It's a relative pronoun, though I see no problem with using 'that' for people. (British English speaker)
A colleague of mine refers to people this way, "Anyone 'that' would like to attend..." rather than saying, "Anyone 'WHO' would like to attend...". I find this annoying, refering to people as inanimate objects. One would not say, "I found one seashell 'WHO' was different from all the rest." How can I explain this? What part of speech is this and why do we consider it wrong?
I second what the other posters have said. There is nothing wrong with using "that" to refer to a person. It's not derogatory, and it's not impolite. I'll let Google help me find a few uses of it.
Results 1 - 10 of about 237,000,000 for the man that.It's been used that way for a while. See:
the man that - Google Search
Results 1 - 10 of about 396,000 for "the man that".
"the man that" - Google Search
Last edited by RonBee; 15-Jun-2008 at 23:48. Reason: punctuation