That’s What Zhe Said: As Genders Blur, Language is Rapidly Adapting

Call me Ms. Anthony-Gardner or Mx Anthony-Gardner. I'm ready to give up "he or she" for singular "they". How about you?

On January 8 the American Dialect Society announced “they” as its 2015 Word of the Year. ... it won because of the way it’s being now applied as a gender-neutral, singular form that can be applied to either sex.

... there’s a similar movement to introduce a courtesy title that doesn’t specify sex at all: the gender-neutral “Mx.” (pronounced like “mix”).

Linguists call pronouns that can apply to either sex epicene pronouns. Some other languages already have such pronouns. Chinese, for example, uses the neutral third-person form “ta” in speech.

In English, many have suggested a third-person form that’s neither masculine nor feminine. One, of course, is the cumbersome “he or she” construction. (“If anyone wants to sign up, he or she must…”) Other novel pronoun forms that have been proposed include the words “ze,” “xe,” “zhe” and “per.”

The use of “they” as a singular is actually nothing new: it’s appeared in the works of Austen, Dickens – even Shakespeare.

Today the singular “they” is quite widespread in speech. (“Everyone was trying to check their phone.”) One sign of how widely this change has been embraced is Facebook’s announcement in 2014 that their site would begin using “they” to refer to an individual friend (“tell them Happy Birthday”).

But even in more formal writing, the singular “they” is taking hold. Recently, the style guide editors of The Washington Post officially adopted the use of “they” as a gender-neutral third-person singular form.

Because gender fluidity has become more discussed and accepted,...there is a need to let go of words that match only a single type of human.

As word choices and identity choices become more flexible, speakers can refer to someone without categorizing them. The singular “they” has worked that way for a long time. “Mx.” will allow speakers a courteous way to perform this same function in the future.

Original image source [Labels mine]

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