Pronouns and belonging

It was in a discussion about Admiral (Laura Dern) Holdo’s actions at the tail end of patchy franchise filler The Last Jedi that I first realised that personhood was a theme I wanted to explore through fiction. It’s so obvious to me that the droids in Star Wars are people, but what gives them that? Where does people-ness begin?

I want to look at that question in a fantastical, post-technology setting. Is a golem just an extension of its maker’s will, or are they a being with agency of its own? If an animal is smart and self aware, how is it less than human? In a world where nature has become profoundly odd, is this boundary still relevant, or perhaps there are differences that are more important.

In this thing I’m starting to build, I’m using the third person singular pronouns ki/kin (on which more here) because firstly, I’m interested in a society where gender biases aren’t reinforced by our words, as in the example of the Turkish “o bir doktor’ being algorithmically translated as “he is a doctor”, though the pronoun o is nongendered (which Google have since taken some steps to correct). Hopefully I can pick up a thread that runs through books like Anne Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy and Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness.

Secondly, because I’m interested in how baking the notion of belonging into language could change how people interact. If there are only 2 choices of pronoun for a being - kin or it - that will likely do interesting things in the wild. All animals are equal, but maybe some animals will be referred to in a way that makes them more equal than others.

There are plenty of examples of media that use species as a crude cipher for race. H P Lovecraft’s fear and hatred of the other is an obvious (and problematic) example. Netflix original Bright springs to mind as another (I hope) well-intentioned but poorly executed attempt. That’s not my intention here. As a straight, white, cisgender man, I’m not about to give myself permission to riff on politics that impacts the lives of real people in real, violent, ways.

The question I’m interrogating is this: if belonging is explicitly stated within language, does that mean exclusion is also tacit? If the Venn diagram of who is part of the group expands to include all living things, is that radically inclusive, or so wide that it’s rendered meaningless?