Hebrew is a binary gendered language. That means that all nouns and adjectives, as well as almost all pronouns, verbs, and preposition forms have either masculine (M) or feminine (F) grammatical gender. You pretty much can’t say a sentence in Hebrew without using M or F grammatical gender! As well as giving Hebrew learners a lot to remember, this is a challenge for non-binary speakers of Hebrew, and for anyone who speaks with us or about us.
So what can we do? Non-binary Hebrew speakers have a few different ways to express themselves in the language.
First of all, it’s important to remember that pronouns and grammatical gender do not necessarily reflect the speaker’s gender identity, especially when the language as it currently is does not fit what we need from it.
With that in mind, here are a few strategies that are used:
This is the most widely-used and visible option. It means sometimes using masculine forms and sometimes using feminine forms. It doesn’t need to be 50/50, and the gendered forms used do not necessarily reflect how the speaker is identifying in a given moment. Leshon me’urevet can be written using a dot inside the word (like תלמיד.ה talmid.a) to represent all genders, or by alternating use, as with speaking.
Many non-binary Hebrew speakers will choose to speak either with masculine forms or feminine forms, with the understanding that this does not fully reflect their gender.
Some speakers, influenced by the visible use of “they” in English, use the masculine or feminine plural forms תלמידים talmidim or תלמידות talmidot to express themselves.
Each of these options is a compromise in its own way. So some people have worked out an altogether new system:
The Non-Binary Hebrew project came up with a gender-neutral (or “gender expansive”) third option, mostly based on the sound “eh.” For example:
תלמיד talmid – student (M)
תלמידַה talmida – student (F)
תלמידֶה talmideh – student (NB)
You can check out the grammar tables on their website for more information. This is a great option for expressing non-binary gender in Hebrew. Keep in mind that this project is based in the US and is currently almost unknown to Israeli speakers of Hebrew. It also requires using the diacritical vowel symbols (nikud) when writing it.
Well, you can choose to use whichever option works best for your priorities and context! We encourage you to try a few options out, practice them, and see what feels most comfortable. Language is constantly changing and developing, and learners are also part of these exciting changes. If you want to use leshon me’urevet (mixed forms), then you can use the regular masculine and feminine forms and just mix them as you speak and write. It might feel strange at first but you will get used to it!
In the new Pride vocabulary section we have included, where relevant, the novel forms based on the non-binary Hebrew project. We’re excited to take this bold step and support more options for non-binary self-expression in Hebrew! Just remember that if you use these forms with native speakers, you will probably need to explain what they are.
To access the non-binary voice, go to your Profile > Settings > Gender and select non-binary. The default voice will be female but the terms with a non-binary form will have a non-binary voice. This option is available for the Pride collection right now, but we hope to expand it throughout the app in the near future!
Finally—how can we ask what pronouns, or what grammatical gender, someone uses, without already gendering them?!
The polite and usual way to ask in Hebrew is:
מה היא לשון הפניה ma'hi leshon hapni'ya? – what is the form (“tongue/language”) of address?
באיזו לשון לפניות b’eizo lashon lifnot? - in which form should I address you?
This article has been written by our Hebrew translator. Tal Janner-Klausner is a co-ordinator of Hebrew teaching at “This Is Not An Ulpan” language school. They use these pronouns in English: they/them, and the grammatical gender in Hebrew: mixed (“leshon me’urevet”).
Sound fun? Easy? Effective? It is.
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