"Hu," from "human," as a pronoun

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Mike Epstein

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In our class on the future of the humanities (at Emory) we are using "hu",
a clipping from "human", as a 3rd person gender-neutral pronoun. It is
pronounced [hju:], like "hu" in "human". Its brevity and morphological
structure (one open syllable: a consonant + a vowel) make it similar to
other personal pronouns -- a typical, easily recognizable member of this
class: he - she - hu. It is truly neutral and has no artificial flavor, as some
other candidates to the rank of a NEW PRONOUN, such as "o, et, han, na,"
etc. The motivation -- the genderless HUman--is always implied in "hu"'s
usage. "Hu" belongs to the category of back-clippings, in which an element
or elements are taken from the end of a word: flu (influenza) lab(oratory),
math(ematics), ad(vertisement), piano(forte), and condo(minium). Endings
with an open syllable, like in "hu", are ordinary in such clippings as flu,
piano, condo...

As a sound pattern, "hu" is closest to the only other genderless, singular,
person-related English pronoun: the interrogative "who". Both pronouns are
naturally drawn to each other by rhyming and communicational contexts, as
a question and the answer: [hu:]? - [hju:]. "Hu" designates precisely that
generic, un-gendered HUman to whom the question "who?" is addressed.
Thus the answer is prompted by the question itself. Who? - Hu.

The derivative forms of "hu": reflexive "huself," [ [hju:self], possessive
"hu's" [hju:z], and objective "hu'm" [hju:m]. At the first stages of usage, an
apostrophe may be inserted to clarify the pronunciation, but then (') may
be conveniently dropped, as there is no "hus" in English, and it's difficult
to confuse contextually "hu'm" with "hum" [ham] (murmuring sound).

Examples:

Anyone who believes that hu has a conflict of interests should not serve as
an investigator.

When the lecturer arrives, hu will be speaking on the topic of anonymity.

An employee may choose to cover only huself and hu's child or any number
of children.

If a person introduces huself to you using hu's patronymic, use it to
address hu'm as a sign of respect.

The vice-president shall support the president and take the place when hu
is in absence.

* * *
How does it sound to you? Ready to use it? Any pros and contras?

Mike Epstein
 

Red5

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Interesting. ;-)
 

Casiopea

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Mike, that's really cool!

Years ago when I was a grad student in the faculty of linguistics, we joked about changing he/she to [i:slae'shi], a kind of Bronx, if you will, slang. As I mentioned, we joked about it--it being a heated debate amongst theoretical linguists at the time.

I know there's been a great deal written on the subject since then. But way back in the days, I remember [hju] was rejected down right, given its semantic association to a male first name: "Hugh" [hju] :wink:

By the way, what's wrong with using 'their' instead of s/he? It's economical: It's already in the system. Native speakers use it. The pronoun [hju], on the other hand, posses problems (i.e. the homophonous forms "who", "hu", and, lest we forget the ever present real human "Hugh").

Adopting [hju] is interesting but, in terms of how systems work, it's not very economical. It adds more problems than solutions.

All the best,

Cas (Hughman) :)
 
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Mike Epstein

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Casiopea said:
Mike, that's really cool!
I remember [hju] was rejected down right, given its semantic association to a male first name: "Hugh" [hju] :wink:

By the way, what's wrong with using 'their' instead of s/he? It's economical: It's already in the system. Native speakers use it. The pronoun [hju], on the other hand, posses problems (i.e. the homophonous forms "who", "hu", and, lest we forget the ever present real human "Hugh").

Adopting [hju] is interesting but, in terms of how systems work, it's not very economical. It adds more problems than solutions.

All the best,

Cas (Hughman) :)

I'll respond point by point to some objections.
1. "Hu" is omophonic with the name Hugh.
--I don't think there will be much confusion about it: Hugh meets only
once in 1666 males; the name's popularity rank in the U.S. is #254. Even
more popular proper names are safe from their common name doubles.
Nobody confuses Ann with the article "an," or Nick with a small cut, or
Rick with a stack of hay.

2. "Hu" [hju:] may be confused with "who" [hu:].
--The phonetic distinction between these words belongs to the
differential structurec. [j] is a separate phoneme that serves to
distinguish lexical units. Cf. feud [fju:d] and food [fu:d]; nuke [nju:k] and
nook [nu:k]; hew [hju:] and who [hu:].

3. "Hu" can be pronounced or heard as "you"
--Well, there are many dialects and manners of pronunciation, but
nobody suggests to ban the word "air" because it may be confused with
"hair" or to drop the word "hear" because it may sound similar to
"ear" (even as they are collocutives, in many contexts).

Some people say that their preferable technique to avoid gender-biased
pronouns is to change the noun into plural. I find such a solution
problematic and even detrimental to the language's ethical and conceptual
capacity to deal with individuals. Compare:

A hero is one who places huself at risk for another.

Heros are those who place themselves at risk for others.

To convey this idea. I would like to imagine A HERO, a heroic
human being, rather than a group of heros, a mass of heros.
They-language successfully eliminates not only gender, but
individuality as well. Should we speak and think about people
only in terms of multitudes? I think it's important to talk
about a student, an emploee, an author, a doctor, a
physicist, a person, rather than to refer to faceless
students, authors, doctors, persons, etc.We need to
accommodate grammar to ethical concerns, not the other
way around. Gaining a gender-neutral grammar at the
expense of an individual reference is a self-defeating
achievement.

http://www.emory.edu/INTELNET/Index.html
 

Tdol

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It's an interesting idea and I can see the point, but adopting new forms is a difficult process. I once tried to use American spelling for a week on a forum and abandoned it very quickly.

I have no problems with using the plural- it works in other languages, as seen in T&V forms in French, etc. I see the politeness principle as one that can over-ride numerical accuracy. The concept of numerical accuracy of the singular is also not always true:

Someone hus umbrella.

It could be that a single person or a couple left it. Wouldn't it make sense as a non-number specific word, too? I'll try to use it over the next week and see how it goes. ;-)
 

Casiopea

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The original concern, which by the way wasn't mine :oops: , had to do with [huj]'s semantic association, not its grammatical function.

The original concern was that [hju] (a.k.a. Hugh) like 'him/his' can be viewed by some as being exlusively male, wherein lies the problem. The
-ologists at the time were trying to reduce gender bias.

Suggesting [hju] is fine with me, but, again, to some people it neither address nor takes into consideration the original concern. As far as they are concerned, suggesting [hju] is comparable to suggesting "mr" for "mr/mrs".

The issue at the time was not that [hju] and "mr" have male gender associations-on the contrary, it's that they are exclusive. -ologists were looking for an inclusive term.

Mike:
Some people say that their preferable technique to avoid gender-biased pronouns is to change the noun into plural. I find such a solution
problematic and even detrimental to the language's ethical and conceptual
capacity to deal with individuals. Compare:

A hero is one who places huself at risk for another.

First: Well, uhm, wouldn't we use "himself" in that sentence, "Hero" being male, and "Heroine" being female? :oops:

A hero is one who places himself...
A heroine is one who placed herself...

Second: I think I understand, but how ethnicity relates to the topic of gender bias pronouns is a fuzzy one. Could you be more specific?
 
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Mike Epstein

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I don't see how "hu"may be perceived as exclusive. It is inclusive, as "HUman"
is inclusive of both men and women.

"Hu," indeed, is omophonic with the name Hugh.
I don't think, however, there will be much confusion about it: Hugh
occurs only once in 1666 males; the name's popularity rank in
the U.S. is #254. Even more popular proper names are safe
from confusing with their common name doubles. Nobody confuses Ann with the
article "an", or Nick with a small cut, or Rick with a stack
of hay.
 

Casiopea

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Mike:
I don't see how "hu"may be perceived as exclusive. It is inclusive, as "HUman" is inclusive of both men and women.

Exclusive in the sense that [hju] (a.k.a Hugh) sounds like a man's first name, thus some people, not little 'ol moi of course, might assume the selection process exlcuded female first names. In other words, why not use Uma (> hUMAn)?

Mike:
"Hu," indeed, is omophonic with the name Hugh. I don't think, however, there will be much confusion about it: Hugh occurs only once in 1666 males; the name's popularity rank in the U.S. is #254. Even more popular proper names are safe from confusing with their common name doubles. Nobody confuses Ann with the article "an", or Nick with a small cut, or Rick with a stack of hay.

:oops: I was in total agreement with you the first time I read it :oops:

:D :D
 
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Mike Epstein

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Thanks to everybody for criticism and constructive comments.
I'd like to summarize the objections to the use of "hu" as a gender- neutral pronoun.
I'll respond point by point, first regarding the oral "hu" [hju:], then
the written "hu". In fact, it was my fault to ask only
"how does it sound to you?" In the first place, I should
have asked "how does it look?" A gender-neutral pronoun
seems to be a more urgent need in written language where a
word's social and ethical effects cannot be supported or
softened by an intonation, gesture, etc.

Oral "hu".
1. "Hu" is omophonic with the name Hugh.
--I don't think that there will be much confusion about it: Hugh
occurs only once in 1666 males; the name's popularity rank in
the U.S. is #254. Even more popular proper names are safe
from possible confusion with their common name doubles. Nobody confuses
Nick with a small cut, or Rick with a stack of hay.

2. "Hu" [hju:] may be confused with "who" [hu:].
--The phonetic distinction between t! hese words belongs to
the differential structures. [j] is a separate phoneme
that serves to distinguish lexical units. Cf. feud [fju:d]
and food [fu:d]; nuke [nju:k] and nook [nu:k]; hew [hju:]
and who [hu:].

3. "Hu" can be pronounced or heard as "you."
--There are many dialects and manners of
pronunciation, however nobody suggests to ban the word "air"
because it may be confused with "hair" or to drop the word
"hear" because it may sound similar to "ear" (even as
they are collocutives used together in many contexts).

Written "hu".

4. "Hu" looks like a Chinese word.
--Yes, but no more so than "van," a clipping of an
exotic word "caravan" (looking like "Chinese" doesn't prevent "van" from
being one of the most usable English words, 48 mln. in Google).
"Hu," as a syllable, is common to English: "huge, humor, human, humility..."
Both the pronunciation [hju:] and the spelling "hu" are quite ordinary, there is
nothing exotic about them.

5. The apostrophe in the possessive form "hu's". What is
contracted here?
--There is no contraction here. The apostrophe is
a sign of the possessive case, like in "John's, author's,
book's," etc. It would be even better to drop the apostrophe
if we could have "hus" pronounced [hju:z], not [has], as in "bus";
and "hum" pronounced as [hju:m].

Examples:

Hu that has ears to hear, let hum hear.

It's the vice-president's job to support the president and take
hus place when hu is away.

It should be the chief aim of a university professor to
exhibit humself in hus own true character - that is, as an ignorant
human thinking, actively utilising hus small share of knowledge

6. Possessive and objective cases, "hus" and "hum," fit the
pattern of masculine "his" and "him" rather than feminine
"her" and "her".
-- In "hus" (or "hu's"), -'s is simply a possessive inflection without any
gender bias ("author's, person's, student's, employee's").

As for the objective case, "hum" follows the pattern not
only of "him," but also of the objective pronuns "whom" and "them", which
are gender neutral. "Whom do you prefer?" - "I prefer hum."

I admit, however, that for the objective case the same
form of "hu" can be used as for the nominative. This would
follow the gender neutral "it" where the nominative and
objective cases coincide.

It would clear enough to say:

An introvert can easily become an extravert when it is
advantageous for hu to do so.

Or you can say:

An introvert can easily become an extravert when it is
advantageous for hum to do so.

Thus the four forms of the 3rd person pronouns make up the
table:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
nom gen (adj) posses acc refl
--- --- --- --- ----
male he his his him himself
fem she her hers her herself
neut hu hus hus hu huself
(hum)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Excuse me if I have missed any other specific objections.
If you could bring them forth, I would be happy to
consider them.
 
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Mike Epstein

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Mike Epstein said:
Thanks to everybody for criticism and constructive comments. I'd like to summarize the objections to the use of "hu" as a gender-neutral pronoun. I'll respond point by point, first regarding the oral "hu" [hju:], then the written "hu".


Overall I don't see any grave inconsistencies or
difficulties in hu-language. Furthermore, there are several
considerable advantages of "hu" over other contenders for the
vacancy:

1. "Hu" is a short, one syllable word.
The use of "hu" (2 keystrokes) cuts effectively the
time needed to type "he or she" (9 keystrokes);
cf. "huself" (6) and "himself or herself," (18) etc. This is a
substantial economy of time, space,
and effort in our frequent daily use of gender-neutral pronouns,
especially in e-mails.

2. "Hu" is fully motivated, semantically and etymologically
justified, as a shortened form of "HUman." Whenever the pronoun is
used, you have the idea of the noun behind it making it memorable,
inherently meaningful and suggestive (unlike purely
conditional, artificial pronouns earlier suggested such as "e,
et, mon, na, ne, po, se, tey").

3. "Hu" fits the pattern of existing 3rd person pronouns ("he" and "she"),
first, by including the consonant "h" common to all of
them; second, by containing only one vowel, like all of
them. "Hu - he - she" - these words, all open syllables,
one consonant plus one vowel, are good partners in
distributing the gender roles within one lexical family.

4. The spelling of "hu" coincides with its pronunciation; there
are no irregularities of the kind that damages, for example, the
"s/he" pronoun, making it good in writing but unpronouncable.

5. "Hu" is used in a regular grammatical manner, in
contrast to "they." "Hu" can be used automatically, without
twisting the sentence to put all nouns in plural or
exploiting "they" in a disagreeable manner to refer to a
singular person.

6. It is easy to form derivatives from "hu" following the
existing patterns: "hus," "hu" ("hum"), and "huself".

7. If we decide to borrow a gender-neutral pronoun from
another language, we'll have to consider the Persian "u,"
Arabic "hu" and Old English "ou." All of them could be
easily incorporated in contemporary English with the
addition or preservation of "h", as a shortened form of the
genderless "human".

So far, I don't see any strong logical or historical
arguments against hu-language. Its advantages over other
contenders are too obvious to ignore.

I acknowledge, however, that language rarely is guided by logic or even by
historical parallels and precedents. Words have their own magic, and, like
books, have their fate. I feel this magic and potential
in the "hu" language. It is the language of undivided HUmanness.

In the near future, this HUmaness will need even better articulation to
distinguish our species from artificial "it" forms of intelligence that are
rising to a more active role in civilization and language. Soon we'll have to
answer such questions as "Who is reading, writing, calculating, speaking, even thinking?" The answer may be "hu" (human) or "it" (machine). We need "hu" not only to speak equally about men and women, but in order to speak differently about humans and non-humans who share with us many similar qualities and predicates and fulfill many comparable tasks.
We increasingly need "hu" as a sign of a humanly specific
actor or agent in the language of mental actions and symbolical
interactions.

In a celebrated episode of "Star Trek: The Next
Generation," the crew of the Enterprise manages to liberate an
individual from the hive-like structure of the maleficent Borg
Collective. They name hum, of course, Hu(gh)!
 

okkttsk

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What's wrong with the use of "one", "one's self" or "ones"? It has been used abundantly in the past--gender neutral and grammatically correct....:?:
 

rewboss

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Well, "one" is old-fashioned, and sounds to most people very pretentious -- in fact, it is sometimes used as a snobby and pretentious way of saying "I", as in: "One buys one's pâté de fois gras at Fortnum and Mason's".

This thread is a very old thread, but if I had been posting at the time, I would have objected on the grounds that you cannot force language to change in this way, any more than you can stop language changing in ways you don't like. We say "flu" instead of "influenza" not because somebody decreed it should be so, but because people independently of each other found it easier to say -- and flu is a very common ailment, so the shortened version turned out to be very useful. Other words may be coined to describe new things, such as "blog" for an online diary, but not because somebody somewhere declared that online diaries would henceforth be known as "blogs" -- it simply caught on.

I don't perceive a need for a completely new personal pronoun, and I don't think most people do either, which is why it's unlikely to catch on. This is, after all, one of the most basic units of language, part of the "nuts and bolts" if you like, and members of the general public don't take kindly to having the nuts and bolts of their language dictated from on high. Not to mention the inconvenience and expense of having to rewrite grammar books for native speakers and learners in virtually every single country of the world.

Above all, though, there are far more elegant ways of avoiding the generic "he". Often the simplest method is to use the plural: instead of "A good teacher always does his research", say, "Good teachers always do their research", and the problem is neatly solved.

In the few cases where the singular is required, as in for example "The successful candidate will be expected to perform his tasks well", you may be able to simply omit the pronoun -- "...to perform tasks well" -- use the pronoun "they" with a singular meaning -- "The successful candidate will be expected to perform their tasks well" -- fall back once in a while on the old he/she solution, or completely recast the sentence -- "You will be expected to perform your tasks well".

All of these techniques will seem perfectly natural to any speaker of English, with the exception of "he/she", although it's so common it would pass without comment. But saying "...to perform one's tasks well" will simply invite derision, and "...to perform hus tasks well" will most likely be interpreted as a typographical error. Considering the fact that on an English language keyboard the U and I keys are right next to each other, it will look like a misprinted "his".
 

hinomura

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It's too. . . . . . . . . .Chinese.

"Van" is acceptable because of the Dutch influence and "van" functions pretty well as a noun.

You do know that English is resistant to loan words for pronouns? Hmmmmm?

:squarewi:
 
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