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A self-generated gender neutral pronoun - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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January 4th, 2008


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12:03 pm - A self-generated gender neutral pronoun
I'm very much in favor of gender-neutral pronouns and degendering speech and writing. However, with the exception of the singular use of they (which has both historical and academic support, and which I managed to convince a company to use for my latest RPG project), all of the options are both ugly and unlikely. Sie and hir are confusing, zie and zir suffer from the vast disadvantage that "z" is simply not an appropriate letter or sound for a common word to use. Also, all of these options are deliberate creations, and that's rarely how language changes (with the occasional exception of words like Ms). However, we now have the spontaneous emergence of a gender netural singular pronoun by high school and middle school students. Of course, the word is "yo" and so older people are already commenting on it sounding "crass and disrespectful", which can clearly be translated as both "I'm not used to people speaking like that" and "kids these days have no respect for language", both of which are ultimately foolish and useless concerns and do nothing to stop the adoption of new words. From my PoV, once a word enters common discourse it sounds familiar. I'm especially excited that young people these days see the need for such words. Perhaps we are on the edge of sexism entering the realm of prejudices like anti-semitism (at least in the US) that are only popular among far fringe cranks.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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From:kitten_goddess
Date:January 4th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
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"Yo" only does half the job, as shown in this sentence from the article: "Yo put his foot up." There is no gender-neutral pronoun to replace "him/her" and "his/her" yet.
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From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC)
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Very true, but I expect one to evolve, or perhaps one has and linguists merely haven't noticed yet.
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From:kiplet
Date:January 4th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
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I imagine it'll be something like "yez," but that's awful close to "his" and the Philly-area "y'all" equivalent.
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From:kiplet
Date:January 5th, 2008 01:25 am (UTC)
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"Yez" (or "yiz") is a second-person plural in the Philadelphia patois, much as "y'all" is for points South.
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From:madcaptenor
Date:January 8th, 2008 06:28 pm (UTC)
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I thought it was "yous" (or "youse", as I've seen it spelled sometimes, although this sort of thing doesn't often get written down), and I'm from Philadelphia. The vowel is the same as the vowel in "you".

Edited at 2008-01-08 06:28 pm (UTC)
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From:kiplet
Date:January 8th, 2008 07:40 pm (UTC)
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Maybe I'm getting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh confused? Wouldn't be the first time.
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From:madcaptenor
Date:January 8th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
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That might be it, but I really don't know much about Pittsburgh.
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From:lupagreenwolf
Date:January 4th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
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I generally use s/he and hir--s/he is pretty self-explanatory, and hir resembles both him and her sufficiently for people to get the point.
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From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
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s/he has the great disadvantage of being impossible to say. Hir works well in writing, but is confusing to say - it's exceptionally easy to mishear as her.
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From:lupagreenwolf
Date:January 4th, 2008 08:57 pm (UTC)
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I generally pronounce s/he with the same sound as Zsa Zsa. As for hir, I figure it's a homophone that people can figure out in context pretty easily.
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From:heavenscalyx
Date:January 4th, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
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I've been thinking lately that it's a shame English doesn't have a built-in way to indicate glottal stops, because s/he seems like a word one could use verbally with such a stop.
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From:aureantes
Date:January 5th, 2008 05:12 am (UTC)
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You might want to check out my comment below.....I originally started out using apostrophes w/ all of the cases -- h'si, h'rim, h'ris -- kinda being a bit exotic there, as per sf linguistic conventions, but in that spelling it's really not even necessary to retain that punctuation for aid in pronunciation.
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From:antayla
Date:January 4th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
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I think a writer should use her own gender pronoun (or, gender-neutral pronoun) when writing.
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From:sara_super_id
Date:January 4th, 2008 11:32 pm (UTC)
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I used to use the "they" solution in school, and I got reamed for it. Improper grammar the teachers would say. However, saying he or she is improper respect paid, so I would choose improper grammar despite their taunts, and feel better for it. They is not always a he or a she.
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From:darkoshi
Date:January 5th, 2008 01:34 am (UTC)
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Perhaps yo's or yose could be used for his/her. But yo seems a bit odd for she/he because of it being used in interjections similarly to "you", and also because in Spanish it means "I". So then in different ways, it could mean I, you, he, or she.
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From:feedle
Date:January 5th, 2008 03:33 am (UTC)
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I just call everybody "dude", or I tend to use the masculine.

In all honesty, people need to relax a bit about it. When people use the "wrong" pronoun, they rarely mean it out of disrespect. The few assholes that do will never use the "right" one, regardless.
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From:heron61
Date:January 5th, 2008 03:36 am (UTC)
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I largely agree, but I very much like the idea of a gender-neutral pronoun becoming the default, because thought follows language and if our language can become less gendered, I'm better all manner of sexist nastiness will be somewhat reduced. I'm also pleased that young people are spontaneously generating such a pronoun, that in and of itself is an exceedingly (from my PoV at least) hopeful sign.
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:January 5th, 2008 04:18 am (UTC)
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Given that it seems impossible to invent such a pronoun that will please everyone, I'm going to continue using my favorite: zie/zir. The similarity between "yo" and "you" seems worse to me than the so-called "vast disadvantage" of using the letter Z (whose sound occurs in lots of common words anyway, such as "does", "whose" and "use").

I suppose a case could be made for 'co'.
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From:aureantes
Date:January 5th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC)
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I'd thought about gender-neutral pronouns years ago, even before I got into consciously exploring my own gender identity, so far as writing fiction and creating viable non-specific pronouns for an ideal culture....so, unless I'm using "they/them" or "one", I use "hsi/hrim/hris" to denote an individual without giving hrim a binary gender.

I know some people these days might have an issue with that because it's "in-between" atall and thereby acknowledges the existance of a typical social binary.....but, so far as dealing with the world as most people know it, and trying to be speech-friendly and not just academic (while also maintaining grammatical consistency), I think it's actually more practical than most of what's been going around for the past couple decades.


(One problem that I do tend to have with most popular g-neutral (gneutral?) pronouns is that they all tend to look/sound more feminine than masculine. I prefer strictly-masculine pronouns for myself, but I think that the general/neutral singular deserves to not just come across as a default almost-feminine, otherwise it's clearly not serving as fully as it should.)
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From:balthial
Date:January 5th, 2008 05:09 pm (UTC)
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Here's hoping. I can't stand "hir", it sounds lame and I just don't care that much, but I'd be happy to use a gender neutral noun which sounded cool. I kinda like "yo", but when used in the accusative it sounds more like a synonym for "you" than for he or she.

Random Fact 1: Some one had a theory that most new slang terms were invented by black prisoners, and went from there, largely through the vector of the gay community, which is A) racially integrated and B) contains a higher than average number of taste makers.

Random Fact 2: "Zie" (spelled "Sie") means "she" or "they" in German, "yo" means "I" in Spanish.
From:marnanel
Date:January 7th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
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From:heron61
Date:January 7th, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
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Good heavens, so I have been. I'm both surprised and flattered. Thank you for pointing that out to me.
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From:amberite
Date:January 9th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC)
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Wow, nice!

And I'm as impressed or more so by Language Log citing you as who they cited you next to. LL is fantastic.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 10th, 2011 10:29 pm (UTC)

Great Blog

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I just sent this post to a bunch of my friends as I agree with most of what you’re saying here and the way you’ve presented it is awesome.

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