Yo! A new gender-neutral pronoun from, of all places, Baltimore

Dennis Baron debaron at UIUC.EDU
Wed Jan 9 05:44:19 UTC 2008

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Yo! A new gender-neutral pronoun from, of all places, Baltimore

Yo, a new gender-neutral pronoun, has been popping up in an unlikely  
spot, the hallways of a few Baltimore schools. Or maybe Maryland  
middle schools aren’t such unlikely incubators of new words after  
all, since they’re full of teen-agers whose linguistic inventiveness  
hasn’t yet been beaten out of them by grammar lessons and  
standardized tests, teenagers who love to play with language and coin  
ever-newer words just to prove to adults that we’re never going to  
get it, never in a million years will be as cool as they are now.  
(What they don’t know is that we invented cool, or our parents did,  
but hey, whatever.)

The story of yo is pretty cool, though. Baltimore teachers taking a  
linguistics class reported that some of their students seemed to be  
using “yo” spontaneously as a gender-neutral pronoun, one that refers  
both to males and females. So they decided to investigate the  
phenomenon. It turns out that, so far as the kids are concerned, “yo”  
is either something you use, or something you’re totally ignorant  
about. Same goes for the teachers: either they hear some of their  
students saying “yo” instead of “he” or “she,” or they’ve never heard  
the term at all. It’s like yo-users inhabit a parallel universe, one  
with its own language.

read my prediction for the fate of "yo" and the rest of this post on

the Web of Language


Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321


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