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View Poll Results: Do you want English to have a genderless pronoun?
No. 37 48.68%
He works for me. 7 9.21%
She works for me. 0 0%
He/she works for me 0 0%
Alternating he and she in example works for me. 1 1.32%
Yes. 31 40.79%
Voters: 76. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 08-27-2012, 03:26 PM   #91
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Use of the signular they doesn't create confusion, any more than does a singular you does.

Perhaps to you it doesn't. It does to others, and that should be considered.

I'm not arguing about "correct." Language evolves and I tend to think of grammar in descriptive terms rather than prescriptive. In this case, both a prescriptive rule such as "'they' can only be used a plural pronoun," OR "'he' can never be used as a gender-neutral pronoun" are both limiting and arbitrary. All I'm suggesting is that for some (I suspect many,) the effect of using "they" as a singular pronoun is jarring. For some audiences, the use of "he" as a gender-neutral pronoun might be jarring, but my suspicion is that these readers are the minority as this usage of "he" is the long-standing convention of which we are all aware.

Last edited by JohnGalt; 08-27-2012 at 03:39 PM.
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Old 08-27-2012, 03:38 PM   #92
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Are you similarly confused by the use of the plural "You" instead of the singular "Thou"?

I'm not, as the language has evolved.

Language is constantly evolving and shedding antiquated words in the proccess. There's no moral significance or utilitarian considerations to be drawn from this - it's simply the natural course of linguistic development. I work with Indians on a regular basis, and I can tell you that there are many phrases that they use or we use that are misunderstood despite the long-standing use of English in both of our countries - the both started in England, but each developed independently of each other and variations resulted. The same changes occur even within a country's own borders. I have well-educated friends in Texas that use the phrases might to could, and used to could, etc., and the first time I heard them, I had no idea what they meant as no one used these phrases in the Northwest, where I learned the language. What's important for him, is to know that outside of the South, the use of those phrases leads to confusion. There not "wrong" in a certain linguistic circle, but they are meaningless and confusing outside of that circle. It would ridiculous for him to obstinately assert that because it's understood by some that everyone should understand and accept the phrase. Ultimately, the person that loses is him as he handicaps his own ability to communicate. It's no different in this case.
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Old 08-27-2012, 03:49 PM   #93
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You make some good points, but I think my answer to the question in the poll title stands. English already has a genderless pronoun.

Many people dislike it, and in some cases it may be ambiguous. But I can't see English using any of the suggested alternatives.

You prefer using he for the genderless pronoun. It does have some history, but I think it also has the insurmountable disadvantage of being sex-biased.
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Old 08-27-2012, 04:37 PM   #94
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Yes, language changes. One of those changes is a singular use of the word "they". It's not a new usage, it goes back centuries. I've never heard anyone claim a proscriptive rule saying you couldn't use "he" as a generic pronoun. I have heard people shouting from the mountaintops that there was a proscriptive rule against the singular they. The generic "he" is well on its way to becoming dated or archaic. It's not wrong to use archaic words, it is just not what readers expect.
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Old 08-27-2012, 04:38 PM   #95
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Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
You prefer using he for the genderless pronoun. It does have some history, but I think it also has the insurmountable disadvantage of being sex-biased.
The generic "he" has simply fallen out of favor as it became less and less of a valid assumption that all or most of the people it referred to would be male.
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Old 08-27-2012, 08:50 PM   #96
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Modern sensibilities seem to cry out for a new genderless pronoun, but to simply invent one seems arbitrary. Therein lies the problem. It's not as simple as saying, "Attention, everybody. From now on 'blonk' is the official genderless pronoun."
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Old 08-28-2012, 08:08 AM   #97
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Quote:
Originally Posted by QuantumIguana View Post
The generic "he" has simply fallen out of favor as it became less and less of a valid assumption that all or most of the people it referred to would be male.
It sounds as if you're missing pdurrant's point: He is the metonymic genderless pronoun that once applied to both sexes (as well as eunuchs and hermaphrodites). The problem with using it is not that "all or most of the people it referred to would be male." The problem is its semantic suggestion that male is normative regardless of which genders and variants are included or how many of each are represented.

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Originally Posted by WT Sharpe View Post
Modern sensibilities seem to cry out for a new genderless pronoun, but to simply invent one seems arbitrary. Therein lies the problem. It's not as simple as saying, "Attention, everybody. From now on 'blonk' is the official genderless pronoun."
I enjoy your tranquil view of the irrational.

However, to invent or adopt a genderless pronoun is no more arbitrary than it was in the eighteen-hundreds to decide that one sex alone would represent both genders. Before then, William Marshall reports, people were able to use the gender-neutral pronoun ou, a variant of the Middle-English a.

According to Dennis Baron in Grammar and Gender, "both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of a for he, she, it, they, and even I. This a is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = he and heo = she."

I would argue that the problem is not the arbitrary nature of the choice, esp. WRT a language the history of which is often illogical. Rather, it is that such choices are inevitably politicized. Too many figureheads, polemicists, news media organizations and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers profit from the systematic exploitation of controversy. That, as I see it, is why an easy consensus can't reached. It might have been allowed to happen naturally without the ubiquity of corruption by pseudo-stagnation, but there you are.

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Old 08-28-2012, 10:02 AM   #98
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These things really can't be arbitrated; if the language has a genuine need for a gender-neutral 3rd person pronoun, it will gain one. Some might say that it already has, in the extension of the usage of the pronoun "they".
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Old 08-28-2012, 12:25 PM   #99
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
These things really can't be arbitrated; if the language has a genuine need for a gender-neutral 3rd person pronoun, it will gain one. Some might say that it already has, in the extension of the usage of the pronoun "they".
Here's a passage from Lecture 23 of The Teaching Company's course, Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything. Professor Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University is the speaker. I transcribed her remarks directly from the audio, so any errors in grammar or punctuation are mine alone.

Spoiler:
Quote:
The second common error I want to address also relates to pronouns, and it's something called "subject-pronoun agreement". To illustrate this issue, let's examine another two sentences. Here's the first one:

"If a person has a complaint, he or she should contact the Human resources department."

And here's sentence two:

"If a person has a complaint, they should contact the Human resources department."

Okay; sentence two sounds simpler and it's more economical, but in fact that's the sentence that is incorrect.

The reason is that person is singular but they is plural. In other words, they don't agree. That sentence could be easily corrected by simply turning "person" into "people". If people complain, they should contact the Human resources department. "People" and "they" are both plural and thus they agree

By using a sentence like, "If a person has a complaint, they should contact the Human resources department," not only do you manage to have your pronouns agree (person, he, and she are all singular), but you also avoid the pitfall of using what we call 'gender-exclusive' language. And that's the third common error of which you should be aware. Now when I was in school, I was taught that when you're trying to get your pronouns to agree it was alright to use "he" to stand in for the universal subject; thus the sentence, "If a person has a complaint, he should contact the Human resources department," would be correct as it's understood that here in this sentence "he" is referring to all people, not just men. The masculine here was working in the same way that "mankind" is understood to refer to all humanity. Now, as a female myself, this didn't seem quite fair to me when I learned it as a high-school student, and by the time I got to college the grammar police, whoever they are, seemed to agree. And thus it was suggested that subject-pronoun agreement be achieved by composing sentences like, "If a person has a complaint, he or she should contact the Human resources department." This solution also seems somewhat unsatisfactory, as did the more streamline, "If a person has a complaint, (s)he should contact the Human resources department." I was obviously not the only person who found this solution somewhat awkward and unyielding, and I've been told by some of my recent college students that their high-school teachers have instructed them to use the plural pronoun "they" even if it's paired with a singular subject like "person". The idea here would be to try not to offend anyone; and it works, except for the fact that it really offends anyone who cares about proper grammar.

Two points:

(1) Several posters have pointed out that there is historical precedent for using "they" in a singular sense. I don’t dispute that, but I would say that in my experience it seems foreign to pre-feminist 20th century thinking.

(2) As moderators, we encounter the gender dilemma far more often than most non-moderators. When we're in the Secret Moderator Chamber (located in an undisclosed location deep within the bowels of the Earth) discussing RooftopSinger's report of ShoelaceBandit's rude behavior, I frequently find myself forced to refer to ShoelaceBandit as either "this member" or "they". Both seem cumbersome. I hate myself every time I use the singular "they", but I hate myself even more for those occasions when I've fallen back on the universal "he". Quite frankly, I wish all members would put a check-mark in the gender block in the User CP. It would make things easier for me, but times being what they are I can understand the reluctance of many people to do so.
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Old 08-28-2012, 02:25 PM   #100
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Prestidigitweeze View Post
It sounds as if you're missing pdurrant's point: He is the metonymic genderless pronoun that once applied to both sexes (as well as eunuchs and hermaphrodites). The problem with using it is not that "all or most of the people it referred to would be male." The problem is its semantic suggestion that male is normative regardless of which genders and variants are included or how many of each are represented.

I didn't miss anything. I think these two points are closely related. Society used to be much more sex-segregated. When talking about doctors and nurses, people would often use the generic "he" for doctors, but the generic "she" for nurses. It used to be a pretty good assumption that your doctor was a man and your nurse was a woman. That assumption is bolstered by the assumptions of the language makes. It wasn't a change in language that caused more women to become doctors and more men to become nurses, the reduction of sex-segregation barriers made the assumption that your doctor was a man and your nurse a woman increasingly absurd.
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Old 08-28-2012, 03:49 PM   #101
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Well, thankfully, this thread is not responsible for deciding the language, because we would never get anywhere!

"They" is currently on the rise in the singular usage, and "he" is currently on the fall in the gender neutral usage... I can not say where it is going, but to me, it looks like "they" is going to win out. T
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Old 08-28-2012, 10:20 PM   #102
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Originally Posted by WT Sharpe View Post
[...](1) Several posters have pointed out that there is historical precedent for using "they" in a singular sense. I don’t dispute that, but I would say that in my experience it seems foreign to pre-feminist 20th century thinking.[...]
But, is your experience perhaps biased by your education? The link that I noted earlier speaks of "Up to the 1960s at least English teachers conducted campaigns against the use of they in such contexts as: Everyone has their off days.". And even now highly educated people appear to hold very strong feelings on the subject (such as those comments you posted from Professor Dorsey Armstrong) despite the long-standing evidence that things are - at the very least - not so cut and dried as they might want.

There are some contexts where "they" feels wrong to me too, but I can't help wondering how much this has to do with my educational indoctrination. I imagine that any new word invented for this particular purpose would also feel wrong to me when I stumbled over it in a sentence. If a word is going to fill this void, then surely it will be better if it's a word that has already been doing the job (in at least some instances) for hundreds of years.

(Of course the language will evolve as it wants regardless of this thread, but I am pleased to see that "they" is where things seem to be headed right now.)
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Old 08-28-2012, 11:48 PM   #103
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Try this out...

If a person has a complaint, s/he should contact the Human resources department
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Old 08-29-2012, 12:54 AM   #104
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How do you pronounce that?
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Old 08-29-2012, 01:30 AM   #105
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Quote:
Originally Posted by QuantumIguana View Post
I didn't miss anything. I think these two points are closely related. Society used to be much more sex-segregated. When talking about doctors and nurses, people would often use the generic "he" for doctors, but the generic "she" for nurses. It used to be a pretty good assumption that your doctor was a man and your nurse was a woman. That assumption is bolstered by the assumptions of the language makes. It wasn't a change in language that caused more women to become doctors and more men to become nurses, the reduction of sex-segregation barriers made the assumption that your doctor was a man and your nurse a woman increasingly absurd.
You're arguing for popular usage based on the anecdotal -- that nurses were referred to as she and doctors he in conversations in which people made assumptions about those professions. What you're clearly, utterly and blatantly missing is the distinction between popular usage and technically correct pronouns based on a synecdochic substitution.

It is now illogical to assume that nurses are women and doctors men, but it is neither illogical nor incorrect (however offensive some might find it) to use he as a gender-indeterminate pronoun.

This is because, in many languages, the female gender is semantically marked, the male, assumed. Linguistically, female-gendered language is often treated as a kind of exception to or deviation from the "dominant default" (linguists' term, not mine), i.e., the unmarked language which is nearly always the male-gendered and therefore the indeterminate-gendered.

Sexism becomes quite difficult to unthread when it is interwoven inextricably into the structure of a given language.

Popular usage has no bearing on correct English unless and until it is adopted as a standard. He is still the correct pronoun technically (despite giving the impression the person who uses it is sexist). It has never been technically correct to identify a group of people of both genders as belonging to a single gender. Never in the history of English has it been acceptable to say, "God made Adam and Eve, therefore he made only one sex." However, it is often said that God made man in His image.

That is because man and mankind are also synecdochic, and for the same reason that he is synecdochic. One could even argue that He is synecdochic (a presumption of gender with regard to God themselves (ouch! -- let's not do that again!)), and there we enter into discussions of the inherent sexism in language.

Things could be worse in terms of unmarked (i.e., male-normative) language -- we could be speaking French. But then again, one doesn't find many French people attempting to strip gender from French nouns.

Quote:
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How do you pronounce that?
WT Sharpe: s/he is pronounced s-slash-he. In terms of pronounced syllables, it turns out to be no shorter than she or he.

The issue with s/he is not only the clumsiness in conversation but the limited applicability of that solution in any form. Try the same thing with her and him and you'll see what I mean (i.e., h/e/i/r/m).

Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 08-29-2012 at 03:04 AM.
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