Date: Fri, 4 Nov 1994 10:17:05 -0400 From: Bob Lancaster Subject: "them" singulars >Did I actually see someone on ADS-L use [sic] on a singular they/them referen >ce to a singular prior reference which was unspecified for sex? >What is one to do when they dont know the sex of a prior referent? Yes, I did indeed use [sic], obviously not with any implication that Professor Mufwene was unaware of English grammatical structure, but to indicate that the "them" was not a typo or editorial revision of my own. Furthermore, I am unwilling to apologize for it. The use of a plural pronoun to stand for a singular referent in order to achieve gender ambiguity seems to me to be heavy PC. For one thing, although in the mists of history there may have been some male dominance suggestion in the use of "him" as a generic for "human being," in the case in question "him" is certainly a generic form. To demonstrate this one need only suppose that it was intended as masculine. The result would be that the preceding noun, "person," was meant to refer only to a male--clearly a ridiculous assumption. Furthermore, the situation is easily avoided by either changing "person" to the plural form, or using the (admittedly somewhat awkward) "him/her." We already find ourselves in a situation in which grammatical structure has broken down to the extent that millions of Americans are unable to say clearly what they mean. (And one wonders, if they are unable to say it, whether they know what they mean.) I, for one, am unwilling to sanction any surrender of clarity of expression for sociological purposes. Bob Lancaster SUNY-emeritus, English slancaster[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]