onsdag, november 09, 2005

Generalising personal pronouns

In a discussion about new music and "avant-garde composers", some people were defending the use of "he" as the neutral personal pronoun in normal English. I don't know what is normal in English (it is not my first language), but the reason I pointed out the use of only he and his as a problem in the first place was to see what happened to people's thinking. I just changed all the "he" to "she" in a post, without comments. Two British gentlemen took it as a provocation. So I had to reply something, which was:
Don't generalise about the personal, if you can avoid it. I prefer saying he/she/it/they when I speak about avant garde artists, politicians and God. You can't be sure that the generalised person in question is not a hermaphrodite polar bear, the whole cultural industry, or a computer.
A more serious reply could have been to refer to a neutral article at Wikipedia about gender-neutral pronouns:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicene_pronoun

I haven't yet decided which pronoun/re-formulation I prefer to use when I write. Sometimes I write "he", or alternate with "she". Sometimes I use the explicit but clumsy "he/she(/it)", and lately I have started to try the dubious singular "they". I sense that it is a problem to use only "he" when meaning any human, but in fact I do this quite often, contrary to what my opponents in the recent debate may think! This is what feels most comfortable (even with that nagging sense that it ain't just right and fair, because it isn't obviously inclusive language), so when I int' ids struggle with the political correct, I pretend that we're each and everyone just one of the boys... However, there is this question of whether I as an enlightened intellectual and compassionate human has a moral duty to always help the less fortunate to think about and understand what they say and mean? (If you get the irony.) Should I be an example in creative and correct use of language, even if I risk to provoke people into conservative reactions? If I don't want them to feel attacked, but want them to think sensible and with humour about a problem we have no good solution to yet, then I can hardly use the methods associated with senseless militant activists. Whatever. Sigh.

(int' ids, or, ids inte, is the succinct Swedish expression meaning "can not be bothered to". Short "i", as in rinse.)

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