Re: They WAS Re: Odd orthography)
|From:||Tom Wier <artabanos@...>|
|Date:||Friday, September 25, 1998, 4:22|
Peter Clark wrote:
> ---Steg Belsky <draqonfayir@...> wrote:
> > Talking about the gender-neutral "they", sometimes i find myself
> > accidentally using it as a *singular* neutral pronoun, complete with
> > singular-thirdperson verb conjugation, and sometimes pausing in the
> > middle of a sentence with a singular subject in order to "pluralize"
> > by continuing using "they".
> I don't use this accidentally; I frequently use "they" as a third
> person singular. For instance:
> "If someone wants me, they can find me in the library."
> Actually, that might not be a good example, as some might argue that
> "someone" could function as a plural. How 'bout:
> "If you go to the doctor, they can prescribe you some medicine."
> That's good enough, I think. Although would I ever use the third
> person verbal conjugation? No, I can't think of an instance where it
> would sound right to use a verb that marks the third person (for
> examples, walks) with "they".
> If I'm not mistaken, there is some historical precidence for this
> usage. (Old English experts?)
Yes, actually, it goes back at least some several hundred years,
though I don't know exactly how far back (Ray, you know?).
As for "someone", normal nonprescriptive English grammar would say
that it's singular: considering that I find it unlikely that any native speaker
here would say *"Do someone have my pen?" or something along those lines
(of course, it's also singular historically, even transparently: it was formed
with "some" + "one"). In the above sentence, "they" is no more being used
in the plural than any other regularly recognized singular pronoun is.
I think the best thing to do at this point in the language
is to do what the Germans did with "sie/Sie" by officially recognizing
"they [3p plural pronoun]" and "they [3p gender indeterminate singular
pronoun" as separate entities (noting of course that the singular "they"
would not use the -s ending*). We might remember the historical connection
between the two, but I'm not certain that at this point in the language that
*(Note that it's not all that strange for the indeterminate form not to agree with
the rest of the other 3p pronouns; cf. German "you [formal] go" = "Sie gehen"
which is identical to "they go" = "sie gehen", where "Sie" does not conform
either to singular *or* plural forms for the second person, respectively: "du
gehst" and "ihr geht")
Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
ICQ#: 4315704 AIM: Deuterotom
"Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero."
We look at [the Tao], and do not see it;
Its name is the Invisible.
- Lao Tsu, _Tao Te Ching_
Nature is wont to hide herself.