kaigou: (1 Izumi)
[personal profile] kaigou
I remember awhile back, someone on a blog indicating the preference for "ou" as pronoun (rather than zie, s/he, etc). That one was completely new to me, and there was no indication of how you'd possess-ify it ("our" seemed like recipe for trouble, so "ous" maybe?). Then I came across this, the other day:
In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular "ou": "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces "ou" to Middle English epicene "a", used by the 14th century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of "a" for he, she, it, they, and even I. This "a" is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = "he" and heo = "she"
—Dennis Baron, Grammar and Gender

That's pretty cool. Obsolete now to all but linguists, but pretty cool. Still not sure how you'd possess-ify it.

The same wiki entry found me this, which is also very cool, and makes more sense in terms of how you'd possess-ify it (probably similar to the possessive form of "it", I'm thinking). It's also a form that came closest to some kind of broad usage/acceptance, seeing how it made it into the dictionary:
According to Dennis Baron, the neologism that received the greatest partial mainstream acceptance was Charles Crozat Converse's 1884 proposal of thon, a contraction of "that one" (other sources date its coinage to 1858 or 1859): "Thon was picked up by Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary in 1898, and was listed there as recently as 1964. It was also included in Webster's Second New International Dictionary, though it is absent from the first and third, and it still has its supporters today."

Though of the ones mentioned (in English or elsewhere), I think I rather like the method of just dropping the "sh" or "h" and making it 'e. (I guess possessive would be 'ir.) But maybe that's because I'm used to certain accents in which the "h" of "he" is dropped to the point that 'e is pretty much what's already said, in everyday speech.

But that leads me back to my previous thoughts, and the fact that although I'm sure it wasn't intentional, the reply that it's okay to use "they" as gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun felt slightly like derailing. Because the point wasn't really what we can use in speech, or in colloquial, but in fiction. And in the narrative of fiction, unless it's first-person or the narrative is strongly colloquial, I'd be hard-pressed to think of any published fiction where the copyeditor would let you get away with what is really mangled grammar in terms of pronoun+verb construction. In dialogue? Certainly. In narrative, I doubt it, which is why the very few works I've read that attempt gender-neutral pronouns felt a) really awkward, because it drew a lot of attention to the narrative voice itself and made it obtrusive, and b) weren't published by major houses, who give me the impression of being much more conservative on these things.

[There's also a bit in the wiki entry for generic antecedents, which lists various constructions and a critique of each. I guess it's no surprise to anyone that I personally would rather take the time to rephrase a given sentence to use "they" without it reading awkwardly, if at all possible. Then again, I know so many crossplayers (cosplaying the gender you're not) that I've learned the knack of how to speak about a third person without ever using a pronoun -- because some people have preferences about whether they get male pronouns when cosplaying a male character, or prefer female pronouns regardless, or whatever. And since I can never remember who wants which, I've gotten fairly decent at avoiding pronouns altogether. Which is one way to avoid this whole discussion, I suppose!]

All that said, the notion of using "that one" as a pronoun-substitute might work, in the narrative. Although I'm guessing the rest of the narrative voice might have to flex, a little, towards a greater formality, to make the inserted formality of "one" less obtrusive. Hmmm.

Date: 6 Apr 2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
soukup: Stephen Fry with text  "and I mean this in a pink, slightly special way" (pink)
From: [personal profile] soukup
All that said, the notion of using "that one" as a pronoun-substitute might work, in the narrative. Although I'm guessing the rest of the narrative voice might have to flex, a little, towards a greater formality, to make the inserted formality of "one" less obtrusive. Hmmm.

Thomas King uses "that one" constantly in Green Grass, Running Water to refer to characters whose gender he never specifies. Interestingly, his style is deliberately informal (it's geared to resemble an oral storytelling). And the result is so smooth that I pretty much stopped noticing it after the first page or so; there's no point at which it feels odd or awkward. In fact, it took me half the book to realize that I had no idea what gender or sex many of the characters were. (It's also kind of an epically awesome book, which you should probably check out if you haven't yet.)

I'd be hard-pressed to think of any published fiction where the copyeditor would let you get away with what is really mangled grammar

Written language is usually less colloquial compared with spoken language, and slower to register changes in usage. I think it'll take time for people to get used to using gender-neutral pronouns in conversation. When people get comfortable with that, and when the trend begins to permeate both formal- and casual-register speech, people will start to feel okay about experimenting with these terms in written works.

I keep thinking that fiction could be a way to shortcut the process, if an extremely popular work were to use gender-neutral pronouns in a way that got readers/viewers used to them. What if, for example, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games had done this? Fans might have started using them in real life. I suggest this because I was briefly hooked on the remake version of Battlestar Gallactica, a scifi series set far into the future, in a human culture that resembles our own in many ways, but where "sir" has become a completely gender-neutral term of respect for your superior. I was tickled by it the first two or three times I heard a woman called by it, but by the end of the first episode it didn't even register as odd to me, and to this day I don't think of "sir" as a strongly gendered term the way I used to. What did that was that the characters didn't seem at all awkward about the usage. It was completely normal for them, and eventually it rubbed off on me.

As for the specific pronouns you mention: I prefer "they" to "one" even though it sounds slightly sloppy because my instinct is that an informal word will be quicker to catch on than a formal one. I'm not such a fan of "e" or "ir," which to my ear sound like aspirations of "he" and "her" respectively. This seems problematic to me because if I wanted to be called by a gender-neutral pronoun, I don't think I'd be too happy about one that sounded an awful lot like one that was already in existence and did connote gender, you know? It's similar to what troubles me about "ze" and "hir," which sound too much like "she" and "her" to me. I've rarely heard these used in conversation, even by people who claim to like them, and I feel like it may be because there's so much potential for confusion/misunderstanding that people are reluctant to use them (I certainly am, for that reason).

Hmm. Maybe some other entirely new word ("thon" is a potential candidate) would be a smart choice after all. I feel like such a word might take a little longer to become common and feel natural to people, but maybe it would be worth it, to have something entirely free of connotation. (Assuming it stayed that way, which...well, cross that bridge.)

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