Pronoun Perspectives


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All-Purpose Pronoun: The New York Times remarks on Twitter users’ search for an “all-purpose pronoun” and argues the historical precedent for using the singular “they.”

American Heritage Book of English Usage: Epicene Pronouns: Describes “a” as a Middle English epicene pronoun, still found in some British dialects, then discusses the frustrations of not having a proper epicene in modern usage and solutions proposed to the editors by readers, concluding with a list of relatively popular epicenes.

ee: He, She, and It: Jed Hartman talks about his usage of “ta,” an epicene pronoun borrowed from Mandarin Chinese, as part of the greater context of epicene pronouns and the challenges that come along with not having any universally acceptable ones.

Footnotes: Pronouns: The author compares several popular gender-free pronoun variants, including singular “they,” Spivak, and zie/hir; suggests a composite parsed ze/em/zeir; and concludes that using gender-free pronouns draws more attention to gender rather than less, and using gender-free language in general is more important than using gender-free pronouns alone.

From “They” to “Thon”: The Sex-Indefinite Pronoun in English: makes an in-depth argument for usage of singular they, with evidence of its usage from centuries ago to today. Notes that grammar books prescribing sex-indefinite “he” almost never explain why he is acceptable as a sex-indefinite pronoun, and describes two unrelated studies where usage of “he” in a sex-indefinite context caused subjects to subconsciously think more of males within the context of the study. Mentions the movement to create a new epicene pronoun and its failure, and concludes with a list of proposed epicenes.

Language Log: Canada Supreme Court gets the grammar right: Relates an extreme case from 1927 in which the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that women were not persons because its statutes referred to “persons” with male pronouns.

Long Story, Short Pier: Sexing the Pronoun: Kip Manley reminisces about hi/hir being relatively widespread as a gender-neutral pronoun in the 80s sci-fi scene while researching the current state of epicene pronouns.

MMM: MORPH?: Jed Hartman compares possible adoption of a gender-neutral pronoun with the earlier creation of the word “Ms.” in that many people railed against the word in the beginning, but women who didn’t wish to be identified by their marital status and people who wanted to speak about women of unknown marital status were in need of a word to suit their purpose, and in the end they were the ones who won out. He concludes that although singular “they” has its faults, all other proposals do as well.

Pronouning Your Hermaphrodite: John Scalzi explores the dilemma of pronouns and hermaphroditic characters in fiction. He decided upon using “it” for his hermaphroditic alien species, but acknowledges the problems with doing this in real life, and eventually settles on using singular “they” in these cases.

Quest for gender-neutral pronouns: The Wikimedia Foundation’s own tackling of how to solve the pronoun issue.

Regender: A “translator” which will switch the genders of subjects on any given website – swapping honorifics and common names as well as pronouns. Once you enter a URL into the program, you can choose to see any page with Spivak pronouns (ey/eir/em), sie/hir, singular “they,” or Douglas Hofstadter’s racially-gendered pronouns by clicking buttons on the upper-right corner of the page.

S/he’s Not Heavy, Zie’s My Non-Gendered Sibling: Why Gender-Neutral Pronouns Don’t Work For Me: Pauline Park of the Big Queer Blog gives thorough evidence that gender-neutral languages do not correlate with gender equality in their respective cultures, and argues that alternating between “he” and “she” does more to challenge the sex/gender binary than trying to implement neologisms that the vast majority of society will never accept.

Singular “their” in Jane Austen and elsewhere: Anti-pedantry page: Henry Churchyard shows vast historical and literary precedent for using singular “their” in most cases except when a work involves “a strongly-individualized single person about whom there is some specific information.” He explains that he calls the phenomenon “singular ‘their'” instead of “singular ‘they'” because not only is “their” more commonly used in a singular context, but also the name won’t mislead readers into thinking that a “singular ‘they'” would be grammatically singular (i.e. taking singular verb agreement).

Teachers at Work: The Pronoun Problem: Margaret Parker discusses the various solutions to the lack of a gender-neutral pronoun from a college professor’s perspective.

The Epicene Pronoun: Makes an interesting claim that “he” was originally gender-neutral, but because of a lack of a “true masculine” pronoun in English, it has taken up this role and can no longer be used in its gender-neutral sense. Also notes that protests against the grammatical correctness of singular “they,” along with splitting infinitives and ending a sentence with a preposition, may have come about when Latin grammar started to be applied to English, since such phenomena work fine in English but terribly in Latin.

The Singular “They”: Looks into the various answers to the epicene pronoun question and decides that “they” is the best option. – ve, vis, ver: Explains the ve/ver/vis pronoun and shows an excerpt of it being used in Greg Egan’s science fiction novel, Distress. (Another story of Egan’s using this pronoun can be read online.)

Yo! A New Gender-neutral Pronoun: Dennis Baron of “The Epicene Pronouns” (above) studies the new pronoun “yo” while relating the history of English speakers’ efforts to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun through the ages. His article is posted on a website that isn’t his own, but the original doesn’t seem to be currently available online.


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