A few weeks ago I took to facebook to note about my slight problem and a friend supplied me with this link: Sex-based and Non-sex-based Gender Systems. It's an interactive map on various languages and the pronouns they use categorized on whether or not they're gender-based. The thing that becomes obvious pretty soon once you start playing around with it is that gender-based pronouns are in the minority.
|Map illustrating the prevalence of gendered pronouns across world languages. Image via Wikimedia|
The few pronoun systems used in fiction that I can think of are all gender-based (with the exception of the Imperial Radch series). Which seems to me very much like a wasted opportunity given the strangeness of all the different kinds of aliens we writers have come up with over the years. In A Fire Upon the Deep the Tines become an actual sentient individual only once four to seven dog-like units form into a group. In the book, the Tines speak in a 20th century American accent, which was apparently a conscious move on Vinge's part, to make it easier to relate to the aliens given how strange they were to begin with. How many other fully fictional, but humanoid races, however culturally and biologically different all nonetheless operate under the same gender-based pronoun system as native English speakers? Why is it naturally assumed that however much languages vary based on culture that all of them would still have the same pronouns?
Probably mostly because it's easy. Some of it may also be about our own blindness to the assumptions we make based on the culture we live come from. I am fully aware that I'm mostly blind to this myself. Until a few weeks ago I couldn't imagine there being a pronoun system that wasn't either based off some definition of gender (which is a whole other post) or a "one pronoun to rule them all" type situation. But I also think it's a colossal waste of potential in terms of reader transportation.
So, given the variety humans can come up with, given their different cultures but biological similarities, what is the pronoun system of your alien race?