Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Hello everyone! Sadly, I must start yet another post with my sincerest apologies for not posting in so long. Unfortunately, school was a killer, and I was working at a summer camp for all of June. Nonetheless, I will try my best to post more often! Anyhow, today, I actually have a topic to discuss with you all today! I will be writing about pronouns, gender-neutral ones in particular!

As I am a writer (both here as a blogger and as a writer of original stories/poetry/fanfiction), pronouns are something I have to deal with frequently. And while first person pronouns such as “I” and “me” are easy enough, as well as the second person “you,” the tricky and–in my opinion–extremely vexing pronouns are “he/him”” and “she/her.” While they are easy enough to use when the gender of the person being referenced to is a cis male (a person who was assigned male at birth and identifies as such) or a cis female (same thing, but the person was assigned female at birth), it gets more complicated when the gender of the person is not specified. Then you have to write out “he or she” or “him or her.” While this is easy enough to do, when you are a writer who is trying to write something quickly, having to slow down to type or write out those few extra words gets obnouxious. Also, one a paper with a word limit, those extra few words make a huge difference. Plus, it really does hurt the flow of a work when one tries to read it.

Okay then, so why not use just one? Just pick to describe someone as “he” or as “she.” Not hard, right? Well, no, but believe me, the backlash that this can spur can be bad, no matter which pronoun you use (although in particular “he/his”). People argue that using one of these pronouns when no gender is actually specified is sexist, as it shows a preference towards one particular sex (Note: I’m using “sex” here instead of “gender,” because the idea behind this “he/she” debate is that there are only two genders–male and female. Well, we know that’s incorrect. However, males and females typically represent the two sexes, which are determined biologically by one’s genitals. Thus, I chose not to use “gender” here.). Okay, so we need to steer clear of that. How about we alternate between using “he” and “she?” My English teacher last year recommended this to me, and while she was an amazing teacher, I must say I don’t agree with this method. Honestly, it can get very confusing if the reader is not expecting it (and trust me, the reader won’t be, unless the author states that he or she is using that tactic, or if the reader is an English teacher).  So then, I guess there’s no way around it, right?

Actually, wrong. There are a variety of gender-neutral pronouns in English; however, many of them are invented and may seem rather strange. Personally, I have not seen or heard many of them used before, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know about them or shouldn’t use them! In fact, we should use them, so that they become more commonplace.

The simplest gender-neutral pronoun (in my opinion), and one that is actually not invented, is “they/them.” Now, I know, almost every high school English teacher will tell you to never use “they/them” as singular pronouns. But, actually, it is considered by many English professors and scholars to be grammatically correct. In fact, the singular usage of the term has been seen in many famous authors’ works, such as that of C.S. Lewis. There is an excellent blog post about this topic here: http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/singular-they-and-the-many-reasons-why-its-correct/. I will reblog that post as well after posting this. Anyways, long story short, “they/them” can be used singularly and still be grammatically correct. Indeed, I know a fair number of people who are gender non-binary who prefer those pronouns.

Another option is to use “it;” however, in English, it is often frowned upon to refer to a person as “it.” Many people see this as offensive, as they feel it implies that someone is less than human. This is because in English, people only use “it” to refer to objects, or sometimes to beings other than  humans. Other languages are much less picky about the usage of this pronoun, such as Japanese. Actually, Japanese is one of a select group of languages that doesn’t use gender-specific pronouns, and it can be argued that Japanese does not truly have pronouns. Anyways, back to “it.” Simply put, if you decide to use “it,” be careful who you are using it around, and who you are using it to describe–you don’t want to offend anyone.

Before I get into the invented pronouns, let me clear up one other issue with English pronouns. Some people still use the pronoun “he” in a gender-neutral way. This is an incorrect usage, as “he” is not gender-neutral. It is a male pronoun, and it is as simple as that. If you aren’t convinced, try out these sentences:

  • Everyone came to school today with his favorite book.
  • Is it your brother or sister whose is always losing his socks?

Sounds weird, right? By the way, I got the idea for those sentences from the same blog post I linked up above. Also, if you want to read more on this supposed “gender-neutral ‘he,'” I suggest you check out that same post.

So, on to the invented pronouns! There is a large variety, and not all of them  are very easy to say. Nonetheless, they are perfectly good gender-neutral pronouns; however, I would not recommend using them in your next English paper. These are not highly mainstream pronouns yet; in fact, they may never actually be. Since the mid-19th century, various invented gender-neutral pronouns have been popping up. The first recorded ones were supposedly “ne,” “nis,” “nir,” and “hiser.” Unfortunately, many of these, as well as a lot of the ones that followed them, were only used for a short time before sadly dying out. However, we are living in a different age, and the current invented gender-neutral pronouns may have more success than those previous ones.

The current gender-neutral pronouns are as follows:

Ne:

  • Subject form: ne
  • Object form: nem
  • Possessive Determiner (aka Possessive Adjective): nir
  • Possessive Pronoun: nirs
  • Reflexive: nemself

For the rest of the pronouns, I will place the different forms in parentheses following the actual pronoun. The different forms will be listed in the same order as the bullet points above:

Ve (ve, ver, vis, vis, verself)

Spivak (ey, em, eir, eirs, emself)

Ze (or zie) and hir: (ze, hir, hir, hirs, hirself)

Ze (or Zie) and zir: (ze, zir, zir, zirs, zirself)

Xe (xe, xem, xyr, xyrs, xemself)

As for the pronunciation of these pronouns, I recommend you check out this blog post: http://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/ . It is a great source of information on gender-neutral pronouns. I will reblog that post after I have posted this.

So, there you have it! The truth about gender-neutral pronouns! It’s tricky using them for the first time, regardless if they are invented or not. I still am getting used to them myself, especially the invented ones. Actually, lately I have been using “zie” a fair amount, as I have been discussing my favorite character from an anime who happens to be agender, as the author purposefully created zie to be gender ambiguous (for those of you who are curious, I am referring to the character Crona from the anime/manga Soul Eater). Anyways, I hope this helped you all get a somewhat better grasp on gender-neutral pronouns! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments!

I hope everyone’s summer is going well! I will post again soon, hopefully! Thanks for reading!

 

Sources:

http://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/

http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/singular-they-and-the-many-reasons-why-its-correct/

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_pronouns

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_neutrality_in_genderless_languages#Japanese

illinois.edu/blog/view/25/31097

 

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2 thoughts on “Gender-Neutral Pronouns

  1. Pingback: Case Study: Agender Characters | A Different Way of Life

  2. Pingback: Case Study: LGBTQ Topics in Japanese | A Different Way of Life

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