QUEER VOICES
10/10/2013 11:31 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Are Gender-Neutral Pronouns Actually Doomed?

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Dennis Baron calls it the word that failed.

Baron, a professor of linguistics at the University of Illinois, has been monitoring the development of epicene—that is, gender-neutral, third-person singular pronouns—since the 1986 publication of his book Grammar and Gender. He keeps a list tracking the introduction of new epicene pronouns in English and has counted dozens, with the first documented in 1850—most of those being proposed by writers who took grammatical issue with, say, the singular “they.”

“They were the ones I found from the 19th century, when a rationale was given for them, it was a grammatical one rather than an issue of social equality or social justice,” Baron says.

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