Prentiss Riddle: Language

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"Under God" is not rees only beef, re also wants us to get our pronouns from erm

Mike Newdow, the guy behind the Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit, is a gender-neutral pronouns nut. In a profile in the New York Times he used his 15 minutes of fame to rant about two things: child custody and the need to replace English's gender-biased pronouns with neutral ones.

I'm certainly with him that in an ideal world, English would permit one to gracefully be ambiguous about gender in ordinary speech, as do many other languages (for instance, Chinese). But language planners have been tilting at this particular linguistic windmill at least since 1850 with little success. There have been dozens of attempts to introduce "epicene pronouns" (as they're called) into English, but English hasn't budged.

A bit of review. Standard English has five pronouns for four gender/number combinations:

      Subject                 he      she     it      they
      Object                  him     her     it      them
      Possessive Adjective    his     her     its     their 
      Possessive Pronoun      his     hers    its     theirs
      Reflexive               himself herself itself  themselves
Reformers have often looked at the he and she columns and proposed a new set of singular pronouns for animate objects which would not require the speaker to indicate a gender. The Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ lists 145 different forms in over 340 schemes, from "ae" to "zirself". Newdow's preferred scheme of "re/erm/rees" isn't even listed. A few examples:
                              1850      1970    ?       Newdow
      Subject                 hiser     co      sie     re
      Object                  hiser     co      hir     erm
      Possessive Adjective    hiser     cos     hir     rees
      Possessive Pronoun      hisers    cos     hirs    rees
      Reflexive               hiserself coself  hirself reeself

Supposedly the "co/co/cos/cos/coself" scheme had some actual use among alternative co-opers in the 1970's and occasionally some of the other schemes are used in written discussion on the Net. Otherwise, all these would-be language planners have been spinning their wheels.

And this is what the most famous atheist du jour chooses to promote during his moment in the Times! Hell, even an enthusiasm for Esperanto or Klingon can be cast as a simple hobby. Why must all atheists in the public eye be cranks?

language 2002.07.03 link
/ Usenet thread