[Ads-l] Singular they is Web of Language Word of the Year

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Nov 20 05:35:10 UTC 2015


Dennis,

I thought this was really good choice — timely and linguistically useful, and brings in all the work you’ve done on these.

I don’t know that the queer uses are straightforward applications of the bound variable use — you get things like “Chris is great — we all like them” and “It feels like making this discovery and coming to terms with it has really helped Sasha become themselves,” from the NYT piece on the kid whose skirt was set on fire, quoting the father (why the plural — why not “themself”? Prescriptive interference?). “They" mirrors a singular pronoun here, whereas “singular they” is doing something else. 

In this connection, I just changed my pronoun preference on Facebook to they (which requires no change in gender identity). So notices will now say “Wish them a happy birthday.” Not sure if this is in solidarity with queergender or a nod to grammar populism — I can go either way on that. But maybe we should start a campaign among linguists to do this.

Geoff

> 
> From: "Baron, Dennis E" <debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU>
> Subject: Singular they is Web of Language Word of the Year
> Date: November 19, 2015 at 5:04:36 PM PST
> 
> 
> Singular they is Web of Language Word of the Year: http://bit.ly/1MFkynj
> 
> Singular they is word of the year for 2015. A common-gender third-person pronoun, singular they has been popular in English speech and writing for over 650 years. Although frequently classified by purists as ungrammatical, its use seems undiminished, and it may even be on the rise because it fills an important linguistic niche. In recent years, more and more English speakers have sought a gender-neutral alternative to pronouns that express the traditional male/female binary, turning either to invented pronouns like xe and zie, or to that old stand-by, singular they. Because singular they has witnessed a dramatic rehabilitation over the past year, the Web of Language Distinguished Usage Panel unanimously chose to honor it as word of the year for 2015. . . .
> 
> Read the rest of the post at https://illinois.edu/blog/view/25/280996

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