ta - About the third person pronouns in Chinese, I have an idea.

"In the sentence above, ' 张三亲了李四一口,他哭了。' Who cried? Depending on the context, we can actually have multiple different answers: ① Zhang San ② Li Si ③ someone else.

As far as I know, there is a common problem of pronoun ambiguity in natural language. In order to achieve precise semantic expression, logical languages (la lojban) have made quite complex designs and definitions, such as determining the order of pronoun reference through backtracking or indicating the referent by setting parameters. However, it would be a joke to make natural language so complicated. At least my mom would laugh at me.

In English, traditionally, the pronouns 'he', 'she', and 'it' are used for the third person singular. They roughly correspond to ' 他 ' (tā), ' 她 ' (tā), and ' 它 ' (tā) in Chinese, which represent males, females, and objects/animals/undetermined gender infants, respectively. Why do I say 'roughly'? Because in English culture, people often assign gender to certain objects, which is not common in Chinese. For example, in English culture, 'she' is often used to refer to ships, but not all ships are given the feminine pronoun 'she'. Generally, only larger ships are personified.

With the development of society, the rights of sexual minorities have been increasingly valued, and the traditional binary gender pronouns are no longer sufficient. New non-binary gender pronouns have emerged in English, and there are quite a few of them, as mentioned in this BBC article, such as expanding the scope of 'they' to refer to non-binary individuals, and using new coined words like 'ze', 've', and 'zie'.

Natural language evolves, and as English changes, Chinese will naturally change as well. When thinking about third person pronouns in Chinese, I came up with a relatively systematic idea. I will explain this idea in this article and propose it as a suggestion for Chinese speech. In my future writings, I will sometimes use this pronoun system.

The advantage of this system is that it allows for more precise expression of referential relationships in written expression, while not introducing any additional burden in spoken language - all third person singular pronouns are pronounced as 'tā'!

First, there is no need to say much about plural expression. In modern Chinese, the practice is to add ' 们 ' after the pronoun, such as ' 你们 ' (nǐmen), ' 她们 ' (tāmen), ' 哈士奇们 ' (hāshíqīmen), ' 被遗弃的毛绒玩具们 ' (bèi yíqì de máoróng wánjùmen). As for third person singular pronouns, they can be summarized as follows:

Third Person Singular PronounDefinition RangeRemarks
MaleCompared to the traditional definition, the range has narrowed significantly, and it is no longer used as a general pronoun.
FemaleRemains unchanged.
Non-binary, undetermined, generalA newly introduced pronoun that can be used to refer to all cases other than clear males and females.
Inanimate objectsRefers only to inanimate objects, no longer including animals.
AnimalsRepresents animals in non-personified expressions.
Deities or spiritual beingsIntelligent beings without physical form.
Intelligent robotsA newly introduced pronoun that can be used to refer to artificially intelligent machines.

Next, I will introduce the system of third person singular pronouns that I have conceived:

' 他 ' (tā): Traditionally, ' 他 ' usually refers to males and is also used as a pronoun for cases of undetermined gender. Its plural form ' 他们 ' (tāmen) can refer to a group of men, a group of men and women (including situations with more women than men), a group of other genders or individuals with undetermined gender. Sometimes, ' 他们 ' can also be used to refer to a combination of people and animals, such as "Look at that man and the Golden Retriever, they are good friends." However, in my conception, the definition range of ' 他 ' will be narrowed down to males, and ' 他们 ' will only be used to refer to a group of men, excluding females, other genders, and individuals with undetermined gender.

' 她 ' (tā): ' 她 ' is a word that did not exist in ancient Chinese. It was created by Liu Ban Nong around 1920 and gradually gained popularity. It has now become an indispensable pronoun in modern Chinese. Generally, ' 她 ' is used to refer to females, and some authors also use ' 她 ' in personification of objects. In the new system, the definition range of ' 她 ' remains unchanged, and ' 她们 ' (tāmen) refers to a group of women. For more information about ' 她 ', please refer to the article "The Story of ' 她 ': The Invention, Controversy, and Early Spread of the New Pronoun Symbol for Women".

' 佗 ' (tā): In order to replace the gap left by ' 他 ' in terms of plural and other gender pronouns, I propose the introduction of a new character, ' 佗 ' (tā). This character is pronounced as 'tuō' or 'tuó' in modern Chinese, but here I also introduce a new pronunciation 'tā', which is consistent with ' 他 ' and ' 她 '. In this system, ' 佗 ' can refer to individuals of non-binary gender, individuals with undetermined gender, or non-gendered individuals (if there are any), and can also be used in personification of non-gendered objects. In plural expression, ' 佗们 ' (tāmen) can refer to a mixed group of any gender, including the range of ' 她们 ' and ' 他们 '. I have personally used ' 佗 ' to translate the gender-neutral pronoun 'they' referring to transgender individuals in a previous translation article "Modern Family".

' 它 ' (tā): In mainland China, ' 它 ' has a broad range and includes various non-human animals, inanimate objects, abstract things, concepts, and ideas... Basically, except for referring to humans, ' 它 ' is used in other cases. In the new system, the range of ' 它 ' has been narrowed down and no longer includes animals.

' 牠 ' (tā): For the animal part of ' 它 ', the new system will use ' 牠 ' to refer to it. This word is not a new word, but it is actually used in Taiwan to refer to animals. By the way, when expressing that someone is like a beast, you can also use ' 牠 ' to refer to that person.

' 祂 ' (tā): This word has also been used by Taiwanese people for a long time, and it will be directly included in this system to refer to deities and spiritual beings, such as ghosts and non-corporeal intelligent creatures often found in science fiction.

' 铊 ' (tā): I have decided to introduce a pronoun for intelligent robots into this system. In fact, I hesitated between ' 铊 ' (tā), ' 坨 ' (tuó), and ' 砣 ' (tuó) when choosing the specific character. On the one hand, most current computer processors are based on silicon chips, and robot bodies are mostly made of metal. However, there are now emerging organic-based biological computers and mysterious quantum computers. On the other hand, the definition of artificial intelligence software and physical robots also needs to be considered. Therefore, the choice of specific characters is still open to discussion - we can even consider creating new Chinese characters. One idea I have is to combine the characters ' 一 ' and '〇' to create the following new character. Of course, it is also possible to believe that this pronoun is completely unnecessary, as ' 它 ' can already fulfill the role perfectly, but introducing this word has some benefits for me personally - I am writing a novel with a robot character, and this can make my story clearer.


Regarding ' 其 ta': I personally noticed that many people do not pay attention to the usage of ' 其它 / 其他 ' (qítā) (other), but in this system, I propose to include the 'ta' in ' 其 ta' in the above definitions as well. For example, ' 其他人 ' (qítā rén) only refers to men, ' 其她人 ' (qítā rén) only refers to women, ' 其佗人 ' (qítā rén) can be the most general usage, and there are also ' 其它耳环 ' (qítā ěrhuán), ' 其牠肥猪 ' (qítā féizhū), ' 其祂美女神仙 ' (qítā tā měinǚ shénxiān), etc.

Of course, the above definitions are just my personal ideas and can be further discussed and improved.

Finally, let's go back to the initial question. "张三亲了李四一口,他哭了。" So, who cried? We still don't know.

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