https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7

News reporting and the singular "they"

Usagiboy7
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It looks like December is gearing up to be a big month for singular they in terms of news reporting. I happen to have it that my own local newspaper will be running two articles within the next two weeks about this matter as well.

The Washington Post will allow singular ‘they’

It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework. When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.

In addition, BBC News just ran an article about it titled Beyond 'he' and 'she': The rise of non-binary pronouns

This use of "they" annoys some grammarians. While it does feel natural for most English speakers to say something like "Someone lost their wallet," critics argue that "they" should really only be used to refer to plural nouns. And even those comfortable with "Someone lost their wallet" may have doubts when "Someone" is replaced by a person's name.
...
But English has a precedent for a plural pronoun coming to be used in the singular - the pronoun "you". Until the 17th Century a single person was addressed with "thou" and "thee". Later "you" became perfectly acceptable in both plural and singular. Neither McConnell-Ginet nor Baron sees any reason why the same could not happen with "they".

About 4 years ago, my communications professor said that in 20 years, singular "they" would be commonplace. It looks like that prediction is gearing up to come true.

2 years ago

18 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Vedun
Vedun
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If singular they was good enough for Shakespear, it's good enough for me.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/alexinIreland
alexinIreland
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These are really interesting articles! Thanks for sharing, Usagi :) I find it funny how I tend to use singular "they" in everyday speech myself, in all situations (even when I know the gender of the person I'm talking about, I kind of automatically use "they"). I don't know if I've always done this or when this slipped into my speech, so it's funny when it's pointed out to me. It's become so common place for me, I'm surprised it isn't common place for everyone yet :P "He or she" is so clunky, and it's only when you start using singular "they" that you realise using "he" or "she" and therefore including the person's gender is pointless and doesn't really add much to the sentence. Turkish had the right idea not even bothering with gendered pronouns...

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Physiker729
Physiker729
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And as an interesting point, Finnish also only has one third person pronoun "hän", which is used irrespective of the perceived gender of the antecedent. Sweden in recent years has officially adopted a new pronoun "hen", pronounced essentially the same as Finnish, to serve as a gender inclusive variant for the third person. (Edit: 17:17 2015.12.07) Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/01/sweden-is-about-to-add-a-gender-neutral-pronoun-to-its-official-dictionary/ Language evolution is so cool!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/aaditsingh8
aaditsingh8
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Gosh your progress and your streak is amazing O_O

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SeptimusBones

I remember hearing that even 'hän' is of foreign (swedish, compare 'hon' and 'han') origin and originally (meaning a super long time ago) Finnish only had 'se' meaning 'it' that was used for people, animals, inanimate objects etc., everything really. I can't for the life of me find a reliable source for this though.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/underwood.jones
underwood.jones
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I second that--go Turkish! I wish the rest of us had the same idea eons ago when our languages were forming :-P

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Middangeard
Middangeard
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Nice to see them finally catch up to what we were taught to do in a business English class about 10 years ago.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GrandApple
GrandApple
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I've been using they before it became a thing and I'm not even part of the LGBT community. It's proper English. Using "they" instead of "he or she" is pure logic.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/RandomTed
RandomTed
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Which would be correct for a singular "they"?

They are coming over soon?

They is coming over soon?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/alexinIreland
alexinIreland
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You conjugate the verb just as you would with plural they (they are, they were, etc.)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jillianimal

The one thing that screws me up with the conjugation is using themselves/self. Themselves sounds explicitly plural but themself just sounds/looks too out of place. Which is it?

....is Theirself an option?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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I've heard/read both themself and themselves. Themselves wants to roll off my tongue a easier. Theirself is unfamiliar to me when I read it and say it out loud. I don't think it is being used that way on the West coast.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dr_Patriot

It doesn't sound right to me for a person to say a phrase like "Jessy lost their phone" or "I like Jessie, they are good people". (Note the unisex name)

Singular they within the context of the examples of the first sentence of this comment feel really extremely forced.

I love etymology and whenever a word dies I feel sad for it and sad for that word's old history that essentially dies alongside it. Few people, after all, know the etymology of antiquated words.

To phase out he and she would disconnect us from much of recent English-Language history.

Language evolution does not seem to be immune to people with agendas like many of those who push for singular they. These people sound wrong to me and I find the idea of changing language to fit an agenda brutish and reminiscent of the concept of newspeak.

I may sound like I'm using the term 'agenda' very liberally, but the truth is that what I've stated is fundamentally so. There is a cohort of people who are dissatisfied with this naturally selected language and as an organised group wish for it to be modified with brute force to suit their desires. It seems insincere.

I don't like the idea of people forcibly removing words from my language like sawing limbs from a body and sewing new, rather out-of-place words back on top of the bloody hole the old word left behind. Not to mention that afterwards they, without a single care in the world, toss the old word with all of it's history in the garbage disposal decrying it as genuinely regressive or sexist. Newsflash: Words don't discriminate against people. People discriminate against people.

There is a chance that I am overreacting and this change is actually not different from other changes to English during recent history, but I don't think I am.

I respect the decision that many of you have made to adopt singular they, but I choose to be a force against it and will avoid its use at high cost.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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What synchronicity. Yesterday, I had just added a piece to the paper. I writing:

When marginalized groups ask for linguistic space, they are met by a plethora of arguments about why they do not need it or should not have it. The arguments I have encountered range from the scrunched faces of “that makes the language sound funny,” the eye rolling followed by “that will confuse people,” the offended insistence of “that is unnecessary,” the adamant fist pounding with “it is against the rules of grammar”, and the naked shouts of “you don’t belong here!”

It doesn't sound right to me

In my paper I wrote "sometimes new things feel awkward until they becoming familiar."

To phase out he and she

Gender still exists. So long as there are instances in which gender needs to be highlighted for clarity about a given situation, people will reference gender for those people who have it. Interestingly enough the role and use of gender in language has changed already, hundreds of years before when English shifted from represented non body-based genders to the idea of body-based genders.

Language evolution does not seem to be immune to people with agendas.

Hense we have words like "email"

There is a cohort of people who are dissatisfied with this naturally selected language

We are the natural users of language, we change it. Naturally. What do you imagine natural change looks like? Without people their needs, values, and dreams, language would not exist. And as their needs, values, and dreams change, they change language so that it becomes an accurate reflection. This is the natural process of language.

people forcibly removing words from my language

It's our language.

Words don't discriminate against people. People discriminate against people.

"Description implies differentiation" (24) Words were created exactly for the purpose to discriminate one object, idea, or action from another. A thing is this thing, because it is not that thing. "The negative is a function peculiar to symbol systems. The quickest way to demonstrate the sheer symbolicity of the negative is to look at any object, say, a table, and to remind yourself that, though it is exactly what it is, you could go on for the rest of your life saying all that things that it is not. 'it is not a book, it is not a house, it is not Times Square,' etc. etc."(63) "...language is but a set of labels, signs for helping us find our way about"(59) And while she or perhaps he? might be a label helping you find your way about and helping others find their ways to you by being able to distinguish what you are (and thus what you are not), he or she serves no such function for me. I am not a man or a woman. So how should the newspapers label me when I am the subject of the story?

respect the decision that many of you have made to adopt singular they

Good to know.

Quote from (Kenneth Burke. 1989. On Symbols and Society. The University of Chicago Press.)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dr_Patriot

If it really does catch on, more power to you all.

If I am eventually persuaded that it doesn't sound awkward I'll drop it, but the truth is that I do find it awkward and I'm not sure how easy it will be to force the majority of English speakers to abandon the grammar that has been drilled into their heads.

My use of the word 'natural' was wrong, I agree. Nothing is unnaturally selected. The species that are now extinct in the wild were naturally selected because they couldn't stand up to human predation. Even something forced is natural. Nothing unnatural exists in the universe. I cede this point to you.

This clearly isn't a case like e-mail because there once existed no word for e-mail and we needed one to fill that gap. This is not creating a new noun like e-mail or computer, this is a change to the rules of grammar. There is no gap because we already have a functioning default 'he'. The push for singular 'they' to become standard is fundamentally due to the conviction of few that their wishes take precedence over the long-incubated grammar rules of English that at least I hold high.

I'll just keep insisting that 'he' is the default and doesn't necessarily indicate masculinity, and that those who insist that 'he' isn't enough for them are a little bit entitled.

We clearly can't convince each other that either side is righteous so all that remains is the battlefield of language. You shall fight on one side and I shall fight on the other. I shall fight for the more legitimate old and grizzled monarch and you shall fight to depose him and the courts of Grammar in a violent coup and replace him with a new and more attractive monarch whom you find better suited for the title. I shall fight for the continued dominance of default 'he' and you shall fight to change grammar and make 'they' default for those with unknown gender.

I fight for the courts of Grammar and their rightful decrees. I do not fear death. If you claim victory I shall die at least with honour. This is the bowing before the duel. The bowing is complete and now the war of the words begins.

Beware, I fight with Bushido.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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I'm doing a research project on language as a medium for violence. Today I came across an interesting piece about how language evolves that some folks might be interested in:

(From: Language as a Social Semiotic By Halliday (1978))

[I]f we consider what language is required to do for us, there are certain functions which it must fulfill in all human cultures...
1. Language has to interpret the whole of our experience, reducing the indefinitely varied phenomena of the world around us, and also the world inside us, the processes of our own consciousness, to a manageable number of classes of phenomena: Types of processes, events and actions, classes of objects, people and institutions, and the like.
2. Language has to express certain elementary logical relations, like 'and' and 'or' and 'if', as well as those created by language itself such as 'namely', 'says', and 'means'.
3. Language has to express our participation, as speakers, in the speech situation; the roles we take on ourselves and impose on others; our wishes, feelings, attitudes, and judgements.
4. Language has to do all of these things simultaneously, in a way both which relates what is being said to the context in which it is being said, both to what has been said before and to the 'context of situation'; in other words, it has to be capable of being organized as relevant discourse, not just as words and sentences in a grammar book or dictionary.
It is the demands posed by the service of these functions which have moulded the shape of language and fixed the course of its evolution (22).

I felt that numbers 1 and 3 applied closely to my own position in this conversation.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/soedori
soedori
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Well... Korean doesn't really used pronouns, but I noticed a lot of people use the masculine-neuter pronoun to denote a female too (heck, they even did it in the SAT Korean...). Although it sounds a bit strange to my ears still... :)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/brittalexiswm

I personally don't care if "grammarians" have a problem with it. In the Mid-West of the USA, it is normal to use "they" when the person is unidentified or you are speaking in general. It has been that way my whole life. If native speakers talk that way, then I feel it is correct that way.

2 years ago
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