Welcome to Pellissippi Parkway's Language Chat

The Pellissippi Parkway was built to accomodate the burgeoning technical and academic institutions' growth in the corridor between Oak Ridge and Knoxville [or Ktown, or Knoxburg, or other things...]. It's an appropriate name for a semi-learned forum on things relating to the technical use of language.

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As I said back on the main page, "they" as the non-specific, genderless, English pronoun has a long and honorable history in English literary usage. It does. Jane Austen did it all the time: And here are some examples from other writers: The Oxford English Dictionary and Webster's Unabridged enter as definition no. 2 of 'they':
"Often used in reference to a singular noun made universal by every, any, no, etc., or applicable to one of either sex (=`he or she')."
So the authoritative dictionaries already recognize that in 'they', English has BOTH (1) a plural pronoun and (2) a specific-reference-free singular pronoun. 'Specific reference free' means that we use it, and have used it for centuries, to indicate that the person it refers to is no particular person we have in mind. (That, of course, makes it the perfect gender-neutral pronoun as well.) (And don't argue that one pronoun can't do double duty: 'you' does. Heck, 'you' doesn't even decline: it's singular, plural, subject, object, all in one.) Here are the examples the OED lists: I'm going to quote Geoffrey Pullum (Professor of Linguistics at UCSB) from one of his Language Log postings (find the whole thing here) on the subject for what I hope will be the final word:
By all means, avoid using they with singular antecedents in your own writing and speaking if you feel you cannot bear it. Language Log is not here to tell you how to write or speak. But don't try to tell us that it's grammatically incorrect. Because when a construction is clearly present several times in Shakespeare's rightly admired plays and poems, and occurs in the carefully prepared published work of just about all major writers down the centuries, and is systematically present in the unreflecting conversational usage of just about everyone including Sean Lennon, then the claim that it is ungrammatical begins to look utterly unsustainable to us here at Language Log Plaza. This use of theyisn't ungrammatical, it isn't a mistake, it's a feature of ordinary English syntax that for some reason attracts the ire of particularly puristic pusillanimous pontificators, and we don't buy what they're selling.

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