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Gender-neutral third person Pronoun

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Post originally by Karro at 2005-11-10 09:36:27
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One point I noticed while reading through this article is one that, at least the last I had noticed, had not been fully and satisfactorily settled by all writing and language experts, and this relates to the unavailability in the English language to a gender-neutral third person pronoun.

This particular topic interests me somewhat, because of the obvious utility of such a pronoun. While I've seen many different proposals over the years, one truth of language is that a word that isn't used by a the speakers of a language isn't a word in that language. For this reason, one word has come into very wide ciruclation and use as an appropriate gender-neutral third person singular pronoun that is already in use in the language, and that is the gender-neutral third person plural pronoun "they" and "their". Many language purists and experts disagree on its use, but there are others who recognize that if it is used that way in the language (and it widely is, these days), then it is clearly an acceptable usage. Since it fills a noticeable gap in the language, that boosts the argument for its acceptability. So, on that particular issue, I would at least like to point out that the Jury is still out, as it were.

One other note, while I'm still writing a reply. While I was not an English major in college, I do not recall studying either Strunk & Whites or the Chicago Manual of Style. In fact, we studied two completely different manuals of style, and were educated that these two were in fact the mainstream styles used, those being the APA and the MLA style formats. To be quite honest, I've never even heard of either Strunk & White or the Chicago style until I started reading your articles, and I've encountered virtually every other writer's source you've referenced. Can these two really be all that important and industry-standard if I've never heard of them, and never seen them mentioned in other writer's resources? Keep in mind, however, that I come from this not as a published writer or industry-insider, but as someone who has done some casual, independent research into the freelance writing industry (though never specifically for RPGs).
 
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Post originally by Kravell at 2005-11-10 12:04:21
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I have a degree in English. My college professors used Strunk and White and/or the Chicago Manual of Style in my classes. I own both and still use them. I have yet to have a query rejected due to grammar or writing errors. Rejected for not being the right idea at the right time yes, but not for writing errors.

I also spend a lot of time reading (and playing the RPGs)of publishers I want to pitch work to. Even if you master the basics of writing, you are unlikely to get published if you don't "appeal to the publisher's sense of fun and sense of finance." And you can't appeal if you don't have a sense of what the publisher likes to publish if you don't read work from that publisher.

I'm aware that I switched my POV from first person to second in the second parapraph and back again in this paragraph. I've decided I can break the rules now and then as long as I'm aware that I'm doing it!:)

Charlie
 
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Post originally by Karro at 2005-11-10 12:41:29
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To be perfectly fair to my original post, I mentioned nothing about switching POV, or the linguistic legality of doing so, and have no beef whatsoever with advise concerning this issue.

Nor do I see a direct correlation between recognizing a POV switch and ownership of either Strunk & Whites or the Chicago Manual of Style. The facts of good grammar are completely independent of whether those facts are clearly and logically presented in either of those books. Nor do I contest that those books may be well-written, clear, and logical. Having obviously encountered neither book, it would imprudent of me to make such a judgment.

I suppose, however, that it may depend simply on either where you receive your education, or whether your major is in English on whether you are required to read this book. (Hmm. It seems I'm familiar with switching POV as well, without ever having picked up the Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk & White's.) At any rate, my education was in Business, not English. While I have a soft spot in my heart for the English language and for languages in general, I realize that I cannot make any claims about it with any authority. In retrospect, my selection of education has led to my employ in a much more boring field of enterprise, at least for the time being, but I characteristicaly value the security within that field.

Which, all in all, has nothing to do with the point I was originally more interested in, and that is the general adoption of the words "they" and "their" but speakers of English at large as their gender-neutral third person pronoun of choice, when "he", "she", "his", "hers", "it", and "its" simply will not do. It is a well-recognize gap in the language which comes up with noticeable frequency both in spoken and written communication. I'll not posit here that "they" and "their" is considered universally acceptable--far from it, I'm sure--but I'm not entirely sure it is appropriate at this point to continually hammer on about the innappropriate use of the word in this context when even the experts appear to disagree.

Anyway, I suppose I'll have to find myself a copy of Strunk & Whites or the Chicago Manual of Style sometime, just to see what all the fuss is about. That is, assuming copies can be had for a reasonable price.
 
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Post originally by Clausewitz2 at 2005-11-10 12:45:31
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I'm not familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style, but I am familiar with Strunk and White.

Unfortunately.

Strunk and White's Elements of Style is a preposterous, inane, and utterly useless set of prescriptions for the English language with no basis in the usage of actual speakers or writers of English at any point in the history of the language. In other words, it's utter bollocks, and if you follow its advice over your own innate sense of how English should be written, you should hang your head in shame. Spelling is one thing; it's an arbitrary convention, but one that should be followed for clarity's sake. Saying that you can't begin sentences with "however," or that adjectives are bad is another (and much stupider) thing entirely.

The eminent linguists over at Language Log hate Strunk and White to death. In the words of Geoffrey K. Pullum, one of the co-authors of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Elements of Style is a "poisonous little collection of bad grammatical advice." Browse some of their posts on the topic at some point; they'll amuse you if you're interested in how real professionals actually study and think about language. A pretty representative one is here: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/%7Emyl/languagelog/archives/001803.html

enjoy.
 
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Post originally by Karro at 2005-11-10 12:57:21
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Hmm. Interesting to get a counter-point to the columnist's own praise of the book. I have heard tell, once, of a strange grammatical convention that held that the use of adjectives was incorrect, which of course is preposterous. If adjectives were so banal, why would our language make such prodigious use of them? But, again, thanks for the counter-point.

Now, I think I'll make this more explicit: Does anybody have any thoughts on the adoption of "they" and "their" as a gender-neutral pronoun? This is, after all, the topic about which I am more particularly interested, and the one which originally motivated my post. Or am I going to have to take my thoughts over to a ~linguistics~ board to get any thoughts on this topic?
 
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Post originally by Clausewitz2 at 2005-11-10 13:09:57
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It's been pretty common practice to use they and their as a gender netural pronoun for the past 20 years, at the very least. The only decently high-register alternative that you can use without looking quite silly is "he or she," but that is somewhat cumbersome, and I suspect that ordinary usage prefers they and their. That's a question for actual quantitative research, though, and I'm a psycholinguist, not a corpus linguist.
 
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Post originally by Karro at 2005-11-10 14:06:29
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I didn't realize it's been common for quite so long, although I knew it was not too recent an innovation. Still, it seems that language purists to this day will harp on the usage as being improper, the reference in the present article being a case in point.

So how long does a convention have to be in use before a purist is forced to relent and concede that a particular term is firmly entrenched in the popular vernacular and must now be considered a legitimate usage?
 
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Post originally by Darrin Bright at 2005-11-10 14:36:20
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Karro wrote:
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> Does anybody have any thoughts on the adoption of "they" and "their" as a gender-neutral pronoun?

It's entered common usage as far as casual conversation/correspondence, but it's acceptance at the editorial level is still pretty rare... it all depends entirely on the editor and the publication as far as what's acceptable.

Regarding RPG publishers... SJGames uses "he", and "they" is specifically verbotten according to their style guidelines. WotC and Dragon/Paizo makes no mention of gender neutral pronouns in their submission guidelines, but from what I've seen in the current stable of 3.5 hardbacks is they use the White Wolf convention... that is, they encourage switching back and forth from "he" to "she", and avoid using "they/their" unless specifically referring to a plural.

So, in essense... while everyone may _talk_ with "they/their" as gender neutral pronouns, very few professional writers/editors _write_ that way.

Yes, I know, all of you descriptive grammarians out there are screaming "fascist!" and "oppression!", but while I agree that grammer should not be prescriptive, a writer's job is to get his work in print, not to reeducate the editors of the world. Letteth thine own language taketh care of it's grammar thusly in it's own tyme. It'll change, just takes time.
 
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Post originally by Lloyd Brown at 2005-11-10 16:03:28
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On Strunk & White: it's not critical that you have this style guide. It's very helpful to have *a* style guide, and these two are most recommended. Yes, they do contradict each other. My father was a newpaper editor until he retired last year, so I have access to a wide variety of reference materials.

In an ideal world, RPG publishers would provide us with their own style preferences. See, the larger ones actually do have college-educated editors who are familiar with one or more of these style guides, but that information doesn't always make it to the brief submission guidelines you find on websites. Hence, I urge writers to be prepared for the most likely scenarios. You might not know a publisher's preferences until you see the book released and see what changes they made (which is why I always recommend asking in advance).

Gender-neutral third person pronoun: I'd be perfectly happy using the French *on*. Until all of my readers recognize it, however, I'm stuck using the conventions of the publisher for whom I write. Some like "his or her", some just "him." Some use "him" for odd chapters and "her" for even chapters (true story). Again, I recommend checking an existing title or asking the editor with whom you work.
 
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Post originally by Clausewitz2 at 2005-11-11 00:35:44
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I certainly do agree with you, on a practical level. If the powers that be demand that you hop on one foot and sing God Save the Queen backwards to get published, then you'd darn well better get to hoppin' if you want to get published.

Doesn't prevent it from being quite silly, and it certainly doesn't make using "they" and actual "misuse" of language as the original article mischaracterized another utterly unobjectionable usage.

Oh, and a last note: descriptive linguists include pretty much every professional linguist in the world. It's not controversial or in any way related to the 60s, the mad rantings of David Foster Wallace aside. It's been the professional approach to studying language since Bloomfield and the American structuralists realized that Native American languages were pretty weird back in the 20s.
 
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