هي هو هم هؤلاء نحن انتم
In re the ongoing thread on non-gender he, he/she, and singular they:
The way I see it, one really has a number of choices in cases where pronouns must be used (more correctly, I should say "cases where the speaker wants to use a pronoun", never mind must; it's the speaker's language, after all), and the gender is either
Generic: When somebody comes to see you, you should offer ___ coffee.
Unknown: ___ signed it 'Chris'.
You can use he/she, he or she, s/he, or some other kludgy phrase. This offends just about everybody, including most likely the speaker ___self, because it is a kludge. It's polysyllabic and syntactically complex, and it draws attention to its political correctness at the expense of its sense and reference. It's distracting, and it's a poor informational strategy because of that, just as misspelling is a poor informational strategy in writing. What one normally wants in a pronoun is something monosyllabic and unstressed that won't draw any attention. After all, we already know who we're talking about, or we wouldn't be using a pronoun in the first place. This is a lose-lose situation.
Then there are two conventional solutions that violate one Rule of Grammar each, and therefore incense some people. Which people they incense depends on which Rule of Grammar is being violated -- there are several different Special Interest Groups involved.
You can use he generically, which violates the Rule of Grammar that says
that he is Masculine, and therefore can't be used with Feminine reference, even Indefinite Feminine reference, just as you can't use it.
(This violates a Gender Agreement rule)
Once the patient is prepped, he should
be moved into the delivery room.
You can use they generically, which violates the Rule of Grammar that says
that they is Plural, and therefore can't be used with Singular reference, even Indefinite Singular reference, just as you can't use we.
(This violates a Number Agreement rule)
Once the patient is prepped, they should
be moved into the delivery room.
Neither rule seems to me worth dying for, since they're just generalizations about number and gender agreement, and Number and Gender are just abstract grammatical properties. On its surface, it should be about as important to public policy as, say, Goldbach's Conjecture. Obviously, everybody does as they please, for whatever reason pleases them. There are no doubt statistical generalizations one could draw, but they wouldn't really settle the etiquetical problem of what's polite to use. And that depends on whom you're willing to offend, apparently.
Some people do get very exercised about grammar, nonetheless.
Different people with each rule, in fact.
The people who get upset about violating Rule 1, the gender agreement rule, tend to be women, and men who don't feel like excluding women.
The people who get upset about violating Rule 2, the number agreement rule, on the other hand, tend to be people who don't know much about language, of both genders.
If offense be inevitable, I would personally prefer not to offend people because of their sex, which they really aren't responsible for; but I don't mind nearly so much offending people because of their ignorance.
[from the same post, part of the ongoing generic "he/she" dispute.]
> A language is defined by its grammar and its vocabulary,
> and these are defined by the people who speak it, not by those who
> think they know better. There is not yet, thank God, an Acamedie Anglaise.
No, and there never will be, at least not one with that name. And I think not ever, given anything approaching the current global linguistic reality. If there were such a thing, and it weren't just a figment of national bravado, it would have to take account of the fact that there are far more non-native than native English speakers in the world, with the result that it would probably be located in Singapore, as the centroid of the English-speaking world.
> "emself" is in the same realms of rubbish speak as "personhole-cover"
> and Esperanto.
I'm not sure what you mean by realm of rubbish speak; rubbish isn't used on this side of the pond quite so often, and even has a faintly Colonel Blimp air. But it's clear that 'emself, personhole-cover, and Esperanto belong in three separate categories, or realms. Some of which you may not approve of, I take it.
Esperanto is a social movement with a linguistic agenda.
Personhole-cover is a satiric exaggeration, in origin the same as politically correct itself. Nobody ever says personhole-cover, unless they're intending to sneer at it. There's lots of those; satirists have always loved fatuous officialspeak. Another member of the genre is spokesperchild, which first changes spokesman to spokesperson because man is supposedly masculine. Then, in a fit of hypercorrectness, it washes that man right out of its hair by changing the masculine son to child.
Nobody's ever said spokesperchild, either, but it's a logical conclusion to the idea that people blindly follow grammatical rules. And the wrong rules at that; the -son in person isn't masculine at all. It comes from Latin persona, which isn't even remotely related to the English word son.
As to 'emself, of course that's written, and it's silly, or eye dialect, when written. Spoken, however, /EmsElf/, or more likely /@msElf/ with stressed ultima is very close to how a majority of American English native speakers actually pronounce both himself and themselves, not to mention the occasional generic or indeterminate themself. The final consonant is recognizably labiodental, thus representing either an /f/ or a /v/, and the /-z/ plural marker that ostensibly follows /v/ in the official plural is actually rather rare in normal speech, simply because /-vz/ is not a particularly easy cluster to articulate, and things like that go first in fast speech.
(listen carefully to the way English speakers say the fraction five-sixths; you'll find the /0/ (theta) between the two /s/'s disappears almost totally, because /sIks0s/ is practically impossible to articulate at speed.)
As a benefit, swallowing the /z/ allows one to be indeterminate about matters of both gender and number, a considerable utility. That's not trash. That's efficiency. It's also accurate, in that it represents what people actually say, i.e, the real language.
Whatever English orthographs wind up deciding about the written version of the pronoun will be just about as irrelevant in the future as they have been in the past. A very interesting history of English language reform movements can be found in Dennis Baron's Grammar or Good Taste?.
-- more followup:
(double >'s refer to the posting above:
>> As to "emself", of course that's written, and is silly, or eye
>> dialect, when written. Spoken, however, /EmsElf/, or more likely
>> /@msElf/ with stressed ultima is very close to how a majority
>> of American English native speakers actually pronounce both
>> "himself" and "themselves", not to mention the occasional
>> generic or indeterminate "themself". The final consonant is
>> recognizably labiodental, thus representing either an /f/ or
>> a /v/, and the /-z/ plural marker that ostensibly follows /v/
>> in the official plural is actually rather rare in normal speech,
>> simply because /-vz/ is not a particularly easy cluster to
>> articulate, and things like that go first in fast speech.
> But it's a lot easier than /fz/ which is why the /s/ becomes a /z/
> after /d/, /g/, /v/, /dh/ and /b/ as opposed to remaining an /s/
> after /t/, /k/, /f/, /th/ and /p/.
That's what happens, but that's not exactly why. The phenomenon is called voicing assimilation, and it's extremely common for consonant clusters (in many languages) to share voicing properties (i.e, be all voiced like /vz/ or be all voiceless like /fs/).
And it's a property of the plural (here), possessive, and 3sg present active indicative inflections (all of which are identical, except for their exceptions, like
The men are here (plural)
The man's hat (possessive)
He mans the gun (3sg pres act ind),
rather than a property of English generally. We do a fair amount of voicing assimilation, but not as much as (say) Russian, where it is a general property.
That is, the voicing assimilation that makes these morphemes voiceless /s/ after voiceless consonants, and voiced /z/ after voiced consonants and vowels (including the epenthetic shwa that follows sibilants /kIs/ - /kIs@z/) is not so much a matter of "ease" as it is of rule. Phonology is indissolubly bound to phonetics, but it has lots of arbitrary dimensions as well, since it deals with the details of the sound systems of very different languages. So ease of pronunciation is important, but that's equally true for everybody; if it were the only, or even the dominant variable, everybody would talk the same.
> In fact, /vz/ is also a lot easier than /fs/ which is probably why
> -self becomes -selves in the plural.
Alas, not so. Different rule. And there's no evidence that /vz/ is a lot easier than /fs/. If anything, the reverse is true, since:
/vz/ is voiced, and thus requires participation of the larynx, which would otherwise be uninvolved -- i.e, there's more physical effort and control required, and
at the end of the word, the environment is more likely to condition voicelessness than voicing: a voiceless segment is closer to [silence] (i.e, the end of the word) than a voiced one, and this can be seen as a variety of voicing assimilation. This is a theoretical prediction from the theory, but it's supported by the fact that, in the languages of the world, terminal devoicing rules like German's are a dime a dozen, but terminal voicing is comparatively rare.
>> (listen carefully to the way English speakers say the fraction
>> "five-sixths"; you'll find the /0/ (theta) between the two
>> /s/'s disappears almost totally, because /sIks0s/ is practically
>> impossible to articulate at speed.)
> So slow down :-) I've never noticed myself omitting the 'th'.
That's why Usenet is the wrong venue to discuss phonetics. The data is (or are) the important thing(s). When you learn phonetics you will see what I mean. In the meantime, while you may be correct -- I can't tell -- I urge you to pay closer attention. If you don't omit theta in unmonitored natural speech (anybody can say it slowly with care, but that doesn't count), you're speaking a very unusual brand of English.
---- still more followup:
>> That is, the voicing assimilation that makes these morphemes voiceless
>> /s/ after voiceless consonants, and voiced /z/ after voiced consonants
>> and vowels (including the epenthetic shwa that follows sibilants
>> /kIs/ - /kIs@z/) is not so much a matter of "ease" as it is of rule.
> Speaking as a non-linguist but as someone who finds language fascinating,
> I find it hard to believe that any of the English we speak exists because
> of rule - I would have thought that it is _all_ a matter of ease and
So, if you're right, we still have to describe how it's easier, right? And that means starting with the actual descriptions of the sounds, the muscles, the nerves, the air flow, etc, right? That's what phonetics does. And it shows that ease is as much a matter of habit as anything. What we're used to doing is easy, what we're not is hard.
It's not that you're wrong -- of course ease has something to do with it -- it's just that saying it's all a matter of ease and usage is like saying that evolution is just a matter of living and dying. Not exactly a useful scientific theory, though undoubtedly true. For one thing, it leaves ease and usage comfortably ill-defined, so they can be used to explain anything. And are correspondingly useless for prediction, which is what we really want to be able to do.
So we have to be much more careful about descriptions and explanations; otherwise we're apt to attribute everything to something that's what Bateson calls a Dormitive Principle, like instinct
Why do birds build nests? Instinct.
Why do different birds build different nests? Different instincts.
Why do English speakers find it harder than Germans to say [ts] at the beginning of a word? Ease and usage.
> The linguists came along later, to my mind, and tried to decide -
> and are still trying to decide, in some cases - what rules are followed.
Sure, we're still trying to figure it out. Let me know when true artificial intelligence is achieved, and then we'll have a go at modelling real language. We've only been at it for about a hundred years, you know, and only looking at syntax for about 50.
> [When they _do_ try to give us rules, they often manage to screw it up
> completely, by trying to tell us not to end sentences with prepositions
> or to split infinitives etc. Some of the earlier ones even managed to
> get us, on both sides of the Atlantic, to spell "ache" with a 'ch'
> rather than a 'k'. ]
Wait a minute. Those folks you're kvetching about are not linguists. Those people are the people who don't pay attention to actual language, who don't really understand the grammar, and who can't give a convincing reason for their choice beyond the indisputable fact that it's theirs and they like it.
Sorry, I'm not taking the heat for that bunch. When a linguist talks about a rule, they're not referring to a law that has to be enforced, like Thou Shalt Not Spit on the Sidewalk, or Thou Shalt Not Split Infinitives. They're referring to a law that describes actual behavior, like the Law of Gravity, or Gresham's Law, or Grimm's Law. Telling people how they do talk is one thing; telling them how they should talk is quite another. The oral realm is quite sufficient for me without trying to take over the moral realm.
>>> In fact, /vz/ is also a lot easier than /fs/ which is probably why
>>> -self becomes -selves in the plural.
>> Alas, not so. Different rule. And there's no evidence that /vz/
>> is "a lot easier" than /fs/. If anything, the reverse is true,
>> since (a) /vz/ is voiced, and thus requires participation of the
>> larynx, which would otherwise be uninvolved -- i.e, there's more
>> physical effort and control required, and (b) at the end of the
>> word, the environment is more likely to condition voicelessness
>> than voicing.
> Now I think of it, it could have something to do with the 'l'. I notice
> that, for example, my Dutch colleagues cannot pronounce "self" as one
> syllable - it becomes "seluf" like "film" becomes "filum" - whereas