Generic pronouns: "sexist language" or "good English"?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Thik Nongyow, Aug 17, 2002.

  1. Thik Nongyow

    Thik Nongyow Stunt Coordinator

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    Usage on generic male pronouns from a recent dictionary:

    "Traditionally, the pronouns HE, HIS, and HIM have been used generically to refer to indefinite pronouns like 'anyone,' 'everyone,' and 'someone' (Everyone who agrees should raised his hand) and to singular nouns that do not indicate sex: 'Every writer hopes he will produce a bestseller.' This generic use is often criticized as sexist, although speakers and writers continue the practice. Various approaches have been developed to avoid generic HE. One is to use plural forms entirely: 'Those who agree should raise their hands.' 'All writers hope they will produce bestsellers.' Another is to use the masculine and feminine singular pronouns together: he or she, she or he; he/she, she/he. Forms blending the feminine and masculine pronouns, as s/he, have not been widely adapted."

    Is using generic male pronouns "sexist language" or "good English"?
     
  2. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Lead Actor
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    I have noticed that more writers have replaced the "he" with "she". I do not believe it is sexist to use "he" as long as the writer does not use it exclusively. It can be a generic term just like the use of the word "guys". A person can be in a mixed group and might say, "What are you guys doing next week"? I would not consider the use of the word "guys" in that context to be sexist. The use of the word "he" can be neutral as well.
    The only thing is......this topic could turn political pretty quickly. I would not give good odds for this thread to have a long life. [​IMG]
     
  3. Craig F

    Craig F Second Unit

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    I would call it good english. It is the way the language is and has nothing to do with sexism.
     
  4. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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  5. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    I will know that the politically correct reformation of language is complete when Hollywood abolishes the Best Actor / Best Actress categories [​IMG]
     
  6. Thik Nongyow

    Thik Nongyow Stunt Coordinator

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    Is it hypocritical to say that one will not use the generic male pronouns because they are "sexist," but one does not object to the use of "guys" as a generic word?

    I must admit that the use of generic male pronouns do give English literature a form of timelessness and force that contemporary politically-correct English will never achieve.
     
  7. Ben Menix

    Ben Menix Stunt Coordinator

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    I believe the English language has been established; and it's proper use (of which I do not claim to be an expert, only an enthusiastic student) is no longer subject to revision or debate. The ebb and flow of current usage may affect dialects and slang, but the root language is set.
    Obviously, believing that, the use of generic masculine pronouns implies no particular political, moral, or social belief and is definitely proper.
    I personally have never understood how the use of a masculine pronoun implies a sexist meaning, intention, or belief.
    Ben Menix
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  8. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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  9. Ben Menix

    Ben Menix Stunt Coordinator

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    I respectfully disagree. Dialect, slang, and "pop" usage changes; Modern English as a root language does not.
    American English, a derivative of what we refer to as "Queen's English", was established in it's current form in 1806, with the publication of Noah Webster's A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, the first analysis of the American English language that depicted it's unique nature and distinguished it from "Queen's English".
    However, the grammer and usage of American English is fundamentally unchanged from it's progenitor, the English language as used in England. While some spellings and definitions have changed, the usage has remained consistent.
    Languages do change, including English. An obvious example that many people should be familiar with is a predecessor to Modern English, "Middle English". Most people, upon first attempting to read anything written in Middle English, would claim it was a foreign language. In fact, it would be more accurate to define Middle English as a foreign language when comparing it to Modern English, as the two languages are seperated by centuries.
    A transition from one language to another tends to happen suddenly; practically overnight compared to the length of time that any given language typically lasts in a relatively unchanged form. The difference in dialect and usage between one generation and another is inconsequential; and tends to have absolutely no affect on the root language.
    My humble, yet firmly believed in, opinion. [​IMG]
    Ben Menix
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  10. Bob_L

    Bob_L Supporting Actor

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    Language is a living entity that is constantly in the process of change. It can't be locked down by a lexicography done in one place and time.

    I happen to think that use of masculine pronouns as a generic pronoun constitutes efficient usage, not sexism. But time and usage will tell.

    Just now, for instance, I think we're seeing the Internet exerting a huge influence over the English language. In addition to increasingly establishing English as the international language, it is also changing spelling. As an example, I think I see the word "lose' (as in "unable to find") spelled as "loose" more often than not. It's probably only a matter of time before that spelling changes through constant usage -- though wrong by current rules.

    After years as a professional writer and editor, it is dismaying to me to see the poor copy editing, spelling and usage that plagues almost all Internet "journalism;" but language changes...
     
  11. Ben Menix

    Ben Menix Stunt Coordinator

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    A point that I failed to adequately make is the difference between the base language and that language's "accepted use". There would appear, however, to still be an argument as to whether "accepted use" constitutes a change in the language itself.
    Ben Menix
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  12. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    What has happened because of this, though, is a general lapse into bad grammar. Unwilling to use either "he or she" or an all-inclusive "he," most English speakers are uttering such badly worded sentences as, "When someone gets into their car, they become a potential menace on wheels."
    The singular "someone" morphs into the plural "their."
    And that, language dynamics aside, is nothing more than poor grammar. Worse, it has become almost universal in its misuse.
    As an editor and writer, I cringe every single time I switch on the television news and hear such routine utterances by well-compensated illiterates.
     
  13. Morgan Jolley

    Morgan Jolley Lead Actor

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    Whenever I get into a situation where I am writing about a person with an undetermined sex, I use "they." Such as:

    "A good writer should know that they can have an impact on the world."
     
  14. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Lead Actor
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    "A good writer should know that they can have an impact on the world."
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    ...but then you have the situation that Mr. Briggs just described. Good writer (singular) modified by They (plural).
    To be correct it would have to be....."Good writers should know that they have an impact on the world."

    If I was going to write that sentence and wanted it to be gender neutral, I would word like so....."A good writer should know s/he has an impact on the world."

    Who am I to talk though! I am pretty sure my grammar when I post isn't the best and I think I misplace commas a lot of the time.
     
  15. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Morgan, as noted, for your suggested sentence to be grammatically correct, either change "writer" to "writers," or rephrase it to say, "A good writer should know that he or she can have an impact on the world."

    The object "they" must correspond with the subject. Otherwise, the sentence is wrong.
     
  16. Rex Bachmann

    Rex Bachmann Screenwriter

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    The gender point above is is a "retrocontroversy", reminiscent of the topic of a very recent thread on attempts to legislate and litigate language usage in this country, specifically, pronoun gender usage.
    The English-speaking public has already spoken and the solution to the unknown (or unrevealed) gender/number in English discourse is . . . the use of they.
    Purists like---well, like me---may not like it, but the plural is used more and more in everyday spoken language to designate the undefined or unknown gender of a third person.
    Sally, the ticket-taker, turns to the crowd full of men and women waiting to get into some sporting or other entertainment event:
    "Who has their ticket ready?" (And I would bet that, even if the crowd were all-male, she would still say the same thing.)
    Ben Menix wrote:
     
  17. Ben Menix

    Ben Menix Stunt Coordinator

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    Rex,
    I was not referring to written language, I was indeed referring to spoken language. You appear to have missed the point of my statements entirely, although it would appear that we actually share a similar opinion on languages.
    What happens when a man from Australia, a man from New Jersey, and a man from London meet on the street? Are they able to communicate, however poorly? Generally; yes, they are. The trouble they have communicating is due to accents, slang, dialect, etc. The communication is sucessful because there is a common root language that does not change.
    Not only does an English root language exist, it is necessary. Consider the widespread adoption of English as an international technical and financial language. If there were not an established, common root English language, this would be neither possible nor desirable.
    Have you read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea lately? There is a wonderful example of *reversion* to a root language that makes an interesting discussion point.
    Ben Menix
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  18. Aaron Copeland

    Aaron Copeland Second Unit

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  19. Ryan Wright

    Ryan Wright Screenwriter

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    My opinion has already been stated multiple times in the thread Rex linked to.
    Suffice it to say, using "he/she", "they", etc, is "politically correct." People who choose to be offended by the use of the proper "he" will not change me. I refuse to subscribe to P.C. bullshit; I figure if my speech offends you, that's your problem, not mine.
    I won't walk on ice around these emotionally unstable people. I tell it like it is and if someone doesn't like that, I have only three words for them: Deal with it.
     
  20. Janna S

    Janna S Second Unit

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    I've had an interesting ongoing debate with an appellate judge in this state about the singular noun/plural pronoun debate. He mixes the two, and I do not. I found an interesting web page about this - see http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/austheir.html.
    I don't like the trend, for reasons that have nothing to do with my emotional stability, but I understand what's happening.
    I do believe that the exclusive use of the masculine pronoun contributes to gender assumptions. I have seen many examples of this in my career as a teacher, a lawyer, and a judge. I also understand the backlash against the goal of gender neutrality. Time will tell.
    And I am guilty of making assumptions as well. For example, I make assumptions about people who contribute to a discussion about language yet do not use "its" and "it's" properly. And about people who believe name calling contributes to a discussion.
     

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