Date: Tue, 8 Nov 1994 11:04:07 -0400
From: Bob Lancaster SLANCASTER[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]CENTER.COLGATE.EDU
Subject: Them singulars
Well, I did cause a fuss with those "they/them" singulars, didn't I.
I take Moonhawk's point:
I remember reading once that Meillet or one of those dead French linguists
had uncovered a substratum of animacy below/before the sex-gender
distinctions. English handles animacy really badly, which is another reason I
don't find the plural/singular conflation a problem, and why I for one
wouldn't mind if ikind of went away.
any living creature whose genitalia we're not interested
in or can't immediately tell (neighbor's new baby or dog, a tree, a whale, a
bug, a star we label 'IT', as if the creature is dead! I contend our
pronoun systems is subtly complicit in it-ting Mother Earth to death because
of this basic lack of formal respect. Note this is different from Romance
languages where masc/fem/neut are applied to all objects and beings equally,
without absolute dependence on sexual characteristics.
The English mixing of sexual and grammatical gender is unfortunate, and I guess
I too wouldn't mind if it went away. Only thing is, it won't, and I still
want to preserve whatever clarity the existing structures have. Actually I like
"her" for a generic pronounQnobody can seriously think it means only a female,
and it reminds the reader that the sexes ought to be linguistically equal. (And
every other "equal" too, in my belief).
I wonder if Bob is concerned more with a general breakdown in authority
for which I am also concerned. That's a different issue and one on about
which I know very little. But grammatical structure is alive and well.
Yes, ,Tim, I am concerned, and I do need to apologize for careless semantics in
the reference to "grammatical" structure. Although I saw (and see) such usages
as "them" singulars (especially in writing), as symptomatic of loss of clarity,
it was actually syntactic structure which I had in mind. Uncertain or
impenetrable syntactic structures are familiar to all of us who have read
student writing in the last two or three decades at least. I would agree that
"grammatical" structure has not suffered a general breakdownQ(and of course
that good usage in general reflects only the usage of careful speakers; "them"
singulars will certainly be standard in fifty or a hundred years, given the current
direction of development).
slancaster[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]colgate.edu