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  1. #1
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    Default order of subject pronouns

    hi,

    is there a specific reason for the known order of pronouns? why is it "he-she-it"? also, in german, it is der-die-das. why does the masculine come first? ( I wonder if there is a language with the feminine form first )

  2. #2
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    It's nothing to do with the language itself, just the way that people describe the language. It just happens to be the order people usually write down the third person pronouns by convention. If there is a reason, it's that in former times, men were considered more important than women.

    It's helpful to have a convention like this, because it avoids confusion. I wish there was a convention like this for listing cases -- one of the confusing things about learning German is that grammar books written for English speakers always list the cases in the order nominative, accusative, genitive and dative, but German grammar books always list them nominative, genitive, dative and accusative -- and then most Germans don't use the Latin names at all, but call them "first case", "second case", "third case" and "fourth case".

    There's no reason at all why genders and cases should be listed in any particular order. But it would be very helpful if everybody could agree on one convention and stick to it.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    In addition, way back in the day, it was common that only boys/men went to school; girls/women did not. Given the student body was 100% male, it stood to reason, at the time, that he, or rather the pronoun that refers to the male gender of the species, to be listed before [i]she[/u]. Similarly, most texts used (generic) he for that very same reason. The assumption being, again, that the audience, in this case the readers, were men. (How odd is would have been - for the reader of that time - if she appeared in a text). As for the reason "it" comes last, well, humans were deemed more important than animals and objects. With regards to languages that house a different pronominal order, one need only search for cultures were the tables are turned;i.e., where the audience is predominantly female. There are, in fact, some languages in which there isn't a distinction at all. There's just the one pronoun, X, if you will, that represents both male and female gender.

    In my classroom, I've a habit of writing:

    I
    you
    s/he <short for she and he, he and she>
    it

  4. #4
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    When we say that in earlier times there were only male students and perhaps that's why 'he' precedes 'she' (though seems a rather logical explanation), aren't we ignoring the ages BC when there were no formal schools but perhaps just home schooling. I'm sure there were enough girls around to be taken into consideration.
    If we go back to the language, perhaps it is easiser to say 'he-she' than 'she-he', the latter has a kind of pronunciation difficulty I guess. Perhaps the same thing applies to German. But since I don't know the case in other languages, I can't make a generalization.
    Still, what is said so far, reminds me of Vygotsky. He asks whether language affects, or rather creates thought, or vice versa.
    P.S. I just thought of a new culture whose language puts 'you' before 'I'. Wouldn't it be a complete change in the way we perceive the universe?

  5. #5
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    Light! Long-time-no-see.

    Quote Originally Posted by light
    When we say that in earlier times there were only male students and perhaps that's why 'he' precedes 'she' (though seems a rather logical explanation), aren't we ignoring the ages BC when there were no formal schools but perhaps just home schooling.
    That's a very good point, light. Consider, though, that verb paradigms, the very same template we use today, date back to Greek and Latin.

    Quote Originally Posted by light
    If we go back to the language, perhaps it is easier to say 'he-she' than 'she-he', the latter has a kind of pronunciation difficulty I guess.
    Interesting angle, and a good argument for maintaining the historical order - for the benefit of speakers who have difficulty pronouncing "she"; e.g., Chinese, Japanese speakers of English). However, native English speakers don't seem to share that problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by light
    Still, what is said so far, reminds me of Vygotsky. He asks whether language affects, or rather creates thought, or vice versa.
    Like, for example, how would the male gender of the species feel if every 3rd person singular pronoun ever written and continued to be written were "she"? Would that have an effect on the way they saw themselves as well as their role in society?

    Quote Originally Posted by light
    I just thought of a new culture whose language puts 'you' before 'I'. Wouldn't it be a complete change in the way we perceive the universe?
    Kwel! And what about subject-drop languages, like Japanese? I never know who's referring to whom? There're also languages that have a 4th person pronoun.

    Personally, I'd like to see "We" first.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    Quote Originally Posted by light
    If we go back to the language, perhaps it is easiser to say 'he-she' than 'she-he', the latter has a kind of pronunciation difficulty I guess.
    But what of "il-elle" (French), "on-ona" (Russian), "er-sie" (German) or "e-hi" (Welsh)?

  7. #7
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    It's all very il on ere, that historical order.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss
    But what of "il-elle" (French), "on-ona" (Russian), "er-sie" (German) or "e-hi" (Welsh)?
    Well, don't these still support the idea that masculin comes first 'cos it is easier? il-elle is easier than the other way around; and er-sie-es sounds the easiest way to pronunce, at least for me.
    Casiopea, thank you for your comments.
    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea
    Personally, I'd like to see "We" first.
    Personally, I'd like to see "They" first. A little bit altruism won't do any harm.
    Everybody is saying "we" first, and look at the state of humankind

  9. #9
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    I thought we were saying 'I' first.

  10. #10
    smelvanzq is offline Member
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    Default Re: order of subject pronouns

    Hello! May I know what is your citizenship and age? I envy all of you for your fluency in english.

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