Date: Tue, 8 Nov 1994 11:04:07 -0400 From: Bob Lancaster 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). Bob Lancaster SUNY-emeritus, English slancaster[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]