The Rise of Epicene They

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Published on January 18, 2009

Author: teachersonia

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The Rise of Epicene Theyby Mark Balhorn Presentation by Sonia OrtizUnless otherwise noted, all quotes are from this article. : The Rise of Epicene Theyby Mark Balhorn Presentation by Sonia OrtizUnless otherwise noted, all quotes are from this article. Definitions for these Keywords were found in MS dictionary: : Definitions for these Keywords were found in MS dictionary: Epicene – having only one grammatical form for both masculine and feminine in languages where nouns have genders. Agreement – correspondence of the number, case, gender or person of one word with that of another word, especially in the same sentence. Antecedents - a word or phrase that a subsequent word refers to. Ex. “Mary” is the antecedent of “her” in: I’ll give this to Mary when I see her. Ubiquitous – present everywhere, at once or seeming to be. Introduction : Introduction “A pronoun pattern that is common in both spoken and written English is some form of they with singular, generic antecedents, as in, “Everyone was so pleased with themselves.” This article addresses the question of how long such a pattern has been in the language and how a pattern that clearly violates number agreement could become so ubiquitous.” Examples : Examples 1a. Everyone takes their time finding a seat. 1b. Everyone takes his time finding a seat. 2a. If a student is getting a low grade, they might want to talk to the teacher. 2b. If a student is getting a low grade, he might want to talk to the teacher. Explanation : Explanation “The use of a formally plural pronoun such as they, them, or their to refer back to the following singular compounds is acceptable in informal usage..” These authors refer to a study (Nesbitt, 1980) that states that the “everyone…their combination actually occurred far more frequently than the ‘sexist’ his form and the wordy his or her form.” (Celce-Murcia, et al, The Grammar Book, p306) Explanation : Explanation “Langunoff (1992, 1997) extends Nesbitt’s study…(documenting) the use of the singular they in written as well as spoken English from the 15th century to the present. She proposes that an antecedent allowing co-reference with singular they must be unspecified in some way (i.e., number, gender, referentiality) and that singular they is an unmarked pronoun.” (Celce-Murcia, et al, The Grammar Book, p306) Slide 7: As noted below in table 1 of the Balhorn article “the appearance of this pattern in published texts is not limited to the late 20th century, generic they is also found in previous centuries of Modern English”. Historical point of inception : Historical point of inception Balhorn’s attempt to explain the historical point of inception of the singular generic they into the English language included the introduction of Colbert’s “hierarchy” which I found somewhat confusing. Historical point of inception : Historical point of inception In a review of Arcene Wisse, a Middle English text from the early part of the 13th century, Balhorn indicates that “there is no use of plural third-person pronouns with singular generic antecedents; instead, singular, grammatical concord is always maintained.” Historical : Historical Balhorn refers to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as one of the earliest (14th century) examples used which should ”be seen as a reflection of unselfconscious use of the language of the times.” Historical : Historical Chaucer is found to generally maintain number agreement except “As in Modern English, wherein we theorized, following Barlow (1992), that use of they avoids a feature conflict and the consequent introduction of sex as a salient feature of the referent, Chaucer uses they only with antecedent NPs that are lexically unmarked for sex.” Slide 12: “Corbett, in his books Gender (1991) and Number (2000), offers an explanation “ for “why it is that the sex feature has such crucial effects on the intended referent while number conflict introduced by they does not.” “In Corbett’s (2000) terms, they has ‘greater semantic justification” than the singular alternatives he and she, both of which attach the semantic feature of sex to a formerly epicene referent and must be interpreted.” Historical : Historical The article notes that recent studies (Matossian,1997; Newman, 1997) have indicated that the use of they with singular generic antecedents is used more frequently than He in the English spoken language in both familiar and formal settings. Conclusion : Conclusion “To the degree that generic topics of discussion, such as teacher, boss, parent, mayor, and doctor, lose their covert gender in the lexicons of the users of the language, the greater the feature conflict presented when they are generic antecedents of a masculine, singular pronoun. It is a small step for this feature conflict to extend from the generic teacher and doctor to the indefinite anyone and everybody.”

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