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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 07-28-2012, 08:19 PM   #76
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In some of the other online communities I loiter about from time to time, there's a small (but ever-growing) group of people who have made up their own gender pronouns, and become aggressive towards people if they slip up and don't use these pronouns. The pronouns are zie (he or she) and zir (his or her). These words both look and sound absurd, and I don't feel that they follow whatever garbled syntax the English language possesses at all.

At the end of the day, I think that 'he' and 'they' work perfectly well, and that to go further than that enables coddling and enables people who are over-sensitive about non-issues (or, worse, people who think that there is necessarily a dominant gender). 'He' is fairly widely accepted as referring to 'all people', and 'they' implies no gender without the (apparently) insulting connotation of 'it'.

I've been referred to as a girl, a guy, a they and an it in the past, and it honestly hasn't bothered me. A quick correction to the preferred pronoun (even if it's a made-up word such as zie) is all that's needed; we don't need a proper language reform. The small percentage of people who can't deal with being referred to by either gender pronoun tend to already have a separate idiolect for it, anyway.

I've seen 'zie' and 'zir' used in professionally published books in the past, and while it stops me every now and again because I have to re-process what this word means every time I see it, the books have sold relatively successfully for what they are - but I truly, honestly don't feel that they would have told any worse if the author had stuck to a single "real" gender pronoun, or if the author had alternated between "he" and "she".
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Old 07-28-2012, 08:23 PM   #77
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Originally Posted by murraypaul View Post
he/she/it. His/hers/its
If Ban is genderless (that is, is definitely known not to have a gender, rather than being of unknown gender), then 'it' is the correct English pronoun.
Ban nodded its head. Ban shook its head.
As mentioned already in this thread, while "it" is grammatically correct in the pure sense, it is not in common usage. Common usage only uses it when referring to a thing, a plant, and sometimes an animal. So "Ban shook its head" would commonly be seen as making Ban not a person. Personally I would avoid it in that context.

For example, see wikipedia:

Quote:
"It" (including "its" and "itself") is the most common and only third person, singular English gender-neutral pronoun; however, it is used only as a dummy pronoun in various impersonal constructions and to refer to abstractions, places, inanimate objects or materials, and non-human life of low order or unknown gender. The plural of "it"—"they"— is already used in all cases as a plural gender-neutral pronoun. The word "it", however, has an extremely impersonal connotation, even offensive, in common usage and is rarely used in English to refer to an unspecified human being or person of unknown gender. This is because the word "it" connotes that the person being specified is inferior to a person or is an object.
While they are not authoritative, they do show the common understanding here.
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Old 07-29-2012, 07:21 AM   #78
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Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
As mentioned already in this thread, while "it" is grammatically correct in the pure sense, it is not in common usage. Common usage only uses it when referring to a thing, a plant, and sometimes an animal. So "Ban shook its head" would commonly be seen as making Ban not a person. Personally I would avoid it in that context.

For example, see wikipedia:

While they are not authoritative, they do show the common understanding here.
Yes, because they are discussing the real world, where there are no genderless people. (While there are different ways of defining gender, and people for whom the different definitions might conflict, there is always a genetic definition to fall back on, you either have a Y chromosome or you do not.)
In a science-fiction context where true genderless entities did exist, it would be the correct pronoun for them.
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Old 07-29-2012, 07:41 AM   #79
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Yes, because they are discussing the real world, where there are no genderless people. (While there are different ways of defining gender, and people for whom the different definitions might conflict, there is always a genetic definition to fall back on, you either have a Y chromosome or you do not.)
In a science-fiction context where true genderless entities did exist, it would be the correct pronoun for them.
But readers will understand the vocabulary based on their real world. So unless at some point in the book, preferably early on, it is made clear why he is using the non-personal pronoun, many readers will be confused. The same would be true of "shim" or any of the other made up pronouns, but at least they do not carry an expectation with them.

In a sense using an unknown word, is more clear then using a known word since the known word has baggage. If he wrote

Ban shook hiser head

Then when the readers come across hiser, they will automatically use context to figure out what he meant. If he writes

Ban shook its head

Then the most common understanding will be "Ban is not a person, maybe a robot or a dog."

Writing dialog from another land and time has to take into account how the reader reads. So while "it" may possibly rise up in a genderless society to fit this role, modern readers will not likely think that way.

The same is true of

Ban shook Ban's head

That is 100% correct way of saying the same thing, but it is not how we speak so most readers will think there are 2 different people named Ban in that sentence.

Readers are smart enough to figure it out, but things like this jar them out of the book, and that should be avoided when possible, IMO.

Anyways, that is all just my opinion.
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Old 07-29-2012, 08:42 AM   #80
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Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
[...]Ban shook its head

Then the most common understanding will be "Ban is not a person, maybe a robot or a dog."[...]
And yet a dog has gender and yet there are no very negative connotations (that I know of) in referring to a dog as an it. (eg: "I respect its privacy" - a line from the movie "Grosse Pointe Blank" about a cat referred to as it). In my eyes such uses easily justify being able to use "it" for an alien being whose gender is neither male nor female.

That is to say: the negative connotations being noted generally refer to the situation where the object of discussion may be offended by not being referred to as the appropriate gender. Where such offense is not anticipated the connotations are much less likely to be read into the text.

I would also add that a reader's understanding of word usage varies with the genre. In science fiction, and fantasy to varying degrees, a reader generally expects to have to learn some language subtleties relevant to the context. Thus, once it becomes clear that Ban is neither male nor female, the use of "it" will be seen as appropriate and unlikely to attract more attention than the reminder that this being is neither a "he" or a "she" - which is quite possibly a good thing.

At least, that's the way I see it.
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Old 07-29-2012, 08:52 AM   #81
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That is to say: the negative connotations being noted generally refer to the situation where the object of discussion may be offended by not being referred to as the appropriate gender. Where such offense is not anticipated the connotations are much less likely to be read into the text.
I think the negative connotation of of "it" is "less then a person" which is why "it" is okay for a dog, but when you use it for a person, not so much.

As I said, if early on the reason for "it" was given, I think it would be fine. I think that is true no matter what pronoun he uses. He came up with a situation that does not fit modern language, so he will have to do some setup to explain the language usage early in the book. Might be as simple as a character correcting a child that uses "he" (which I assume for now animals still have gender, so he could still be a valid word) for a person when that child should use "it." Without reading any of the story its hard to guess what would work best.
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Old 07-29-2012, 09:09 AM   #82
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I can't vote in the poll. IMO English already has a singular gender-neutral pronoun: they.

Just as you is both singular and plural, so is they. "Ban shook their head" is correct.
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Old 07-29-2012, 11:25 AM   #83
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Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
I can't vote in the poll. IMO English already has a singular gender-neutral pronoun: they.

Just as you is both singular and plural, so is they. "Ban shook their head" is correct.
It's completely hideous. I'd toss the book across the room and never pick it up again if I read that.
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Old 07-29-2012, 12:11 PM   #84
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Sea King,

I totally agree with you about the Captain thing. I've not been in the Navy or commercial shipping but I've sailed a lot of boat and the Captain is the Captain even if the Captain decision is crap. Sure you can go against the Captain but you'll never be on that boat again and shouldn't. I remember having one of my friends beak off about how he could not take a Captain telling him to swab the deck or something in reply to a TV show where some crew on a tall ship were yell at for not doing their boring job. I was going to argue but he would never get everyone on the boat is the Captain's responsibility. That is the way it has to be.
Have fun, Jan
In all literature, one of my most favorite (probably not very literate of me) expressions is

"Ships of wood, men of iron!"

That speaks to the discipline that mariners, especially early mariners had to adhere to and of course it started with the Captain.

Pardon me if I carry on a bit. I will excerpt a bit from "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." You have to listen to the song to really get it all with a night on a ship in a stormy sea to get the full effect.

"The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing.
And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too
'twas the witch of November come stealin'."


And my most favorite line of all in the song:
"Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"


Here is a Youtube version of the story of the Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald. Footage from the news at that time with Gordon Lightfoot singing.

Edmund Fitzgerald

I had joined the Navy just a few years before this happened, at the tail end of Vietnam.

Last edited by SeaKing; 07-29-2012 at 12:46 PM.
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Old 07-29-2012, 12:13 PM   #85
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It's completely hideous. I'd toss the book across the room and never pick it up again if I read that.
Well, if Ban were a man or a woman, I agree that it would be incorrect. But this is in the context of Ban being neither a man nor a woman.
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Old 07-29-2012, 01:05 PM   #86
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Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
Well, if Ban were a man or a woman, I agree that it would be incorrect. But this is in the context of Ban being neither a man nor a woman.
It's one thing to argue that the plural pronoun is acceptable to avoid a clunky construction (e.g., Everybody stay in their seats, rather than Everybody stay in his or her seat)--that may be where the language is heading, even if it makes some of us shudder. But to use the plural to denote an entity that is clearly singular is just wrongheaded. Ban should be referred to as it, or the author should make up a word.

If one is worried that it makes Ban seem to be a robot or object of some sort, what does they do? Since this is science fiction, they might make the reader think that Ban is some two-for-one creature or other multiple entity.
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Old 07-29-2012, 03:37 PM   #87
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It's one thing to argue that the plural pronoun is acceptable to avoid a clunky construction (e.g., Everybody stay in their seats, rather than Everybody stay in his or her seat)--that may be where the language is heading, even if it makes some of us shudder.
It's been heading that way since the 15th century I believe. Even Shakespeare used it.
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Old 08-26-2012, 11:49 PM   #88
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Misuse of pronouns has rhetorical consequences. If you say "they," then your reader will conjur the plural in his mind, and then be forced to reform that initial image when he deduces by the context that your "they" is actually singular. The reader is not only jarred, but then he makes further inferences - that you're effecting a more casual conversational tone (as this is really a more common convention in conversation,) or that you're making a deliberate effort not to imply gender (which is different than simply not implying gender casually.)

Pronoun misuse is often forgiven in the case of trying to be PC, but to some of us, it is like nails on the chalkboard. I am embarassed to show my children Sesame Street as Elmo and Cookie monster's refusal to use pronouns insults kids' intelligence and teaches them to talk like idiots. On the other hand, I just finished reading "Anthem" by Ayn Rand, and her use of collective pronouns to describe a singular self had a powerful rhetorical effect (which was admittedly still annoying, but purposefull.)

Attempts to make up a new pronoun seem unneccessary to me, as everyone knows exactly how to read a genderless "he," but a new singular to me would be much clearer than using a plural or alternating between genders. The latter can be very confusing as the change from he to she implies a change in antecedent when no such change is actually occurring. The problem with a new pronoun, is how on earth to bring such a word into common use. I had a book once advocate the use of "s/he" which was to be read aloud as "she or he." Not only is it an eyesore, and the reading of it cumbersome, but what are the odds of everyone accepting and using such a term simply because a handbook used in a handfull of classrooms suggested it? Had I encountered that word in writing before I received that handbook, I'd have had no idea what that meant. This is the only solution that would have the intended rhetorical effect, but it seems very unlikely to be done. Ultimately, I say, "if it aint broke, don't fix it."
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Old 08-27-2012, 03:35 AM   #89
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Misuse of pronouns has rhetorical consequences. If you say "they," then your reader will conjur the plural in his mind, and then be forced to reform that initial image when he deduces by the context that your "they" is actually singular.
Are you similarly confused by the use of the plural "You" instead of the singular "Thou"?
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Old 08-27-2012, 01:03 PM   #90
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Of course. If it is wrong for the language to change to add a singular "they", it was also wrong for the language to change to add a singular "you". If someone attempts to say "It was wrong then to use 'you' as a singular, but it later became correct," what basis is there to deny that the singular they could become correct? Use of the signular they doesn't create confusion, any more than does a singular you does.
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