Friday, March 6, 2009

The Need for a New English Pronoun

This resonates with me:

There have been at least 18 recent tweets about the fact that English has no grammatically correct substitutes for words like "he," "him," and "his" that do not have a gender implied.

Consider the sentence "Everyone loves his mother." The word "his" may be seen as both sexist and inaccurate, but replacing it with "his or her" seems cumbersome, and "they" is grammatically incorrect.

Read the complete CNN report here.

What's your take? What is the word we need and want?

(Interestingly, in written Chinese, there isn't such a gender-neutral pronoun either.)


Gerard said...

What we need (and what we already have), is "singular they": 'Everyone loves their mother'. It is not grammatically incorrect in any way, and is in common usage by almost every speaker of English.

Some linguistic analysis:

zeitguy said...

If we were construing a new word, I would offer "eir" as it has linguistic and sonic components of "her" and "their". It seems to fit in the brainfolds where a possessive fits, with a kind of androgynous ease.

Rocking Offkey said...

Interestingly, in written Chinese, there isn't such a gender-neutral pronoun either

No, that would only be true for Chinese after the 5.4 cultural movement, which was under heavy influence of western culture. In canonical Chinese, there won't be any trouble. Qi其, Yi伊 etc are all gender-neutral.

Uln said...

@Gerard - Interesting, I didn't know there was a singular their.

But this does not solve all the situations. For example, in the phrase: "An expat living in China usually gets paid better than his Chinese peers"

I run into these kind of obstacles very often because my mother tongue doesn't have the gender distinction in this case. So I can understand Chinese writers very well :)

Xujun Eberlein said...

Rocking, do you think 伊 yi should be back in use in modern Chinese?

Uln said...

Er, my previous comment was a bit illogical, I just realize now that Chinese IS like English in this way, and unlike Spanish.

So in the example above "eveyone loves his mother" how would it be solved in (modern) Chinese? Can you use: 它的? Or 自己的?

Xujun Eberlein said...

Uln, you were not wrong in the sense that spoken Chinese has the same pronunciation for all the "ta"s. So we at least don't have the problem as English does when we talk. :-)

In your example, '自己的' is most often used. '它的' is wrong as 它 is not used on human.

Anonymous said...

Isnt it:

Everyon loves THIER mother?