Posted: Sep 16, 2019 10:18 am
by zoon
I'm With Stupid wrote:....
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.

Perhaps also fighting the grammatical prescriptivists on their own ground by pointing out that it's traditional for pronouns to change on occasion, as when "thou" was replaced by "you" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Spearthrower commented in post #8 of this thread that the use of "they" as a singular is becoming commoner in London, though less so in the rest of the UK, and the same seems to have been the case when "thou" was being replaced by "you". Quoting from Wikipedia here:
Fairly suddenly in the 17th century, thou began to decline in the standard language (that is, particularly in and around London), often regarded as impolite or ambiguous in terms of politeness. It persisted, sometimes in an altered form, particularly in regional dialects of England and Scotland farther from London,[15] as well as in the language of such religious groups as the Society of Friends.