Jump to content

Singular Pronouns for NonBinary in Modern-Day Language and Early Education


MysticMenace
This topic is 993 days old and is no longer open for new replies.  Replies are automatically disabled after two years of inactivity.  Please create a new topic instead of posting here.  

Recommended Posts

English is not and will probably never be my strongest subject, and having taken English as a Second Language over 20 years ago, I still have so much to learn about the language (especially those idiomatic expressions).

A random thought came up while I was having a zoom conversation with someone, and thought to myself, "if the person I was speaking with prefers a they/them pronoun, then I'm sure that conversation will just flow easily since use of they/them in a singular form is starting to get widespread usage." However, I wonder if our education system systematically has been aligned or is proactively working to align with that line of thought. I just remembered seeing a teacher back in the day correcting the term "themself" as incorrect because the word used was typically associated with multiple individuals. Also I do not remember when pronouns are taught in elementary school, and I'm sure as students mature they'll learn nuances about indefinite singular pronouns and the use of them, but I wonder at what point do schools need to enlighten students that they/them could be used as a singular pronoun for someone who does not use either he/him or she/her. Or has this always been taught and I just completely zoned out during this lesson?

I also wonder if this topic has implications as to how pronouns are used in other languages. In my limited knowledge of Spanish, a lot of terms are distinguished by feminine and masculine characteristics (e.g., el fuego, la raiz)...would there be grammatical implications for non-binary characteristics?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In Romance languages, the pronoun  assigned to to a noun which does not have gender in the real world e.g., el fuego (the fire), is usually determined solely by the ending of the noun (e.g., a singular noun ending in -o is considered masculine), though not always (e.g, la mano). In English, however, the pronoun assigned to a noun is usually determined by the real world gender of the object named, and since "fire" has no gender, the pronoun is the neuter it. The decision by non-binary persons to use plural forms (they, them, their) to refer to themselves as individuals is basically an end run around using the derogatory connotation of it, which turns a human being into an object.

I haven't taught English in years, so I have no idea what the education system is teaching about the this subject now, but I suspect it is largely determined by who is teaching it and where it is being taught. "Proper English" has always been a fraught conception, as can be observed in something as simple as the conflicting views of "ain't."

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Back in the 1980's I worked for a large bank that used "they" and "them" in place of gender-specific pronouns when creating instructional materials. They were an outlier then but 35 years on that has become mainstream. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I support the use of a neutral singular pronoun.

I have problems with the redefinition of they/them/theirs to accomplish this. Pronouns must be clear about the number of nouns they are standing in for. 

“It/It/its is dehumanizing, obviously. 

The English language has developed hundreds, if not thousands of words referring to human genitalia.

We can’t invent a new pronoun?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/30/2021 at 12:13 PM, Charlie said:

In Romance languages, the pronoun  assigned to to a noun which does not have gender in the real world e.g., el fuego (the fire), is usually determined solely by the ending of the noun (e.g., a singular noun ending in -o is considered masculine), though not always (e.g, la mano).

 

@Charlie, did you know that “mano” (hand) is the only widely used Spanish word that is feminine although it ends in -o?  There are a couple of others, such as “la nao” (ship) or “la  sao” (cathedral), but they are really archaic and nobody uses them anymore.

Spanish is my mother tongue, by the way. 

Edited by liubit
Link to comment
Share on other sites

11 hours ago, liubit said:

@Charlie, did you know that “mano” (hand) is the only widely used Spanish word that is feminine although it ends in -o?  There are a couple of others, such as “la nao” (ship) or “la  sao” (cathedral), but they are really archaic and nobody uses them anymore.

Spanish is my mother tongue, by the way. 

I was not aware that la mano was virtually unique; thanks for the clarification. Although I had three years of Spanish in high school, I am far from fluent in the language.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

16 hours ago, jeezifonly said:

I support the use of a neutral singular pronoun.

I have problems with the redefinition of they/them/theirs to accomplish this. Pronouns must be clear about the number of nouns they are standing in for. 

“It/It/its is dehumanizing, obviously. 

The English language has developed hundreds, if not thousands of words referring to human genitalia.

We can’t invent a new pronoun?

We invent new nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs all the time in English, but the short list of accepted pronouns has been pretty stable for centuries--in fact, it has shortened since we stopped using thee/thou/thine in most contexts. Good luck with that project.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

16 minutes ago, Charlie said:

We invent new nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs all the time in English, but the short list of accepted pronouns has been apretty stable for centuries--in fact, it has shortened since we stopped using thee/thou/thine in most contexts. Good luck with that project.

That is true, but these sorts of developments happen organically, new words are not created, they just happen. 'They' has been used to replace a singular usage since Shakespeare's time at least, and nobody rejects the use of 'you' in the singular.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

18 hours ago, jeezifonly said:

I support the use of a neutral singular pronoun.

I have problems with the redefinition of they/them/theirs to accomplish this. Pronouns must be clear about the number of nouns they are standing in for. 

“It/It/its is dehumanizing, obviously. 

The English language has developed hundreds, if not thousands of words referring to human genitalia.

We can’t invent a new pronoun?

I'm in the same place as you.  I do not/will not use they/them to refer to a singular person.  It goes against the grain for me.  It's just not right.  I have nothing against non-binary folks we just need a new pronoun.

So for the time being, I will refer to Demi Lovato as "she" cause she looks more female than male to me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

+1 who won't compute "They/Them/Theirs". It reminds me of the term "Legion" used in Hollywood for demonic possession.

People don't seem to realize that compared to the total population they are a very, very, very, small minority with a profound existential and adaptation crisis.

No matter how fun is portrayed, this "denomination" will bring them more isolation and discrimination in society and the judicial system, worsening their situation.

 

Edited by lonely_john
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe we are just reverting to a time when using "they" to refer to a single person was acceptable.  Linguists indicate this usage dates back to the 14th century, so it isn't like the modern convention of using "they" for a single person is something new.

I'm personally much more bothered by people using "loan" as a verb.  The verb is lend.  I lent him money, I didn't loan him money.  Yet almost everyone uses loan as a verb today.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/2/2021 at 6:38 AM, maninsoma said:

Maybe we are just reverting to a time when using "they" to refer to a single person was acceptable.  Linguists indicate this usage dates back to the 14th century, so it isn't like the modern convention of using "they" for a single person is something new.

I'm personally much more bothered by people using "loan" as a verb.  The verb is lend.  I lent him money, I didn't loan him money.  Yet almost everyone uses loan as a verb today.

According to Merriam-Webster, the use of "loan" as a verb entered the English language in the early 1300's. While you are correct that "lend" is a verb, "loan" is also a verb and has been for more than 700 years. Following is an excerpt about the history of the words:

"It begins with Richard Grant White, a grammarian of the 19th century, who in his book Words and Their Uses, Past and Present declared that loan cannot be a verb at all, but must be a noun, because of its etymology: "The word is the past participle of the Anglo-Saxon verb lænan, to lend, and therefore of course means lent." Alas, poor White: loan is actually not the past participle of the Anglo-Saxon (aka Old English) verb lænan. Loan, both verb and noun, came into English from Old Norse.

It turns out that the verb loan had fallen out of use in England during the 18th and 19th centuries in favor of lend. (Lend is the earlier word, dating back to about the 11th century, and comes from the Old English verb lænan.) But loan as a verb survived in American English, which hadn't kept pace with the changes to the language that were happening in British English. British English speakers noticed the verb and decried it as uncouth and provincial—it had to be if it was in the mouths of Americans. This dislike of the verb loan carried over into the late 1800s, though by the time White wrote his book in 1870, that dislike had become unhitched from British nationalism. White just happened to couch the generalized dislike in something that looked like scholarship.

His prohibition on the verb loan spread far and wide, even after his terrible etymologizing was debunked, and persists to varying degrees today. Bryan Garner, in his 2016 Garner's Modern English Usage, Fourth Edition, writes that loan as a verb to refer to money "has long been considered permissible," but loan as a verb to refer to things is not as permissible. This in spite of the fact that the written record shows that loan has regularly been used to refer to things for almost 400 years now."

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

9 minutes ago, rvwnsd said:

According to Merriam-Webster, the use of "loan" as a verb entered the English language in the early 1300's. While you are correct that "lend" is a verb, "loan" is also a verb and has been for more than 700 years. Following is an excerpt about the history of the words:

"It begins with Richard Grant White, a grammarian of the 19th century, who in his book Words and Their Uses, Past and Present declared that loan cannot be a verb at all, but must be a noun, because of its etymology: "The word is the past participle of the Anglo-Saxon verb lænan, to lend, and therefore of course means lent." Alas, poor White: loan is actually not the past participle of the Anglo-Saxon (aka Old English) verb lænan. Loan, both verb and noun, came into English from Old Norse.

It turns out that the verb loan had fallen out of use in England during the 18th and 19th centuries in favor of lend. (Lend is the earlier word, dating back to about the 11th century, and comes from the Old English verb lænan.) But loan as a verb survived in American English, which hadn't kept pace with the changes to the language that were happening in British English. British English speakers noticed the verb and decried it as uncouth and provincial—it had to be if it was in the mouths of Americans. This dislike of the verb loan carried over into the late 1800s, though by the time White wrote his book in 1870, that dislike had become unhitched from British nationalism. White just happened to couch the generalized dislike in something that looked like scholarship.

His prohibition on the verb loan spread far and wide, even after his terrible etymologizing was debunked, and persists to varying degrees today. Bryan Garner, in his 2016 Garner's Modern English Usage, Fourth Edition, writes that loan as a verb to refer to money "has long been considered permissible," but loan as a verb to refer to things is not as permissible. This in spite of the fact that the written record shows that loan has regularly been used to refer to things for almost 400 years now."

 

See?  You can learn something new every day.  Since I was taught that loan wasn't a verb, I had held onto that notion without question.  Thanks for the education.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/30/2021 at 11:55 PM, liubit said:

@Charlie, did you know that “mano” (hand) is the only widely used Spanish word that is feminine although it ends in -o?  There are a couple of others, such as “la nao” (ship) or “la  sao” (cathedral), but they are really archaic and nobody uses them anymore.

Spanish is my mother tongue, by the way. 

I guess you may be too young to have to worry about la polio (polio), and you don't ride to work in una moto. You probably ride in a car and listen to la radio. I think since you're on this forum that you have una libido strong enough that you like to watch la porno. Do you like to watch a video or do you prefer to watch una foto? And there's la dinamo and la magneto. And there are tons of masculine nouns that end in "a"... 🙄

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As for the issue in the original post, I certainly am willing to use any singular pronoun a person prefers, be it he, she, or it. But I won't use plural pronouns for one person--even if it's a king or queen who likes to use the royal "we." If someone wants me to refer to himself or herself as "they," that person's ego is just too big. 

Edited by Unicorn
Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, maninsoma said:

See?  You can learn something new every day.  Since I was taught that loan wasn't a verb, I had held onto that notion without question.  Thanks for the education.

You are welcome. I was not taught that loan is never a verb and working in banking we use "loaned" all the time. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 hours ago, Unicorn said:

I guess you may be too young to have to worry about la polio (polio), and you don't ride to work in una moto. You probably ride in a car and listen to la radio. I think since you're on this forum that you have una libido strong enough that you like to watch la porno. Do you like to watch a video or do you prefer to watch una foto? And there's la dinamo and la magneto. And there are tons of masculine nouns that end in "a"... 🙄

Most of  the words you mention are abbreviations of feminine words, dear @Unicorn. La  polio is short for poliomielitis , la moto comes from motocicleta, la foto from fotografía, la porno from pornografía. I don’t see tons of stand-alone feminine words in -o. Masculine  words in -a, that’s another story (problema, planeta, mapa, teorema…)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

thanks for everyone's perspective on this...certainly has been enlightening.

it's certainly a topic that I am not too familiar with, but standing from a point of privilege where my gender identity is known and defined, I could empathize if there are individuals in the world, regardless of how much representation there is in society, that do not or could not align with established pronouns or feel that they have to fit within the construct that our current society is willing to accommodate. I guess there are neopronouns or one could just refer to the individual by the proper names instead. 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

12 hours ago, honcho said:

I find it bizarre that argurably, the single most masculine (genetically) portion of a man's anatomy is grammatically feminine in French colloquial usage (queue, bite), although apparently masculine in the formal translation (pénis).

I've heard of la bite, but never la queue, which implies rear end to me. Is this Canadian or Continental French?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...