Them and They as Singular

Informal speech

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Re: Them and They as Singular

#21  Postby The_Metatron » Oct 16, 2012 4:59 pm

The only thing I'd say to that is that I don't think those rules that exist can be changed by fiat of individuals, either.

It's interesting enough to discuss the flexibility of the rules of grammar in any particular language. Until you try to flaunt those rules in academia or business and you see how for it gets you.
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Re: Them and They as Singular

#22  Postby Zwaarddijk » Oct 16, 2012 5:02 pm

The_Metatron wrote:The only thing I'd say to that is that I don't think those rules that exist can be changed by fiat of individuals, either.

It's interesting enough to discuss the flexibility of the rules of grammar in any particular language. Until you try to flaunt those rules in academia or business and you see how for it gets you.

People do flaunt them in academia, though, as well as in business. Every day! It is just that they generally flaunt rules that have not attracted any significant ire in the public sphere, so no one cares to notice.

Here, really, the inverse of "you get what you measure for" applies: if you keep looking for singular they, split infinitives and double negatives, you'll be blind to all other flaunting that keeps happening all around you as people whose flauntings happen to be less often complained about fly under the radar.
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Re: Them and They as Singular

#23  Postby The_Metatron » Oct 16, 2012 5:05 pm

There is a point there one has made. The quality of writing I encounter from my classmates in my graduate studies is shocking. Simply shocking. Yet, these same people continue in course after course.

When I was a kid, I tell you....
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Re: Them and They as Singular

#24  Postby don't get me started » Oct 22, 2012 12:51 pm

@zwaarddijk makes a very good point about the gradient of high profile violations and low profile violations of 'proper' language.
People tend to have very selective ideas about what should be picked up on and rely on intuition for all kinds of ad-hoc statements about language.

A good example of this emerged in some reading into corpus studies that I did some time ago.
There exists an ongoing and stubborn prejudice in some quarters regarding the use of 'can', as in, "Can I use your phone?"
Now, some purists argue that the meaning of can is restricted to talking about ability, and that in request situations, the "correct" modal to use is "may", as in "May I use your phone?"

So this view asserts (tacitly) that English modals are more or less monosemous. In fact they are all pretty polysemous.
By way of contrast, none of the self appointed language experts ever quibble with any of the meanings of the word 'should'.
But corpus studies reveal that not only is the word polysemous (no surprise there), intuition is actually almost completely wrong in predicting how the word is usually used.
Most people when asked to provide an example sentence using the word 'should' usually focus on the 'advice' meaning, as in
"You should stop smoking." or, " You should ask for a refund." and the like.
Indeed, this is the way the word is introduced in ESL textbooks in almost every case.
However, corpus studies show that the most commonly occurring usage of 'should' is in the 'logical outcome' meaning, as in; "If you go down this street about for about five minutes, you should see a bank on your left." or, "We'll be on the six O'clock train, so we should be there by about seven."

So, not only is there a gradient between the noticeability and allowability of polysemy in 'can' and 'should', it turns out that people's intuitions are almost invariably wrong when it comes to the main or most common meaning, but even when told that the word has several distinct uses, the reaction is a kind of shrug...'so what?', despite getting all bent out of shape about using 'can' for request/permission instead of ability

@The-Metatron...I agree, there is some pretty poor writing out there, but in my experience, anything that is going to actually stand the test of time goes through multiple reviews, and a lot of the stuff gets picked up during the editing process. I usually have several months of to-ing and fro-ing with my editors before my writing is publishable.
Very few people can write extended pieces more or less straight off the bat without some typos and grammar 'irregularities.'
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Re: Them and They as Singular

#25  Postby Kazaman » Oct 22, 2012 1:06 pm

I use the singular they In informal speech all the time, as well as in informal writing ... and formal speech, and formal writing.
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