|Toward a Non-Sexist Language|
he past generation has seen a dramatic rise in awareness of the sexist aspects of our society. We are now acutely conscious of the workings of male chauvinism in education, employment practices, and politics, and we have taken many steps toward greater equality in regard to sex. Some of these steps comprised changes in English usage-- but so far, these changes have involved mainly nouns and adjectives. Our pronoun system has remained untouched, and yet it is blatantly discriminatory: we habitually say, "Everyone should bring his own lunch" when addressing a group of male and female hikers, or "The consumer will find himself under increasing inflationary pressures." Clearly, this arbitrary imbalance in favor of the male pronoun needs correcting.
To do this, I suggest reintroducing a letter which disappeared from the English alphabet in the Sixteenth Century. This letter, "thorn", written as , was the equivalent of our unvoiced fricative "th" sound. Thus, in the English of the Middle Ages, "with" was written as "wi", "thin" as "in", and "the" as "e". At that time, the French and German alphabets had no equivalent for our , as they did for every other English letter. Hence when printing was introduced to England from the Continent in the 1470s, it proved simpler to substitute "th" when necessary rather than to produce special type for this peculiarly English letter. A few immigrant French typesetters misread the English " " as "y", which helped the letter persist until much later in such (mis)usages as "ye George and Dragon Publicke House."
The central purpose for reviving would be to use it in a new class of "bisexual" pronouns, to wit:
This new set of pronouns would fill a gap in English grammar: namely, the need for a third person singular pronoun which is not neuter but which nevertheless makes no distinction as to sex1. The pronouns would also serve as a logical link to the third person plural: more than one "e" is a "they", "ir oranges" and "ir apples" constitute "their fruit", etc. Note the distinction in pronunciation between "ir" ( as in thin, ir rhyming with "her") and "their"; also, the distinction between "e" (rhymes with "he") and the second person singular, "thee".
It is obvious that our language needs to transcend the sexual discriminations made by its pronouns. We only need to agree on the particular changes to be made. I submit the above system, in the confident belief that it is the best that can be offered and therefore will be universally adopted by the next English-speaking generation.
During the transition from a three-gendered to a four-gendered pronoun system, the letter will play an important symbolic role2. It will be conspicuous at first, seeming almost to leap out of the printed page. It will be at once a vivid symbol of the triumph over invidious distinctions between male and female, a rallying-cry for linguistic progressivism, and a harbinger of the return to a consciousness muted throughout the age of printing.
After we have become accustomed to the letter in our new pronouns, we could, if we choose, gradually replace the soft "th" with " " in our written language. At least one lost word could be introduced: "ane", originally meaning a landholding freeman, but now to represent an individual human of unspecified sex. Thus, "man", "woman", and "ane". Perhaps, in the distant future, we might recognize a stage of advanced social maturity, characterized by the individual's having incorporated both the task-oriented "masculine" skills and the social-emotional "feminine" skills of social life. Such an individual would be in touch with bo e masculine and feminine aspects of ir self, and would be referred to as a "ane" to differentiate him from e less socially mature "man" or "woman" and e even less mature "boy" or "girl".
1. To demonstrate why four, rather than three, genders are logically required, the following graph is presented:
2. We will also need to think through certain questions of accommodating into the language, such as:
Position in the alphabet. A logical location for the new letter would be immediately after "t". Thus, children would be taught their letters as, "...ess, tee, thorn, you, vee..." The alphabet would have 27 letters, which would make possible letter-blocks which could form a neat 3 x 3 x 3 cube.
Location on the typewriter keyboard. Probably the easiest solution is to put just to the right of L, displacing the colon-semicolon key one place to the right.
Scrabble. The frequency of use of the in a revised English orthography indicates that two -tiles, with point values of 4, should be added to the Scrabble set.(printer friendly version)