Thursday, November 29, 2007

He/She

English needs a non-gender specific pronoun for people. I had to take an online training course today at work. Before I could get started I had to read the following disclaimer:
"Throughout these materials personal pronouns are used to refer to trainees, instructors and any other individuals. This was done to improve readability and is in no way intended to discriminate against persons of either gender. Nothing in this material should be construed to indicate any discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, marital status, disabled or Vietnam Era Veteran status, or sexual orientation."

I understand the need to make this statement but much of it could be avoided if English just found another word to substitute for the awkward he/she or his/her. In some situations using the word they or their is appropriate but these are plural words and are incorrect when the antecedent is singular.
Other languages have solved this problem. Japanese uses the title suffix "-san" to mean Mr/Ms/Mrs. It basically translates to "person to whom I wish to show respect." It's not gender specific and it works just great. People pronouns like kare (he/she), kareno (his/hers) are also not gender specific. They don't even have gender specific alternatives to -san, kare and kareno. I'm not suggesting that English take that step. There are many times when the gender specific nature can add clarity to a conversation. I just think that it's about time we made the language a little less male dominated.

Disclaimer: In the previous post I used the following phrases with the masculine first and the feminine second. Mr/Ms/Mrs, He/She, His/Her. This was intentional. I did not wish to imply any sexism by this. I was simply using the modern politically correct convention. I only post this disclaimer to further illustrate that the conventions, Mr/Ms/Mrs, He/She, His/Her still do not avoid the inherent bias toward the masculine. It's time we came up with something else.


3 comments:

  1. Canisunis1:46 PM

    When Shelene was pregnant I referred to the child as "It" and this offended people. I did have a bios, and to call it a "she/he" would have shown that, but the baby may have been a he/she and I would have spent 9 months referrng to her/him incorrectly. When I would ask how "It" was doing people would look at me and say something like, "it's a child, not an IT" to which I would reply, "Yes, IT is a child and until I know for sure to refer to IT as he or she I will call it IT." But I agree,,, we need an IT for humans.

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  2. I think they/their is the obvious solution to the problem, and seems to by the direction the language is moving. Granted these are plural, but in most cases the antecedent provides enough information to determine whether one is referring to a single person or a group of people. In German, there is a great deal of overlap between feminine and plural cases, so meaning is determined by context.

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