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83: They

A Thousand Things to Talk About
83: They
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83-pronouns

Would English be improved by a set of commonly accepted gender neutral pronouns?

Show notes and links:
Neutral Pronouns (Nonbinary.org)
Shakespeare used they with singular antecedents, so there. (UPenn Language Log)


Full episode text

English is not a specifically gendered language, but it is a language heavily steeped in gender – something that is brightly highlighted by the search and debate surrounding a singular, non-gendered pronoun on level with his and hers, he and she.

There’s been a number of attempts at creating a widely accepted singular pronoun on level with ta is Estonion, gi in Esperanto, or han in Finnish – probably horribly mispronounced.

There have been literally thousands of possible pronouns suggested in the English language, with great arguments for all of them. Very few, however, are commonly accepted.

Yet there is one that it can be argued IS already accepted. They. Supposedly that’s only for plural pronouns. Yet there’s a long and rich history of plural, singular they and them. It starts with Shakespeare:

There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend

And continued with Jane Austen, the King James Bible, Walt Whitman, and more. Yet many argue that the multiple uses of “they” means we need another option.