Choosing the Singular They (Explorations of Style, 27 May 2015)
The above post just got me to wonder why I have such a qualm against the singular they. Since I was first introduced to it (in the summer of 1999 in Leicester – yes, it was so outrageous that I still remember!), I have been trying to get used to it to no avail. Why can’t I stomach this one? After all, I did use the feminine singular nous in my DEA dissertation. And I am okay with the royal we, too.
My working hypothesis (as in analytic induction) is that the reluctance has something to do with what I call ‘native lingual licence‘, or the absence of it in my case. What I mean by the term I’ve invented is that, similar to the notion of artistic licence, there is room allowed for native speakers of a language to be creative about its use. Non-native speakers on the other hand adhere to the grammatical norms a little more strictly because they don’t want to be understood as making errors when they are in fact consciously bending the norms. Or to invoke Derrida again, native speakers are the dominant pole in the binary opposition and non-native speakers are those expected to justify and defend their choices. In such a context, it would be natural for the latter to shy away from controversial practices.
But then it might be just me.
+ (a year later) Now, this has eased my mind. ❤️
RT @kcsaff Next time someone complains about singular “they” I’ll point them to this [18th] century rant against singular “you” (19 June 2016)
(Source according to the contributor: “The history of the life of Thomas Ellwood, apparently published posthumously in 1714”)