- The Washington Times - Monday, September 7, 2015


Recently, I read an article about UT Knoxville’s idea of inclusive pronouns as a way to evolve the English language. I am all for it with one exception: The system of words created is too overly complicated.

Years ago, I toyed with the concept of gender-neutral pronouns for both gender and practical reasons. Frankly, I cannot think of a single person who enjoys the flow of saying or writing “he or she” instead of utilizing a single word. This is not an entirely new concept since the English language already has gender-neutral plural pronouns; we just lack the singular form.

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I suggest that we embrace a modified form of commonly used incorrect grammar.

Many people already use “they” incorrectly as a gender-ambiguous singular pronoun even though it is plural. For example, “If anyone is interested, they can call me.” Sounds better than “If anyone is interested, he or she can call me,” but it is still grammatically wrong.

Therefore, to make it distinct, an easy transition would to spell the singular version as “thay.” It would be pronounced the same as “they,” making it easier to adopt, but spelled differently to serve the intended purpose of having a gender-neutral singular pronoun.

Moreover, there are other applications such as “thair” and “thay’re.”

For instance: “Whomever lost thair text book, thay can claim it at the lost and found when thay’re available.”

At the end of the day, a big hurdle is getting people to adjust. If a government-led initiative to switch to metric failed here in the U.S., then we can all accept that change is difficult. Therefore, we should make such a language transition as easy as possible.

If there is a way to deal with the gender-neutral singular of “them,” I’m all ears since the best I can come up with is “thaim.” Frankly, however, that construction is a bit clunky.

My Harvard colleague Hugues Bourgeois brought to my attention that Sweden attempted this as early as 1966, but the movement started to get recognition in 2010. Since 2014 “Hen” has been used more and more often for this purpose.

Language, like life, must be ever evolving.

⦁ Spencer Kassimir speaks several languages and received both a BA and MA from the University of Southern California in East Asian Languages and Cultures. At USC he specialized in Japanese (contemporary and some classical) and had a second focus in Chinese. He is also conversational in Spanish and Hebrew.

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