Re: Translating and Inclusive Language

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Thu Sep 04 1997 - 21:59:59 EDT

At 11:10 97/09/04 -0400, Nichael Cramer wrote:
>McKay family wrote:
>> 4th september, 1997
>> Mark comments:
>> The enormous problem is of course the lack of an
>> > inclusive word in English to render him / her etc.
>> 'Whoever has ears to hear, let THEM hear' etc. ... at
>> > least [it's] proper English. [paraphrased Metzger]
>> But is this proper English?
>> I cringe at the disagreement between the first clause and the second.
>A teacher once framed this issue as a choice between getting the number
>wrong and getting the gender wrong. In short, you're going to be wrong
>one way or the other.
>The real problem, of course, is that there simply _isn't_ a way to say this
>in grammatical English.

And several other suggestions have been posted to the list, including in
particular the form "s/he" for the nominative. One not so far mentioned
which I have seen in some journals that cross my desk is the use of the
feminine singular forms as being gender-inclusive for male or female - the
logic of course being that men should accept this just like they have been
expecting women to accept the use of male pronouns as gender-inclusive.

At one stage I dallied with the idea of starting with the gender-inclusive
plurals "they, them, their", and arriving at a gender-inclusive singular by
removing the "t", thus: "hey, hem, heir". I still think this is quite a
good idea, but there might be a certain amount of confusion generated by
ambiguities while the new word forms are gaining acceptance.

I have now decided that the simplest and clearest solution is simply
staring me in the face: accept "they, them, their, theirs" as being
singulars as well as plurals (in exactly the same way that we accept "you"
etc. as being both singular and plural), and use these forms when you want
to say "he/she", "him/her", etc. The possibility of ambiguity about
"singular" or "plural" will exist for this, as indeed it does when "you" is
used, but in each such instance the context can be so constructed as to
indicate whether singular or plural is intended.

So this is what I am doing in my writings now. And if someone wishes to say
to me, You are using incorrect grammar saying "they/them" when the referent
is singular, I reply, Not at all, I am using these words as a
gender-inclusive singular.

When we use "they/them/their" as a singular, the meaning is crystal clear.
So, if our choice is between getting the grammar wrong, and getting the
gender wrong, let us change the usage of grammar to suit our needs. After
all, is grammar the servant or the master of our needs in communication?

A thought.


Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International):
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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