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Thread: Generalization


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    #11

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    riverkid, would you please refrain from making talking about people being "wed to old prescriptions" and other, similar, accusations? It doesn't help the debate and merely irritates people.
    I suspect that it does irritate the old prescriptivists, Rewboss, but a spade is a spade.

    In the first quote we even have an old prescriptivist who has seen the light. Read on, Sire.

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    Using the plural pronoun to refer to a single person of unspecified gender is an old and honorable pattern in English, not a newfangled bit of degeneracy or a politically correct plot to avoid sexism (though it often serves the latter purpose). People who insist that “Everyone has brought his own lunch” is the only correct form do not reflect the usage of centuries of fine writers.

    they/their (singular)

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    Singular "their" in Jane Austen and elsewhere: Anti-pedantry page

    These files contain a list of over 75 occurrences of the words "they"/"their"/"them"/"themselves" referring to a singular antecedent with indefinite or generic meaning in Jane Austen's writings (mainly in her six novels), as well as further examples of singular "their" etc. from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and elsewhere. While your high-school English teacher may have told you not to use this construction, it actually dates back to at least the 14th century, and was used by the following authors (among others) in addition to Jane Austen: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, the King James Bible, The Spectator, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Frances Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Fielding, Maria Edgeworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot [Mary Anne Evans], Charles Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, W. H. Auden, Lord Dunsany, George Orwell, and C. S. Lewis.

    Singular "their" etc., was an accepted part of the English language before the 18th-century grammarians started making arbitrary judgements as to what is "good English" and "bad English", based on a kind of pseudo-"logic" deduced from the Latin language, that has nothing whatever to do with English. (See the 1975 journal article by Anne Bodine in the bibliography.) And even after the old-line grammarians put it under their ban, this anathematized singular "their" construction never stopped being used by English-speakers, both orally and by serious literary writers. So it's time for anyone who still thinks that singular "their" is so-called "bad grammar" to get rid of their prejudices and pedantry!

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  1. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #12

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    I suspect that it does irritate the old prescriptivists, Rewboss, but a spade is a spade.

    In the first quote we even have an old prescriptivist who has seen the light. Read on, Sire.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Using the plural pronoun to refer to a single person of unspecified gender is an old and honorable pattern in English, not a newfangled bit of degeneracy or a politically correct plot to avoid sexism (though it often serves the latter purpose). People who insist that “Everyone has brought his own lunch” is the only correct form do not reflect the usage of centuries of fine writers.

    they/their (singular)

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++


    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Singular "their" in Jane Austen and elsewhere: Anti-pedantry page

    These files contain a list of over 75 occurrences of the words "they"/"their"/"them"/"themselves" referring to a singular antecedent with indefinite or generic meaning in Jane Austen's writings (mainly in her six novels), as well as further examples of singular "their" etc. from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and elsewhere. While your high-school English teacher may have told you not to use this construction, it actually dates back to at least the 14th century, and was used by the following authors (among others) in addition to Jane Austen: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, the King James Bible, The Spectator, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Frances Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Fielding, Maria Edgeworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot [Mary Anne Evans], Charles Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, W. H. Auden, Lord Dunsany, George Orwell, and C. S. Lewis.

    Singular "their" etc., was an accepted part of the English language before the 18th-century grammarians started making arbitrary judgements as to what is "good English" and "bad English", based on a kind of pseudo-"logic" deduced from the Latin language, that has nothing whatever to do with English. (See the 1975 journal article by Anne Bodine in the bibliography.) And even after the old-line grammarians put it under their ban, this anathematized singular "their" construction never stopped being used by English-speakers, both orally and by serious literary writers. So it's time for anyone who still thinks that singular "their" is so-called "bad grammar" to get rid of their prejudices and pedantry!

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    So are all the uses of Shakespeare acceptable today? How about Chaucer?

    This is an example of a descrptivist saying that the language can never change. Sort of a role reversal.

  2. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #13

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    MikeNewYork: I have to disagree with you here:

    Rewboss wrote: But today, this is now seen to be sexist and unfair: you should always avoid the generic "he". There are various ways of doing this, and one of them is to use the pronoun "they" with a plural verb, but with a singular meaning. It doesn't always work ("A student must do their homework" is ambiguous in meaning, for example), but this sentence would work: Each teacher must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school.

    Mike:There are certainly many people who agree with you about the generic "he", but many do not. Many people, including me, object more to the singular "they" than to the generic "he". I agree that one should learn alternatives to both and then use what is more comfortable for one.


    It's amazing, Mike, how 'many people' can accept the illogical 'he' as being descriptive of both genders but they just can't seem to accept gender neutral 'they'. These same folk have no problem with 'you' being both singular and plural. That's hardly seems the definition of rationality.

    Mike: I am not fond of "Each teacher must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school" because "Each" is singular. One could, however, put this sentence in the plural: All teachers must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school. That solves all of the problems.

    English is full of notional plurality and it isn't at all difficult to make the mental switch. It's done all the time by people who aren't wed to old prescriptions. Clearly, the meaning of 'each teacher' is not singular. It means, "each of these teachers".

    Is 'each teacher' really singular?

    Each teacher must have the right qualifications if he wants to work at this school. His qualifications are reviewed by the ... ."

    Hardly the logical progression that one would expect from this 'singular'.

    This is another 'rule' that was never a rule. Sometime, about 300 or so years ago, some wag wrote another prescription that was almost never followed by people using language in a natural way.




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    http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/1994_01_24_thenewrepublic.html

    Sometimes an alleged grammatical "error" is logical not only in the sense of "rational," but in the sense of respecting distinctions made by the logician. Consider this alleged barbarism:

    Everyone returned to their seats.

    If anyone calls, tell them I can't come to the phone. No one should have to sell their home to pay for medical care. The mavens explain: [everyone] means [every one], a singular subject, which may not serve as the antecedent of a plural pronoun like [them] later in the sentence. "Everyone returned to [his] seat," they insist. "If anyone calls, tell [him] I can't come to the phone."

    If you were the target of these lessons, you might be getting a bit uncomfortable. [Everyone returned to his seat] makes it sound like Bruce Springsteen was discovered during intermission to be in the audience, and everyone rushed back and converged on his seat to await an autograph. If there is a good chance that a caller may be female, it is odd to ask one's roommate to tell [him] anything (even if you are not among the people who get upset about "sexist language"). Such feelings of disquiet -- a red flag to any serious linguist -- are well-founded. The logical point that everyone but the language mavens intuitively grasps is that [everyone] and [they] are not an antecedent and a pronoun referring to the same person in the world, which would force them to agree in number. They are a "quantifier" and a "bound variable," a different logical relationship. [Everyone returned to their seats] means "For all X, X returned to X's seat." The "X" is simply a placeholder that keeps track of the roles that players play across different relationships: the X that comes back to a seat is the same X that owns the seat that X comes back to.

    The [their] there does not, in fact, have plural number, because it refers neither to one thing nor to many things; it does not refer at all. On logical grounds, then, variables are not the same thing as the more familiar "referential" pronouns that trigger agreement ([he] meaning to some particular guy, [they] meaning some particular bunch of guys).

    Some languages are considerate and offer their speakers different words for referential pronouns and for variables. But English is stingy; a referential pronoun must be drafted into service to lend its name when a speaker needs to use a variable. There is no reason that the vernacular decision to borrow [they, their, them] for the task is any worse than the prescriptivists' recommendation of [he, him, his]. Indeed, [they] has the advantage of embracing both sexes and feeling right in a wider variety of sentences.
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    And you, of course, are also entitled to your opinion.

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    #14

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    In making a generalization, I believe that we can use either "a"(an) or plural forms. In the following sentences, are both accepted and correct in generalizing things in the sentences?
    a) He treats them as if they were a child.
    b) He treats them as if they were children.
    As far as I can see, the original question has been answered, and interesting additional material has been provided.

    General discussions can be continued in the Language Discussions forum.

    All the best,

    MrP

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    #15

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by MrPedantic View Post
    As far as I can see, the original question has been answered, and interesting additional material has been provided.

    General discussions can be continued in the Language Discussions forum.

    All the best,

    MrP
    Good point!

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    #16

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    I suspect that it does irritate the old prescriptivists, Rewboss, but a spade is a spade.

    In the first quote we even have an old prescriptivist who has seen the light. Read on, Sire.
    Please stop this- it's carping and sniping, not discussing. If you suspect it irritates people, why do it?

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