Generic They

Discussion in 'All Other Discussions' started by Rippon, Oct 11, 2014.

  1. Rippon

    Rippon
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    Generic they, singular they, or whatever you want to call it --is necessary for our language. He, he/she and other constructions are awkward. The English language doesn't have an official singular personal pronoun which applies to either gender.

    From what I've read the following have all used the word 'they' as a singular generic personal pronoun :

    Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jane Austin, Anthony Trollope, Walt Whitman and George Bernard Shaw among many others. so it has a distinguished history. But by the late 1700s it was deemed unfit. Well, the reality is that it is here and it is not going to go away anytime soon. I have been discussing this off and on since 2009 on the BB. And I've gotten some flack for it. Yet despite the objections of grammar prescriptionists, I will plow on anyway.

    The following is a snip from the preface of the 2011 NIV : "[The] generic use of the indefinite or 'singular' 'they/them/their' has a venerable place in English idiom and has quickly become established as standard English, spoken and written, all over the world. Where an individual emphasis is deemed to be present, 'anyone' or 'everyone' or some othe requivalent is generally used as the antecedent of such pronounds."

    So there has been a shift in language, a "move away from using the third-person masculine singular pronouns --'he/him/his' to refer to men and women equally...In recognition of this shift in language and in an effort to translate into the 'common' English that people are actually using, this revision of the NIV generally uses other constructions when the biblical text is plainly addressed to men and women equally. The reader will frequently encounter a 'they', 'them' or 'their' to express a generic singular idea."
     
  2. Rippon

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    So some of you may complain that the following snips are unfair. You may say that these examples are only found in casual, conversational English. Some of you would go on to say, that these examples certainly shouldn't be deemed as suitable in scholarly journals, much less newspapers. But I beg to differ. I am a descriptionist --not a prescriptionist. What I see and hear (though I am not in an advantageous position in that I am in China with little interaction with native English speakers) is not found in the old grammar books of the "proper" use of English. The weight of evidence is found in how most people talk (or type)as the case may be.

    Here are some sample snips that I found on the BB. I can find many more, I assure you.

    "I just had to comment on what you stated to this person and my opinion of them..." [righteousdude2]

    "Can a person believe they have been born again..." [Percho]

    "...when a person asks God to forgive them for a certain sin..." [tinytim]

    "If a completely ignorant person ...was asked what 'word of God', meant they might suppose...[Franklinmonroe]

    "If someone 'friends' me on FB who is not saved, be assured that I'll witness to them." [John of Japan]

    "...I would approach that person privately and have it out with them..." [John of Japan]

    _____________________________________________________________

    I took the liberty of emphasizing key words.
     
  3. Gina B

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    Are there people who say this is not true?

    I personally find it difficult and annoying, but needed for lack of another world. It stinks to have to improperly use a plural to describe a singular. It is not just technically wrong - it is a glaring, stupid forced wrong based on our inability to keep up with our own language and make needed changes. Even in common speech, I still get bothered enough at times to say "him or her" instead of resorting to a plural when needing a singular. It depends on the day.

    So what do you propose to be the new words?
     
  4. Rippon

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    What is not true?
    But many academic folks are acknowledging that a generic they is perfectly acceptable --and it's inevitable. People such as Geoff Pullum and Steven Pinker vouch for it it --Grammar Girl and Language Log too. Even Merriam Webster is on my side. The singular they was used centuries before modern feminism, but a woman, started the confusion. A grammarian by the name of Ann Fisher, in 1740, began to standardize the use of "he", "him", "his", "man", "men" generically. Now fussy, old-school prescriptionists would have all of us us following an ill-conceived practice. It's just as bad as forcing the English language to follow Latin rules such as not to end sentences with prepositions.
    Every language goes through changes and adaptations. Sometimes these changes leave some glaring gaps. No one is in charge. Would you have grammarian police on the prowl enforcing antiquated "rules" to restrict what the majority of the public actually uses in everyday speech?
    Don't you find that terribly awkward? Why fight it? Go with the generic they. Come on. Resistance is futile.


    I'm glad you asked that question. I was hoping someone would. Stay tuned.
     
  5. Rippon

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    I propose using ta, or my preference -tah. Tah is what Chinese use to refer to he, she and it. Tah would fit right in and fill that gap. Tah dah!

    I will give some examples by using snips of verses. We'll start with Proverbs.

    3:30 : Do not accuse anyone for no reason --when tah has done you no harm.

    17:8 : a bribe is seen as a charm by the one who gives it, tah thinks success will come at every turn.

    19:25b : rebuke the discerning, and tah will gain knowledge.

    21:11b : by paying attention to the wise tah gets knowledge.

    22:8b : and the rod tah yields in fury will be broken.

    ____________________________________________________________________________________________
    Do I honestly think my one-man campaign will seriously take the place of the generic they? No, but it's worth a go. I started thinking of this a few weeks ago --around late September. I began looking at many verses in my NIV that could incorporate tah instead of they in the generic sense. I wrote out a lot of them. And then, to my dismay I found out yesterday that a woman by the name of Leslie E. Blumenson (although "Leslie" might also be a man's name) in 1971 had already made the suggestion. So I am not original with my plan. But I found out about this Blumenson after the fact. The past 43 years has not brought about any momentum. So I'm giving it a bit of a feeble push here.
     
    #5 Rippon, Oct 11, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2014
  6. Rippon

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    I've read that the German language came up with a third person equivalent of our singular they -- sie.

    Remember that tah stands for he, she or it. Snips from the Gospel of John will follow.

    3:21b : so that it may be seen plainly that what tah has done has been done in the sight of God.

    10:9b : Tah will come in and go out, and find pasture.

    11:25b : God will repay each person according to what tah has done.
     
  7. Gina B

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    Resistance is not futile! See, you already have a solution and it need not be a one person attempt to close the painful rend in the fabric of our language. We simply spread the word! Once the higher ups in language/grammar are forced to think about the growing use of improper terms, they will start losing sleep because nothing is more annoying. By giving the solution when making them aware of the problem, their minds will already be turned towards your word to fix the problem.
    Word domination will be yours!
     
  8. Melanie

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    I prefer the royal " we" personally......
     
  9. Salty

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    Rippon, I fully agree. :thumbs: When the gender is unknown, I use the masculine pronouns. Nothing is wrong with the old way.
    ( yet I will use the term State / Commonwealth / District! Same principal - Right?

    Briony, I often use the royal "We" often myself.
    Surprising many people do not know the meaning.
     
  10. Rippon

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    You weren't reading closely. I had said :"Generic they, singular they, or whatever you want to call it --is necessary for our language. He, he/she, and other constructions are awkward..."

    And reread post 4. It will inform you.
     
  11. Salty

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    I agree that "he/she" is awkward - thus I do not use that phrase (except for discussion). Thus the good old fashion way is sufficient - and that is all I use. No need for a new word.
     
  12. Rippon

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    We is not amused.
     
  13. Rippon

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    In the very sentence that you have twice quoted --I had said that the word he is an awkward construction. Didn't you catch that?

    If you really like the old way then you wouldn't be against the singular they. Chaucer, Caxton and Shakespeare all used it.
     
  14. Rippon

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    Double post. I'm having internet problems.
     
    #14 Rippon, Oct 26, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 26, 2014
  15. Rippon

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    What do folks from "the old school" think of this one : Everyone will be able to decide for himself whether or not to have an abortion."
     
  16. Rippon

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    Hmm...that is certainly not all that you use Salty.

    Salty :"Often someone will come in to buy cancer sticks and/or booze. But they don't have their ID."

    Salty : "It was mentioned that if someone lost their license due to vehicle violations --they should then obtain a Non-drivers [sic] license ID." (10/3/2014)

    Salty : "Someone called in and said they attended a friendly church." (9/6/2104)
     
  17. Rippon

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    I just found out that in Tagalog --a standard language of the Philippines (though many don't understand it) has some pronouns that we could borrow.

    For he/she = siya
    For his/her = niya

    We'll see if Pinoybaptist chimes in on this.
     
  18. rsr

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    Grammatically it's fine; I suppose you mean the illogic of it?

    But this is easily fixed by a simple recasting: Every woman will be able to decide for herself whether or not (or not is redundant, BTW) to have an abortion.

    It's actually a better sentence, limiting the subject to women from the start.

    Or you could write: Everyone will be able to decide for oneself whether to have an abortion.

    No muss, no fuss. One-to-one correspondence.

    Now, to the larger point: Yes, they as a singular is becoming ubiquitous and no doubt will prevail. I edit quite a bit of copy and see it over and over again. (And change it.) Yes, it is a losing battle, but I am still manning the ramparts. My curmudgeon license is paid up.

    Now, if you want to talk about consigning whom to the dustbin of grammatical history ...
     
  19. Rippon

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    Good thoughts.
    Those unrelenting waves keep smashing those sandcastles you are making.
    Have you noticed that we have a poster who uses it wrongly quite a bit?

    What other words should vanish of its own accord. How about shall? But it does come in handy now and then.
     
  20. rsr

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    It's my experience that whom is misused more often than not.

    Shall is fading fast, having lost the declension war to will. It seems to survive primarily as an intensifier or in some interrogatives (Shall we dance?). Its stablemate should has similarly given way in almost all cases to would, except for advice and some hypotheticals (although there, too, it seems to be losing out).

    I once had a conversation on the board with a poster who argued that "whosoever believeth in him should not perish" meant that there was still a possibility that he would perish. I tried to explain that they meant exactly the same thing and it was just a difference of declension, but I don't think I got very far.
     

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