Epicene avoidance?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 9 23:43:12 UTC 2010

On Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 1:55 PM, Michael Newman
<michael.newman at qc.cuny.edu> wrote:
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> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Michael Newman <michael.newman at QC.CUNY.EDU>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â Re: Epicene avoidance?
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> <font face=3D"Default Sans Serif,Verdana,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif" size=
> =3D"2"><div><br>As Greville Corbett pointed out to me (criticizing my decis=
> ion to use the term to refer to referents with unknown or unspecified sex) =
> the meaning of epicene was somewhat different in origin. It meant (if I rem=
> ember right) more of dual gendered agreement pattern in Greek. <br><br>My r=
> esponse is that the Greek usage is not all that relevant, and in any case, =
> I was just following others in using it that way. The problem with "gender-=
> neutral" for me is that the issue is not really gender but sex reference. G=
> ender in linguistics has quite a specific meaning referring to noun classes=
> . There is no gender in English on that view because there are no noun clas=
> ses. He, she and the other pronouns along with words like man, woman, boy, =
> girl, waitress, and so on have sex reference. <br><br>In other social scien=
> ces gender refers to sex-related constructions of identity, and the use of =
> the term in this case is misleading too. <br><br>Not that I'd go to great l=
> engths to avoid "gender neutral" if it were common in the literature, but i=
> t wasn't then, and so, epicene it was. <br><div><br></div><font color=3D"#9=
> 90099">-----American Dialect Society <a class=3D"moz-txt-link-rfc2396E" hre=
> f=3D"mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU"><ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU></a> wrot=
> e: -----<br><br></font><blockquote style=3D"padding-right: 0px; padding-lef=
> t: 5px; margin-left: 5px; border-left: 2px solid #000000; margin-right: 0px=
> ;">To: <a class=3D"moz-txt-link-abbreviated" href=3D"mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.=
> UGA.EDU">ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU</a><br>From: Paul Frank <a class=3D"moz-txt=
> -link-rfc2396E" href=3D"mailto:paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU"><paulfrank at PO=
> ST.HARVARD.EDU></a><br>Sent by: American Dialect Society <a class=3D"moz=
> -txt-link-rfc2396E" href=3D"mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU"><ADS-L at LISTSE=
> RV.UGA.EDU></a><br>Date: 11/09/2010 04:23PM<br>Subject: Re: Epicene avoi=
> dance?<br><br><font face=3D"Courier New,Courier,monospace" size=3D"3">-----=
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> br>Sender:       American Dialect Society <a class=3D"moz-tx=
> t-link-rfc2396E" href=3D"mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU"><ADS-L at LISTSERV.=
> UGA.EDU></a><br>Poster:       Paul Frank <a class=3D"moz-=
> txt-link-rfc2396E" href=3D"mailto:paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU"><paulfrank=
> @POST.HARVARD.EDU></a><br>Subject:      Re: Epicene avoid=
> ance?<br>------------------------------------------------------------------=
> -------------<br><br>On Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 3:54 PM, Laurence Horn <a class=
> =3D"moz-txt-link-rfc2396E" href=3D"mailto:laurence.horn at yale.edu"><laure=
> nce.horn at yale.edu></a> wrote:<br>> At 12:52 PM +0100 11/9/10, Paul Fr=
> ank wrote:<br><br>>>The sentence "Applicants must have obtained his o=
> r her doctorate by<br>>>the date of taking up the post" is just silly=
> . You're right that it's<br>>>bad editing or bad writing. There's not=
> hing wrong with "they" here<br>>>even from a prescriptivist point of =
> view. By the way, what's the<br>>>advantage of "epicene they" over "g=
> ender-neutral they"? "Epicene they"<br>>>gets 843 googlits; "gender-n=
> eutral they" 52,700. I'd heard of epicene<br>>>nouns in Spanish and o=
> ther European languages. But "epicene they" is<br>>>new to me. It'll =
> grow on me.<br>>><br>>>Paul<br>><br>> It's been in use in=
> Â our circles for a while; cf. listmates Dennis<br>> Baron ("The Epicene =
> Pronouns: A Chronology of the Word That Failed"<br>> at<br>> <a href=
> =3D"http://www.english.illinois.edu/-people-/faculty/debaron/essays/epicene=
> .htm">http://www.english.illinois.edu/-people-/faculty/debaron/essays/epice=
> ne.htm</a>,<br>> and various mentions in his books, esp. =5FGrammar and =
> Gender=5F (Yale U.<br>> Press, 1986), and in posts on Web of Language si=
> te) and Michael<br>> Newman (=5FEpicene Pronouns: The Linguistics of a P=
> rescriptive<br>> Problem=5F. =C2 New York: Garland, 1997. =C2 In Garland=
> Â Outstanding<br>> Dissertations in Linguistics series.)<br><br>And it's =
> grown on me already. Thank you. Every time I post something<br>to this list=
> Â I'm reminded of a Chinese saying: "to cast a brick to get<br>jade in retur=
> n" (=E6 ›=E7 –=E5=BC•=E7Ž‰). I cast bricks (un=
> informed opinions) at you and<br>you give me jade in (wisdom<br>and experie=
> nce) in return.<br><br>Paul<br><br><br>Paul Frank<br>Translator<br>Chinese,=
> Â German, French, Italian > English<br>Espace de l'Europe 16<br>Neuch=C3=
> =A2tel, Switzerland<br><a class=3D"moz-txt-link-abbreviated" href=3D"mailto=
> :paulfrank at bfs.admin.ch">paulfrank at bfs.admin.ch</a><br><a class=3D"moz-txt-=
> link-abbreviated" href=3D"mailto:paulfrank at post.harvard.edu">paulfrank at post=
> .harvard.edu</a><br><br>---------------------------------------------------=
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IMO, exactly so.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

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