The Neutral Pronoun


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mechaPoet wrote:
We shouldn't pretend like that exclusion is primarily about apolitical writing standards.

We have even less reason to pretend that exclusion is primarily about political writing standards. Tech writers write primarily for clarity.

That's one reason that Paizo's approach with the iconics is a good one. "They" (nonreferential use of with a generic corporate antecedent) have individual iconics with individual genders. The sorcerer is a "she," so references to generic sorcerers are also "she."

More generally, novel uses of words cause difficulty.

Shadow Lodge

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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

I'm a huge proponent of singular "they," which never really left informal usage and is finally coming back into formal usage. For those who think it's confusing, I maintain that it is less confusing than "you" being used as both the singular and plural second person pronoun. (Of course, I also use y'all natively, so what do I know.)

I keep zie/hir in my back pocket for those rare instances when I want to draw attention to the fact that the pronoun being used is non-gender-specific. Those occasions are few and far between -- and I think most of them come in response to someone else asserting a gender inappropriately. (They're also what I tend to use when refrerring to the deity.)


pH unbalanced wrote:
I'm a huge proponent of singular "they," which never really left informal usage and is finally coming back into formal usage.

I use "they" a lot in informal communication (see above, in fact). But, like any other substitute term, it doesn't always work in every instance.


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pH unbalanced wrote:
I'm a huge proponent of singular "they," which never really left informal usage and is finally coming back into formal usage. For those who think it's confusing, I maintain that it is less confusing than "you" being used as both the singular and plural second person pronoun.

I'm afraid the data say -- or perhaps the data says -- that you're wrong in this. "They" actually drag people into the lab and measure things like reaction times to look at this stuff formally.

Shadow Lodge

Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber
Orfamay Quest wrote:
pH unbalanced wrote:
I'm a huge proponent of singular "they," which never really left informal usage and is finally coming back into formal usage. For those who think it's confusing, I maintain that it is less confusing than "you" being used as both the singular and plural second person pronoun.
I'm afraid the data say -- or perhaps the data says -- that you're wrong in this. "They" actually drag people into the lab and measure things like reaction times to look at this stuff formally.

I'd be interested in seeing that, if you've got a link handy. (I totally believe you, btw. My training is in linguistics so I'm genuinely interested.)

I'd be curious how processing time compares to untangling passive construction, which is the other way use of singular gender-specific prounouns is often avoided in technical writing.


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It's not so much about "legitimately offensive or dangerous" in this case as about the constant grinding reminder that you don't count. That you don't fit.

That's why "he or she" was introduced in the first place and why we struggled with renaming various positions so they weren't just "men". Not a matter of offense, but of inclusion.


pH unbalanced wrote:
Orfamay Quest wrote:


I'm afraid the data say -- or perhaps the data says -- that you're wrong in this. "They" actually drag people into the lab and measure things like reaction times to look at this stuff formally.

I'd be interested in seeing that, if you've got a link handy. (I totally believe you, btw. My training is in linguistics so I'm genuinely interested.)

Here is a sample of the research.

Community & Digital Content Director

Removed a series of posts. Folks, turning this thread into a heated debate devolving the legitimacy of the usage of trigger warnings is absolutely not OK. Also, there's no reason resort to personal attacks. If you truly feel there's an issue, flag the post or email community@paizo.com about it and move on.


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Careful, guys. Chris is about to bring down the...

*Puts on shaded goggles, granting a bonus on saves against gaze attacks but a penalty on sight based Perception checks*

...trigger lock.

Liberty's Edge

"He", I suppose. Because in my native language, the rule is to use the male pronoun for individuals unless the contrary is known, and for groups unless the clear majority is female (we also have male and female third person plural pronouns). As far as I know, there is no such rule in English, or one to the contrary, so in the absence of a rule I default to habit.


Orfamay Quest wrote:
mechaPoet wrote:


Salient points:
People already use the general singular they in the exact same way that people use "he or she" with no problem.

I don't believe that this is the case. Studies such as (Foertsch and Gernsbacher, 1997) have shown clear differences in both use and acceptability of "he or she" against "they," most particularly in so-called "referential contexts" where there is a clear antecedent of ambiguous gender. For example, "A sailor must keep his or her uniform clean at all times" is much more acceptable (and more common) than "A sailor must keep their uniform clean at all times." This is matched by similar studies on reading speed and comprehension -- the generic "they" is more likely to lead to confusion.

There is less of an effect in a nonreferential context, where the antecedent is a generic like "somebody" or "everybody."

I wonder if there's a regional differentiation, or perhaps generational. Because the "his or her" version sounds unwieldy to me, while the "their" version is my default writing style and matches the majority of what I read (primarily academic journal articles at the moment).


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Have we already talked about the Chaotic Evil Pronoun yet? What about the Lawful Good Pronoun? Are we also going to talk about Paladins and Anti-Paladins in relationship to these pronouns? And how are Druids involved with the Neutral Pronoun? What edition are we referring to when we are talking about these Pronouns?


Scythia wrote:


I wonder if there's a regional differentiation, or perhaps generational. Because the "his or her" version sounds unwieldy to me, while the "their" version is my default writing style and matches the majority of what I read (primarily academic journal articles at the moment).

Or perhaps idiolectal, which is a pretentious way of saying "different people talk different." Any or all of those are possibilities, which is why the pipe-smoking "armchair linguist" (cf. Fillmore) has fallen somewhat out of favor and is being replaced by corpus studies and/or psychology-style subject experiments.


Zahariel wrote:
"He", I suppose. Because in my native language, the rule is to use the male pronoun for individuals unless the contrary is known, and for groups unless the clear majority is female (we also have male and female third person plural pronouns). As far as I know, there is no such rule in English, or one to the contrary, so in the absence of a rule I default to habit.

Well, there's such a rule in English as well, but a lot of people have been pushing back against it. The thing about linguistic "rules" is that there's not actually a lot of enforcement mechanism except for the the little primary school grammar instructor in your head, and you don't actually follow "the rules," you typically just say (or write) what "sounds good' to you. Even when there's an official body like the Académie Française, they can't actually tell you what to say and not to say on the phone. And English, in particular, doesn't have such a body.

Linguists will talk about "linguistic prescriptivism," the concept that there are actually a set of rules that define acceptability and unacceptability, but usually with disdain. (The AF, specifically, is regarded as a particularly French joke.) What actually exists is a lot of social pressure to conform to the norms of your particular group, and at a larger level, to conform to the norms of the prestigious group in society (for example, to speak the Parisian dialect of French, which is the one taught in schools, even when everyone speaks Picard or Armorican at home).

And, yes, this can create tensions; someone who speaks "proper" (meaning "the prestige dialect") of their language too well or too often can be viewed as not fitting in, acting above their station, abandoning their culture, et cetera. John McWhorter has written extensively about this with regard to African-Americans and "acting white," which includes using Standard American English instead of African-American Vernacular English.

But even when there aren't dialectal differences in mind, you still get issues with "rules" not being followed because they aren't understood, because they don't really exist. One example is hypercorrection, where people are trying to sound proper and end up making mistakes. For example, "you and me" is corrected so often to "you and I" that people commonly say things like "They invited Sandy and I." Some dialects that drop 'h's (London Cockney is the most famous) will hypercorrect and add them when they don't belong -- " In 'Artford, 'Ereford, and 'Ampshire, 'urricanes 'ardly hever 'appen."

Silver Crusade

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Sharoth wrote:
Have we already talked about the Chaotic Evil Pronoun yet? What about the Lawful Good Pronoun? Are we also going to talk about Paladins and Anti-Paladins in relationship to these pronouns? And how are Druids involved with the Neutral Pronoun? What edition are we referring to when we are talking about these Pronouns?

I suspect that if a paladin used a neutral pronoun, they would fall.

(See what I did there?)


Celestial Healer wrote:
Sharoth wrote:
Have we already talked about the Chaotic Evil Pronoun yet? What about the Lawful Good Pronoun? Are we also going to talk about Paladins and Anti-Paladins in relationship to these pronouns? And how are Druids involved with the Neutral Pronoun? What edition are we referring to when we are talking about these Pronouns?

I suspect that if a paladin used a neutral pronoun, they would fall.

(See what I did there?)

BOOOOOO!!!

Paizo Employee Senior Editor

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Orfamay Quest wrote:
Scythia wrote:


I wonder if there's a regional differentiation, or perhaps generational. Because the "his or her" version sounds unwieldy to me, while the "their" version is my default writing style and matches the majority of what I read (primarily academic journal articles at the moment).
Or perhaps idiolectal, which is a pretentious way of saying "different people talk different." Any or all of those are possibilities, which is why the pipe-smoking "armchair linguist" (cf. Fillmore) has fallen somewhat out of favor and is being replaced by corpus studies and/or psychology-style subject experiments.

I'd be interested to see whether there's been any change in the 19 years since that study was published, given how much more time people now spend reading online content, which is much more "they"-friendly.


Judy Bauer wrote:
Orfamay Quest wrote:
Scythia wrote:


I wonder if there's a regional differentiation, or perhaps generational. Because the "his or her" version sounds unwieldy to me, while the "their" version is my default writing style and matches the majority of what I read (primarily academic journal articles at the moment).
Or perhaps idiolectal, which is a pretentious way of saying "different people talk different." Any or all of those are possibilities, which is why the pipe-smoking "armchair linguist" (cf. Fillmore) has fallen somewhat out of favor and is being replaced by corpus studies and/or psychology-style subject experiments.
I'd be interested to see whether there's been any change in the 19 years since that study was published, given how much more time people now spend reading online content, which is much more "they"-friendly.

I was wondering that too.


Kirth Gersen wrote:
pH unbalanced wrote:
I'm a huge proponent of singular "they," which never really left informal usage and is finally coming back into formal usage.
I use "they" a lot in informal communication (see above, in fact). But, like any other substitute term, it doesn't always work in every instance.

Can you give an example?

I can't think of one that couldn't be worked out given context.

Some languages don't even have pronouns and they seem to work out just fine.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Fairly recently, I read an article (the topic was actually Magic: the Gathering) and the author made mention of his partner, who prefers the gender-neutral pronoun "they". He also mentioned the general community of similar folks, also using the (in that case plural) pronoun "they".

There was a paragraph in which both (the partner and the community) were mentioned, and I thought the paragraph meant one thing, but then the next paragraph seemed weird, so I went back, and I had to re-read the previous paragraph a couple of times before I figured out what was actually being said.

So yes, plurality confusion really can happen with "they". Basically, all you have to do for it to be confusing is to be discussing a topic that references both an individual and a group. That's all it takes.

I've run into it as a speaker, as well: if I'm telling my wife a story about a funny thread here on the forums, I'll likely refer to a poster of unknown gender as "they", but then also refer to other posters in the thread collectively as "they", and I sometimes end up having to go back and re-phrase for clarity.

I don't have a superior suggestion, but some folks' notion that using "they" doesn't produce a meaningful amount of confusion is naïve at best.

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