Listen now | Language change is disruptive, disorienting and exciting — don't fear the singular "they."
As an extremely ordinary person, this hurt my head. Think I’ll nap now.
I suggest that to the extent it is possible to follow singular vs plural, use “they” with the singular conjugated verb if talking about 1 person. “They wants an appointment with the doctor”, leaves the mystery out of how many appointments the receptionist must make. This works only in limited verb tense situations, but at least it is some help.
I work with a nonbinary person on a big multi-team project and the they/them singular is always confusing. I keep thinking "one" would be a better pronoun, it easily takes the place of she/her/he/him without confusion, and it has recent usage "One does not simply walk into Mordor" So, why doesn't anyone recommend this? Doesn't it address the needs of both sides?
'You' is kind of a red herring. When you use 'you', you're addressing someone or some group directly. I.e., it's obvious whom you're addressing, so singular/plural you is almost never ambiguous.
I will admit, that the thing that pushes me over the deep end is the "70 pronouns to choose from" aspect of this political moment. I come from a time when gender politics meant "He" (or "She", for that matter) is (or should be) broad enough to encompass a 'feminine' man (or a 'masculine' woman). I.e., isn't it more radical (or liberating) for a non-binary person not to care what pronoun they're addressed by. Is it really more accurate to be purposely ambiguous.
"And so, tell each student that they can hand their paper in when they want to. " "And so, “a person can't help their birth,” that sort of thing." The reason this variety of singluar they works, is because the sentence is really referring to a group. "Students can hand their papers in when they want to." "People can't help their births."
I've been involved in all kinds of alternative communities all my life, and I land in enough intersectional overlaps that I almost have credability in the new order. I've celebrated "diversity" long before most of the kids grabbing on to this were born, (when being out could easily cost you beating that would be ignored) and what's happened to me - in no small part listening to you and Greg - is that I'm done with this version of the left.
What I know is that this is just another language change intentionally built as a hook for the Elect. Along with micro-aggressions for how some people hold their hands when they speak and not others, or the change in racism (now that almost everybody agrees it's a bad thing) to eliminate the actual belief in the inferiority of a race.
Sometimes the slippery slope, *is* slippery.
Great podcast, and really helpful to have the transcript as well. I've re-read it several times as I thought and re-thought through the issues. Many thanks
Oh, come on, change the verb too? Going too far.
Singular they verb agreement: I saw Roberta, they is in town?
You may be interested to know that you misgendered Roberta several times in this episode. Around 11:30 you say “I’ve just got this generic new they person and HER name is Roberta”. I deeply appreciate you explaining this topic to your base, but I feel that if this kind of slip up is happening, you may need to make a new non-binary character because you intuitively don’t seem to consider Roberta to be completely unfemale. Thank you Mr. McWhorter, I’m a great big fan.
"there are people who feel like they are neither male nor female... Why can't our pronouns catch up with that?"
I don't know, but I feel like you have danced all around the issue without quite hitting it. The issue is that I don't wish to validate a theory I find damaging by using its language. I also don't don't "feel" female, even though I am; and many, many people (often feminists, gays, and lesbians) don't "feel" like their sex. Gender nonconformity has existed forever without problematizing, medicalizing, or calling undue attention to it.
The new "they" implies not that this vast number of gender nonconforming people exist and are fine, but that some new, smaller, younger, more special group are gender nonconforming in ways that can't be reconciled or coped with in the old ways. This isn't true, and is damaging, as those who manage to live with intact bodies and keep their friends and find significant partners are better off than those who do otherwise. I don't wish to signal that I, too, reject and must "other" healthy normal gender nonconformity.
"we say “you” to one person and “you” to two or three... admit to yourself that sometimes it's even a little confusing."
But that "you" has become default singular, as evidenced by the fact that we tend to say "you guys" or something similar when we want plural.
Latinx: what's wrong with the gender neutral inclusive ENGLISH word latin to describe me?! I've been tilting at this windmill almost since I started learning English. I never understood how Latino/a became a word in English and trying very hard to make fetch, I mean, latin, happen.
About the Hindi second person singular pronoun (tuu) : Unlike English, it is still in use in an intimate or disrespectful register in the standard dialect. I think the singular more frequently used in Bollywood songs than the plural (tum)! (I haven't actually done a survey, but just thinking through the half dozen songs that came to my mind just now).
And then, there are some prestige dialects where the euphemism treadmill has consigned even the second person plural pronoun (tum) to disrespectful taboo -- these dialects use another pronoun completely -- etymologically the pronoun meaning "self" (aap). It is used with the verb conjugated more formally as the third person plural (aap hain) or less formally the second person plural (aap ho).
Yay, I kinda get it! Comparing the “they” issues to the “you” usage helped me see the light. I will spread the word, to the lot of them!
You say it's too hard to introduce a new pronoun, but is it *that* much harder than it was to introduce Ms. Took a while, but it is at least the 'right' part of speech. By the way, Roberta refers to themself parses perfectly naturally. It's not the gender-neutrality, it's the plurality. Roberta wants their hair washed, is only marginally awkward, because you're obviously speaking about a particular person - so their parses pretty neatly as "his or her". It gets more awkward when "they" is the subject when it's not obvious that you're talking about one person or more than one. I'd opt for just using Roberta's name in place of "they" - like you did in your sentence. I'm not opposed to gender-neutrality, just context ambiguity.
Very interesting stuff. I'm not as against the idea as some other people but I also think it's important to be thoughtful about it.