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17 April 2012

Gender-neutral pronouns

Johnson posts on an attempt by a Swedish author to use a pronoun ('hen', which is 'they' in Swedish) that doesn't give readers a clue to a character's gender:

"When I read the book to older children who can repeat the story, then the boys call Kivi 'him' and the girls called Kivi 'her', says Jesper Lundqvist.

..."When I thought about it a bit it adds something in a certain context. If someone was at the doctor's, for example, and tells about it and says 'he' or 'she' for the doctor, it paints a certain picture. It's interesting what it does to the picture when someone calls the doctor 'hen'. "
The Johnson post includes an interesting discussion of the use of singular 'they' in English:
Yes, singular they has been used for quite a long time in impeccable English sources. It has three gender-neutral uses,when the gender of an antecedent is

plural and mixed:  Everyone has their own opinion.

unknown: Someone left their book here.

unimportant: Anyone who works here should know they'll have to work hard.
And it includes a link to an article on an invented transgender pronoun, which makes the point:
Political correctness means ditching a clear and precise word in favour of a vaguer term, to spare someone's feelings. This is a case of using a new word because the existing words are imprecise. They do not serve.
So what do you think? He, his and him? They, their, and them? Or something else entirely?

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