A child and a son/ a daughter
How do you say 'a child' without implying ANY gender? 'un niño' would be 'a boy', 'un hijo' would be 'a son' and 'una hija' would be a daughter..
This kind of thing is actually one of the examples I've seen researchers give when talking about how your language shapes the way you think. In languages with stronger grammatical gender, it's a natural part of any discussion about people to automatically specify male or female, so the language kind of obligates you to be constantly aware of whether you're talking about a man or a woman.
I've also seen them talk about things like languages that have different grammar to express information depending on how you know (someone told you, you saw it yourself, you're drawing a conclusion based on evidence, that kind of thing) and the possible implications of being a native speaker of a language that requires you to constantly be aware of exactly how you know something if you want to be able to talk about it.
They're also playing with some research on how it might affect our behavior to be native speakers of a language with a strong future tense vs a language that doesn't express the future as distinctly. It's been suggested that people in countries where the language doesn't distinguish the future from the present so strictly might be more inclined to behave in ways that are better in the long term (such as saving money for retirement) because their language doesn't require them to constantly frame future events as something very distinct from their current lives.
One article about those ideas, though there are others: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/09/can-your-language-influence-your-spending-eating-and-smoking-habits/279484/
@BritBlue, yeah... one of my science instructors still used "man" etc. as universal designators. He was pretty sexist in general so no surprise. Science isn't above being influenced by social bias, that's for sure. One time he offered extra credit on our geology test by asking us to answer baseball questions. When I pointed out that it favored men who are more likely to be socialized into sports (in the US), he said "So...?". (true story, and actual quote) I was pretty grossed out. I don't want to be anything like that guy. I've noticed a trend among people who still use language that prioritize men as the default category. So, I really work to have my language reflect my feelings towards women and people in general. And I try not to stay silent about it because that just exacerbates the problem and if I'm quiet about it, people assume that I'm ok with things I'm not ok with. :)
yes especially since science is still male dominated but we're getting there! Most of my male contemporaries though aren't sexist at all which gives me hope that this kind of thinking will just die out.... :D
Hopefully thats true! As I use a lot scientific language I often come across the use of 'Man' when referring to us as a species. As a medical student I often notice that male doctors are often referred just as 'doctors' while women (like me!) are often referred to as 'female doctors' especially in the media, really gets my goat! :P
If you wanted to speak about a group of just boys, you would tend to use a word like "varones" (males) to qualify it. For example, "Los niños (implied mixed group) juegan durante el recreo. Los varones (the boys) prefieren..." If it's not clear that it is a mixed group, or if you want to avoid using the masculine as a universal, you could say "los niños y las niñas."
And to answer your original question, for "child" masculine singular is generally used in a generalization. Unless it's referring to a specific child, it is implied that it could be either male or female. To specify a male child in a generalization, you could again use "varón": un niño varón. If you didn't want to use the masculine, you would have to rework the sentence to avoid the word "child," essentially:
Instead of "El niño juega durante el recreo," you could say something like:
Los niños y las niñas juegan durante el recreo.
Durante la niñez, se juega durante el recreo.
But is there a specific, commonly accepted, non-gender-specific word to replace "niño"? Not to my knowledge.
Use "los varones" as "the boys" sounds really weird, I've never heard it (I'm a native speaker)... perhaps "los nenes", it's a good option (but too Argentinian for my Colombian ears :P ).
Los niños y las niñas is a good alternative for los niños (as a mixed group), but you don't have to abuse of this. There's an example about this: The Constitution of Venezuela, when it was changed (1999), they write for example "el presidente o presidenta", "el fiscal o la fiscala", "el ministro o la ministra", etc. (over and over in the whole book) and it was severely criticized by the RAE and some linguists because it was an "abuse of the genders and too redundant".
I think "varones" would be what would be used in a formal context (say you were writing a paper or an article). If you search for "los varones" on Google, you will find many results of it being used to refer to boy children to distinguish from girl children. As for the RAE, I read their rules for dealing with gender the other day, and they are very much in favor of using the masculine as a universal, yes. However, there are good reasons for avoiding this, and I would say that if a person wants to do so, there is little argument against it other than that the repetition is a little redundant. For me personally, I wouldn't use both genders in every single situation, but I can definitely see the importance of saying "el presidente o la presidenta" rather than just "el presidente," which implies that the president is and always will be male, despite the fact that it could refer to either a male or a female if used in a generalization.
I agree, that would be in that context, but in another context, it'd sound weird. Perhaps if you ask the gender of a baby to his/her mother, she could respond "es un varón" (if it's a boy, obviously hehe), that's an informal related context you could hear.
About the other issue, I wrote that example, because although they're right (I agree with the equality), they actually abuse of the genders; the Constitution, a heavy book itself, becomes much more heavier with this, IMO they could write that way in the most relevant articles, not in the whole book.
And finally, Spanish depends too much of the 2 genders (wish they were 3: masc, fem, neuter); so, in some cases it's too difficult (much more than English) to find this kind of words; and I agree with you (again), sometimes it seems like the RAE live in the 17th century (they thought LatAm Spanish was a degeneration of the language and not too many years ago). Greetings!
I can see using "varón" as a qualifier even in a less formal context (saying something like, "los niños, es decir los varones..."). I don't think that I would use it instead of "niños," but I would add it to clarify. I'm not sure what one would say in that situation if not "varón." What would you use?
I think the repetition you mention is like using "he or she" or "his or her" in English. Once or twice is fine, and it's good for political correctness, but if it comes up over and over you have to look for a way to rewrite your sentences to avoid it. But of course that would take more time than just sticking in the feminine form. : )
mmm I didn't understand you... as a qualifier, ok! before you responded, I thought in "varoncitos", in LatAm (and specially Colombia) we are addicted to diminutives. For me it sounds better. (varón, without diminutive, sounds like macho :S )
But it's difficult; thinking in what I'd say, I just say "los niños": for "children" and "boys", or "los chinos" o "los criaturos", my slangy options :D
Mi persona pequeña is "my little person" the word "person" uses gramatical gender and is always feminine regardless of the gender of the person it applies to, unlike "niña¨which is considered to only be applied to girls, and niño which is applied to children whenever a boy is present, even if there are boys, girls, and other folks in a group ¨los niños¨.
The difficulty with gender-neutrality in Spanish is that the language is so heavily structured around (binary) grammatical and social gender.
User mmseiple posted a link to a wiki page for how to avoid gender in Spanish. I haven't read it yet, but I'm going to. Also the whole discussion is pretty awesome. Here is the link: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/3595996
You may be interested in the nearly 15,000 Spanish vocabulary words located at: http://quizlet.com/in2languages. Many include graphics/pictures to help in memorization as well as gender were necessary. Also there is one set of about 2,000 cognates and one set of 4,000 high use Spanish words to keep you busy. I have nearly completed the DL series by skill as well . Enjoy!!
I've looked it up, and I can't seem to find a solution. Honestly, in Spanish, it's very, very tough to find words that aren't gendered or at least don't imply gender. With words referring to people, it's nearly impossible. Especially adjectives. Every now and again, of course, we have adjectives with endings that don't change for gender, and we can escape that, but for words like child, there is almost always gender attached.
What I'm seeing is the idea of "child" is expressed through "children," i.e., niños or hijos.
I don't know. I'm sure a native speaker would have better insight than I do.