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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 08-30-2012, 11:12 AM   #121
leora
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Genderless pronouns: one/that person and sometimes it in the case it refers to a baby we don't know the gender.
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Old 08-31-2012, 12:29 AM   #122
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Originally Posted by WT Sharpe View Post
Not bad. "Hur" would sound too much like "her", "Har" would be too much like a laugh, "Hir" sounds too much like "Here" or "Hire", and that leaves only one other of the five regular vowels as a possibility, and I don't even want to go there...
Actually, I offered the same substitution several pages back (though the other two substitutions are inelegant):

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prestidigitweeze

An example of gender combinations: hir (for her or him), hes (for hers or his) and hse (for she and he).
I thought I'd made up the pronoun hir but was fairly certain I hadn't the first to think of it.

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Originally Posted by QuantumIguana View Post

I said that was part of it, but I didn't "insist" on anything. I simply observed the fact that the culture in the English-speaking world was strongly sex-segregated and no longer is today. I further observed the fact that as culture became less sex-segregated, the generic "he" fell out of favor. I simply don't think that is coincidence. Yes, sex-bias is part of the language, but why is it part of the language? Why is that bias there in the first place? I submit that at, least partially, this bias comes from sex-segregation. . . .
Not to fisk, but there seems to be a disconnect between that broad intention and the specifics of what was written. At issue was the idea that usage is entirely due to the idea of formerly gender-defined occupations.

I would argue that, while sexism encompasses gender segregation, its embedding in language (spec. gender-inclusive pronouns in English) precedes segregation. If (and I say this as an agnostic), "in the beginning, there was the word," wouldn't the presumption of gender separation be preceded by the presumption of gender dominance?

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[Bias in language] arises from the assumptions made when the language came into being.
I don't think anyone is disputing that sexism is embedded in language because the articulation of thought was once inseparable from the suppositions of the thinker. But I wouldn't insist on retroactive theories of origin based on my observation of the slow disappearance of gender predominance in various professions. Too inductive, wouldn't you say?

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Actually, it's quite easy to remove. The generic "he" is falling out of favor, while the singular "they" is ascendant. It doesn't matter whether you favor or oppose such a language change, it's happening. Dictionaries are waving the white flag on the issue. I should say it is easy to remove in English, which is what we are discussing.
You're arguing from the point of view of usage, where the battle is largely won. I'm arguing from the point of view of structural clarity, where consensus doesn't matter and the battle, so far, has been lost.

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Bias in language would be much more difficult to remove in Spanish, where even a table has a gender.
Again, I've said exactly the same thing using a different romance language as an example. I haven't seen anyone here disagree with that idea, though I do wonder whether you've been reading the posts to which you've responded.

The problem with presuming that an historical precedent for they trumps the need for a gender-neutral pronoun is the absence of its systematic adoption in earlier times.

I would suggest that varied use and substitution could imply an inconsistency bred of vacillation, intended variety, remnants of earlier grammatical forms or mere carelessness. But then again, that is an unsubstantiated theory based on what is perhaps my persnickety need for organization which comes from years of formal training as a classical musician. In absolute music, syntax is always as pure as the composer chooses to make it.

* * * * *

An aside:

I've continued posting on this thread because, for the most part, the interaction has been impassioned but civil. I haven't felt the impress of an us/them agenda that blinds people to counterarguments here, as I often have on threads about copyright law and DRM. Why not savor a good point whenever someone makes it whether it serves your argument or not?

I mention this only because the tone is to be commended, and it is the result of the contributions of nearly everyone here.

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Old 08-31-2012, 04:10 AM   #123
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Originally Posted by QuantumIguana View Post
I should say it is easy to remove in English, which is what we are discussing. Bias in language would be much more difficult to remove in Spanish, where even a table has a gender.
But no speaker of Spanish (or French, or German, or Italian) would think that grammatical gender has anything whatsoever to do with "natural" gender. It's totally separate. A young lady ("Fraulein") in German, for example, is a neuter noun, and you use the pronoun "it", not "her" to refer to a Fraulein, but that doesn't mean that Fraulein's aren't physically female.
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Old 08-31-2012, 04:15 AM   #124
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Originally Posted by Prestidigitweeze View Post
The problem with presuming that an historical precedent for they trumps the need for a gender-neutral pronoun is the absence of its systematic adoption in earlier times.
An interesting point.

I think that it hasn't become more prevalent because of a systematic campaign against its use by English teachers over the past couple of centuries.

Now that it's more accepted that they (etc.) can be used as a singular pronoun, their use will become far more common. And so become even more accepted.
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Old 08-31-2012, 04:21 AM   #125
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Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
Now that it's more accepted that they (etc.) can be used as a singular pronoun, their use will become far more common. And so become even more accepted.
English has, on the whole, lost the distinction between the informal/formal singular/plural second person pronouns "thou" and "you" (although "thou/thee" is still alive and well in some English regional dialects, such as the part of the country where I live). The same could perhaps happen with third person pronouns, although I personally doubt it.
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Old 08-31-2012, 04:44 AM   #126
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
English has, on the whole, lost the distinction between the informal/formal singular/plural second person pronouns "thou" and "you" (although "thou/thee" is still alive and well in some English regional dialects, such as the part of the country where I live). The same could perhaps happen with third person pronouns, although I personally doubt it.
I don't expect he/she to disappear. I do expect "they" as a third singular third-person pronoun to become more accepted.
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Old 08-31-2012, 06:17 AM   #127
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Originally Posted by Prestidigitweeze View Post
I would suggest that varied use and substitution might suggest an inconsistency bred of vacillation, intended variety, remnants of earlier grammatical forms or mere carelessness. But then again, that is an unsubstantiated theory based on what is perhaps my persnickety need for organization which comes from years of formal training as a classical musician. In absolute music, syntax is always as pure as the composer chooses to make it.
I think varied use is just the nature of English as a language.
English is not included in the list of languages with some central regulator.
Usage is ultimately the only definition.
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Old 08-31-2012, 01:54 PM   #128
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I think varied use is just the nature of English as a language.
English is not included in the list of languages with some central regulator.
Usage is ultimately the only definition.
We all know about The List, Murray Paul -- and thank you, kind sir, for suggesting I sounded like a prim regulator even as I made fun of my own primness [insert schizophrenia emoticon]* -- but that doesn't mean usage alone defines English grammar. Unregulated or otherwise, language is not the model for a libertarian's dream of a regulation-free world. If correct grammar were completely beholden to individual usage, then English teachers, professors, writers, editors and proofreaders wouldn't be needed.

-----------

* (I hope it's apparent I'm kidding about a link to a list of regulators implying personal insult.)

Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 09-01-2012 at 01:06 PM.
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Old 08-31-2012, 02:04 PM   #129
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Prestidigitweeze View Post
We all know about the list, Murray Paul -- and thank you, kind sir, for suggesting I sounded like a prim regulator even as I made fun of my own primness [insert schizophrenia emoticon]* -- but that doesn't mean usage alone defines English grammar. Unregulated or otherwise, language is not the model for a libertarian's dream of a regulation-free world. If correct grammar were completely beholden to individual usage, then English teachers, professors, writers, editors and proofreaders wouldn't be needed.

-----------

* (I hope it's apparent I'm kidding about a link to a list of regulators implying personal insult.)

Joking aside, usage IS what defines English. Rules are written after the fact. Go read how any of our "standards" are created and you will see that came out of studying how words/etc were used.

Teachers/etc help slow change down, and help teach the current state... but ultimately usage drives the rules, not the other way around.
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Old 08-31-2012, 02:12 PM   #130
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Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post

Joking aside, usage IS what defines English. Rules are written after the fact. Go read how any of our "standards" are created and you will see that came out of studying how words/etc were used.

Teachers/etc help slow change down, and help teach the current state... but ultimately usage drives the rules, not the other way around.
I'm not denying the importance of usage, or downplaying the seemingly arbitrary ways in which changed habits become formalized rules.

But apart from the attempt at regulation by institutions like L'Académie française (and even they have had to accept new rules and exceptions for arbitrary reasons -- not, for example, because they found technical justification but because Proust invented and used unorthodox syntax convincingly), both elements are at play. Usage is crucial to English not because of the absence of regulators but because ours is an imperfect and, often, wildly illogical language. That (and the vocabulary of any country that ever invaded a certain green and pleasant land) adds to its expressive power but prevents us from relying on the grid of perfect syntax the way one can in French, for example.

I would argue that that is why we're having this discussion: it hinges not on regulation or usage but rather on logic, which is necessary to counteract the chaos. Hence the factions divided on subject-verb agreement, literal ideas of sexism (see Harry's comment about grammatical vs. natural gender) and the potential awkwardness of inventing a new and neutral pronoun. Look down and you'll see we're all walking the tightrope toward grace.

Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 09-01-2012 at 11:59 AM. Reason: *From*, not *form*.
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Old 08-31-2012, 03:57 PM   #131
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But no speaker of Spanish (or French, or German, or Italian) would think that grammatical gender has anything whatsoever to do with "natural" gender. It's totally separate. A young lady ("Fraulein") in German, for example, is a neuter noun, and you use the pronoun "it", not "her" to refer to a Fraulein, but that doesn't mean that Fraulein's aren't physically female.
Yes, but "Fräulein" is hardly used anymore since it's considered sexist (because it shows the marital status of the woman). Fräulein was only used for unmarried women, no matter if they were 20 or 80.

The same (neuter noun, it) is true for "girl" (Mädchen). We know that a girl is female, of course.

Still we struggle with the similar problems. We currently use "er" (he) and "man" or jemand (for someone), but people are not really happy with that, either.

In the 90s women started to use "frau" instead of "man" because man resembles "Mann" (man) and they wanted to show that a woman (Frau) could also do it, not only a man (Mann). But that was considered rather over the top.

In German it's even more complicated. We have male and female versions of words like "friend". Female friend is "Freundin", male friend is "Freund". And if you were trying to write a note to your friends, male and female, you could either write "liebe Freudinnen, liebe Freunde" or "liebe FreundInnen"... which is awkward...

We often use "er oder sie" (he or she) which is awkward, too. But the use of something similar to the singular they has been seen, too, though rather rarely.

All in all nothing has been agreed upon in German, either.

As a non native English speaker I quite like the singular they and have seen it so often that I never thought that it was not already considered to be "standard".
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Old 08-31-2012, 06:09 PM   #132
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English also has several male and female versions of job descriptions or titles:

actor/actress
waiter/waitress
comedian/comedienne
baron/baroness

For some of these, there is a move away from using the female version to using only the male version.

This is especially prevalent in the acting profession.

I'm uncertain as to whether this is a good, bad or neutral thing. But from common politeness, if a female acting professional wants to be called an actor, I'll call her that.
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Old 09-01-2012, 12:45 AM   #133
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I just use "they". As English is my second language it does not violate my feel for language and with already more people speaking English as a second language than as a native language today, I'm pretty sure "they" will win out in the end. It's just the easiest leap from what's already there.
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Old 09-01-2012, 01:18 AM   #134
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Not to fisk, but there seems to be a disconnect between that broad intention and the specifics of what was written. At issue was the idea that usage is entirely due to the idea of formerly gender-defined occupations.
I didn't say that it was entirely to do gender-defined occupations. There is a difference between partially and entirely.

Quote:
If correct grammar were completely beholden to individual usage, then English teachers, professors, writers, editors and proofreaders wouldn't be needed.
It's not about individual usage. No one is saying that grammar is whatever you wish it to be.

Quote:
Again, I've said exactly the same thing using a different romance language as an example. I haven't seen anyone here disagree with that idea, though I do wonder whether you've been reading the posts to which you've responded.
I didn't claim that anyone disagreed with the idea. You claimed that bias is difficult to eliminate in language, I pointed out that the generic he is not difficult at all to remove. I came back later and edited the post because it occured to me that in a more general sense, what you said was true, if a language has extensive gender bias, yes, it is difficult to remove.

I expected that if I had not added that clarification, it would have been easy for someone to use a language such as Spanish to provide a counter-example to what I had said, and I expect you would have done just that.

Last edited by QuantumIguana; 09-01-2012 at 01:56 AM.
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Old 09-01-2012, 12:46 PM   #135
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[This bracket space has been reserved for a response to QuantumIguana's last and well-reasoned post. At the moment, I have to concentrate on formulating questions for an interview and writing the intro -- all due on Monday -- and it would be too tempting to remain very active on this thread.]

Here's the other reason I wanted to post now: because a few ideas came to me suddenly.

1. I was thinking about VydorScope and others' idea of usage alone driving all grammatical rules. One thing we haven't discussed so far is the idea of levels of language, and that is another place where the de facto steering committee of English has its say. A word might be commonly used in a particular way, but there's another question, too: Will it remain in the vernacular or be accepted at the informal and formal levels?

2. To pdurrant, who mentioned using actor for actress (and other such male-gendered nouns) as an acceptable response to sexism in language:

What's interesting is that, in such cases, people have decided that the least sexist thing to do is to favor the synecdoche of a single gender representing both. Which makes me wonder how correct our perception of sexism in language really is.

The reason that actor strikes many of us as an acceptable compromise might be because there is no hint of subject-verb disagreement, and because -or doesn't have the same gendered charge as him, he and his. Moreover, the -ess form is sometimes taken to be dismissive (which might be part of the reason that -trix and -trice, along with their association with dominance, enjoyed an enthusiastic revival in the '90s).

But if we're willing to defer to the male-specific gender there, then why not in the case of the pronoun he? Could it be we're overreacting to a red herring based on our mistaking secondary associations for the actual intention and function?

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