkins, Andrew. 1990. “A Laboratory Test of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis,” Babel I.3.

Schouwiniste-Pigge, Émil. 1979. “On Being Polite to Women in Slavic Languages,” Son of Lingua Pranca.

Sharpe, Major. 2008. “Castilian Language Chastised, Portugal Says “We Told You So”,” Speculative Grammarian CLIV.2.

Additional Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
’Trilaas in ManilaAn Anthropological Linguistic Study of Multi-Trill CountingClaude Searsplainpockets & Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets
SpecGram Vol CLX, No 2 Contents