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zompist bboard • View topic - Will singular "they" be as acceptable as "you" in formal Eng

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 11:35 am 
Sanci
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Will singular "they" be as acceptable as singular "you" currently is in formal English in the future? I wish it would. In a commercial I heard "Your doctor wouldn't do your job, so why should you do hers.". They apparently had to pick a gender for the doctor since singular "they" was considered unacceptable. And apparently they couldn't "his" because that would apparently be sexist by saying that women shouldn't be doctors. And saying "his or hers" would be cumbersome. So that picked the female gender for the doctor. They should just start accepting singular "they" much like singular "you" is accepted these days.


Last edited by Fooge on Thu Jan 25, 2018 7:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 12:17 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 1:16 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 1:22 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 4:29 pm 
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I'd say that using "one" for the 2nd person is disparaged in formal English - though not as deprecated as using it for the 1st person (which is what working class people think posh people, but posh people do not do, unless they're Prince Charles for some reason).



However, it's probably true that there isn't really a specific "formal English" anymore. Media organisations are now encouraged to be more vernacular in style, so while they tend toward a more formal standard they're no longer really a good test of an objective 'formal English'. Similarly, non-fiction writers attempt to be 'popular', so you don't get (or don't hear about) the Russells and Churchills of formal English prose anymore. There is still highly formal English in, say, legal documents, and in business reports, but those are weird English dialects that traditional 'formal English' writers would have deplored. I guess the last bastion of good formal English is probably academic papers in the humanities?

However, "formal English" could still be given a meaning as whatever is not INformal English...

[But I think that in general in formal English singular 'they' IS acceptable, although it has to compete with the 'academic she' in some contexts. In this case, I wonder how much of the commercial's she-ness was really due to formality (TV ads not being considered generally sticklers for good formal English) and how much is due to the sense that 'she' is a more 'humanising' pronoun for building empathy?]

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 7:13 pm 
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I always thought that the surge in popularity of using "she" was down to a desire not to be seen as sexist.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 7:51 pm 
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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
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I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 7:59 pm 
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Last edited by Soap on Fri Jan 26, 2018 9:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 8:17 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:22 am 
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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 26, 2018 4:20 pm 
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There's no widespread misconception -- singular "they" doesn't exist, except among the people who insist that it does. There is a generic "they", and there is a great deal of evidence compiled by stupid and/or lying singular "they" advocates that the generic "they" has been around since Chaucer. (Generic "they" is a simple and obvious development, probably originating from confusion around semantically plural-and-generic but grammatically singular words like "everyone".) What you won't find outside fringe dialects spoken by the ostentatiously woke is "they" being used to refer to one specific person.

And if you talk to the aspiring ostentatiously woke -- people who are aligned with that coalition but haven't done time in insular communities of the ostentatiously woke -- you'll find, as I have, that they still have substantial difficulties with specific singular "they", i.e. that it isn't immediately grammatical even for them and still has to be learned as a rule of a weird prestige dialect.

It seems possible that, like Johannes Aavik's attempt to loan "no" from Japanese into Estonian, the adoption will ultimately fail because it violates some sort of human universal. That's an interesting question: are there any attested cultures with a concept of total genderlessness? And in cultures that are claimed to have some sort of third gender but speak languages with gender distinctions in pronouns, what pronouns does the third gender take? Have new forms been innovated, or are they grammatically folded into the existing pronoun structure?

One possibility that's generally been discounted so far is that urbanization, the credential bubble, etc. -- the trends that have generally been taken as a sign that wokeness is a safe investment and will continue to increase in value in the future -- are instead indicative of a wokeness bubble which is in the early stages of popping by eternal September. If ostentatious wokeness is the product of a certain mindset (such as the secularized mindset of the religious fanatics who settled New England and founded institutions like Harvard), the dilution of the niche associated with the people who are disproportionately likely to have that mindset is likely to cause an eventual preference cascade. If you aren't the sort of person who would like ostentatious wokeness, maybe you aren't likely to be flexible enough to adopt it when you're in its territory, and maybe the only thing holding it in place is pressure from the natives.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 26, 2018 5:33 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 26, 2018 6:16 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 27, 2018 5:22 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 27, 2018 1:01 pm 
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I think there are very few situations where I couldn't use 'they' for a specific person or thing. It's true that I'm less likely to use it in certain cases (immediately juxtaposed with some obvious indicator of gender) than in others (everywhere else), but I don't think it's even ungrammatical for me. For instance, "Sally told me they'd had a letter from you" is perfectly fine (my only quibble would be potential ambiguity if we're also talking about some plural third person in the same conversation (which 'they'?), so I might use 'she' to disambiguate, but where the context is clear there's no grammatical problem for me).

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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 28, 2018 10:05 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 29, 2018 1:46 pm 
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I mean, I've got a couple of friends who use "they", and I've never had a problem using it as a pronoun to refer to them. I agree that the transition from a different pronoun to "they" can be difficult and have a lot of slip-ups, but that's because you're used to one pronoun and are transitioning to a different pronoun--I don't think the confusion in such a transition is inherent to "they" as opposed to any other pronoun.

In the cases of both of my friends, there's not a lot of confusion with what pronoun to use because... I've never actually used any other pronouns for them! I literally don't know what their "birth" gender is/was. So there's nothing for me to confuse "they" with.

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I generally forget to say, so if it's relevant and I don't mention it--I'm from Southern Michigan and speak Inland North American English. Yes, I have the Northern Cities Vowel Shift; no, I don't have the cot-caught merger; and it is called pop.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:34 am 
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The gradual extension of "they" to more singular contexts seems extremely likely to me - indeed, if I had to predict anything about the future of English this would be near the top of the things I'd think most probable. I don't think it's necessarily got much to do with "wokeness", really. English has a very typologically weird system at the moment - marking number on third person pronouns but not second persons - and that's something you'd expect to see obliterated eventually.

The use of singular "us" in some English dialects might also be part of a very long-term general trend toward losing the number distinction on pronouns (specifically, by replacing the singular with the plural).

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:33 pm 
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I don't think number distinctions are going to be lost on English personal pronouns because many dialects have done the opposite and revived a number distinction (e.g. you guys, y'all, you lot, youse, you uns, ye) in the second person where such had previously been lost.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:48 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:57 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 01, 2018 2:48 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 01, 2018 2:54 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 01, 2018 3:52 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 01, 2018 4:32 pm 
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