Romanian and its non-binary language constraints

Romanian and its non-binary language constraints

If you read this article, then you either talk Romanian or have heard about it from other people or social media. The Romanian language is well-known for being the only romance language spoken in Eastern Europe.

One of the quirks of this language is that, unlike its romance languages relatives, it preserved the three genders from Latin: masculine, feminine and neuter. So, Romanian has three genders. It’s supposed to be non-binary friendly, right? Well, it’s not the case here. Romanian was and it will probably remain a primarily binary language. Why?


First of all, I will explain to you for short what non-binary means

Non-binary is an umbrella term for gender identities that are neither male nor female ‍—‌ identities that are outside the gender binary. Non-binary people’s gender expression might or might not align with their gender identity, and they have all varieties of sexual and romantic orientations, just like cis people do. Most people prefer to be referred to as they/them, but that’s not mandatory, as some prefer he/him or she/her pronouns, and that’s valid.


Romanian and its inability to include non-binary folks

Eastern Europe is known for its hostility towards the LGBTQ community. Most Eastern European countries actively disapprove of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ acceptance. Romania makes no exception.

The Romanian language limits people’s understanding of gender diversity, with most Romanian words and all pronouns adhering to a binary pattern. There are very few neuter words, but even they are, essentially, binary, since in the singular they are masculine and in the plural they are feminine. More than this, neuter words usually describe objects or collective entities.


Let’s make a small comparison between Romanian and English

Native English speakers won’t understand the concept of gender-binarity in Romanian. Let’s take the words tree (copac) and flower (floare). In Romanian, tree is masculine, whereas flower is feminine. In English, they are not assigned to genders. English speakers only say a tree or a flower. It’s completely gender-neutral and non-binary inclusive. Meanwhile, in Romanian, un copac and o floare scream binarity, according to their proclitic articles.

The third-person singular pronouns el (masculine) and ea (female) don’t have a common plural form like they in English. In Romanian, the third-person plural is still binary: ei (masculine) and ele (feminine). Well, ei can express a mixt collective entity, but it’s still not non-binary-friendly since it’s still binary-based. Therefore, all words are binary as the Romanian language doesn’t have the pronoun it to describe a gender-neutral object or an animal.

Moreover, English natives won’t understand the concept of respectful pronouns. In their language, the pronoun you is used for all genders and in both informal and formal contexts. In Romanian, these pronouns don’t escape binarity either, but a few such as dumnealor and dumneavoastră can pass the non-binary check. Dumnealor may be the equivalent of a formal they/them but it’s in the plural and this may confuse Romanians a lot. They will only think you don’t know how to speak properly or that you’re crazy. Not only this, but these respectful pronouns are only used in very formal contexts, so they are not very useful while being with family or friends.


This is the bitter truth. I think Romanian is and will always be binary. Communism and the general hatred and rejection towards out-of-the-norm genders and sexual/romantic orientations, diverse race and ethnic minorities left a huge stain on society. To be honest, I feel like the concept of non-binary is not necessarily frowned up as being gay, lesbian, trans etc. but it’s more the fact that people are not educated about this topic and they simply can’t comprehend it.

I am a bit optimistic though, and I believe the next generations will make a change and, hopefully, in the next century at least, non-binary people will feel visible and appreciated. The Romanian language, as beautiful and unique as it is, must suffer some changes to become inclusive too.


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