Posted: Sep 16, 2019 7:57 am
by I'm With Stupid
Spinozasgalt wrote:
I'm With Stupid wrote:This has come up a lot recently with some non-binary individuals wanting to be referred to as 'they/them' and people arguing that it's ungrammatical (as if grammar isn't just codified usage). But one thing you often hear as an argument as to why it is grammatical is that singular they has existed for centuries and indeed Shakespeare himself used it. It's basically an argument from history that it's valid because it's not actually a new usage. However, when people give examples, they tend to give examples that are not the same usage.

Where are people having this argument in this way? Show me what it looks like in the wild. I want to see if you've framed it correctly.

It's mainly something I've come across on Twitter, where I imagine it's just people parroting something they've read somewhere else, but here's a proper article making the argument. Note the linking of old examples of the indefinite usage of singular they to the situation of a person you know asking to refer to them as.....well, them (perfect example right there).

Just for the record, I have no problem with the idea of this new use of 'they' for referring to non-binary people and I think it's much better, and probably more likely to be taken up than by trying to introduce a new set of words like xe and xer (which inexplicably for invented words have needlessly complicated things by having separate subject and object forms). My doubt is purely with the argument that it isn't a new usage. What they're effectively doing is fighting the grammatical prescriptivists on their own terms, by claiming that they're not changing the language at all, whereas what they should be doing is arguing that the language should change to reflect modern society. This is why I put it in the linguistics section, rather than the current affairs section, because I'm mainly interested in fact checking this linguistic argument that I'd seen floating around Twitter.