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pronouns, english grammar, gender (tiny thread) 

What a lot of people covertly realise, but don't articulate, is that pronouns in English are marked for both gender AND animacy. This is why it's generally disturbing to refer to a person as "it," because that pronoun is only for things. (And that's part of why it doesn't have a gender, objects don't have gender.)

But the fact that pronouns mark for social personhood is part of why it's so important to refer to someone with the right pronoun.

pronouns, english grammar, gender (tiny thread) 

This connection with gender and social personhood can be seen clearly in liminal cases. Some unknown animal on the street is an "it." My cat is clearly a "she." My cat is an intimate part of my social life, a meaningful member of my family. She is functionally a person. Only the animal divorced from my social world could be an "it."

(The same often applies to human infants, who are themselves often liminal parts of the social world.)

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pronouns, english grammar, gender (tiny thread) 

Using correctly gendered pronouns (he, she, they, etc.) is thus an important signal to people that you respect them as fully human and part of the wider social world.

And putting your pronouns in your bio, wearing pronoun pins, etc. are important behaviors that show that you know and acknowledge the importance of pronouns for signalling animacy and social inclusion.

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pronouns, english grammar, gender (tiny thread) 

And pronouns in your bio etc. show that you know and acknowledge that pronouns aren't a guessing game, can't be reliably determined just from looking at someone's name or face or haircut or their outfit on any given day.

They show that you know and respect that we need to check with other people about how to properly refer to them and include them and respect their humanity with these linguistic details that aren't at all small.

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criticism in good faith i promise 

@nerdsorrow This is utterly and completely fair.

criticism in good faith i promise 

@nerdsorrow So I've been thinking about this extensively, and what I think is that actually you're at the forefront of the shift that we're seeing in gender in Anglophone contexts. The gender-studies literature tends to proceed from the assumption that gender is a publicly performed thing, and I think at least, in the last 100 years or so, it has been. But I also think that's changing. (continued because I don't know how to talk about this in a short way)

criticism in good faith i promise 

@nerdsorrow My first reaction to this, as someone steeped in that literature, was "What's private about gender?" precisely because I understand gender to be about social performance, which is public, rather than about bodies, which are private.

But I think what the pronoun discourse is moving us towards actually is the reality you want, where gender is not assumed to be readable from performance, and anyway shouldn't affect how someone is treated.

criticism in good faith i promise 

@nerdsorrow As a linguist, my prediction is that gendered pronouns are on the way out, and soon we will only be left with "it" and "they," and pronouns will exclusively code for animacy. And then, we will indeed be closer to a place where we make fewer assumptions about gender.

But as gendered pronouns haven't died yet, we're in this awkward place where we have to know to speak English grammatically, but we also (correctly) can't assume someone's gender.

criticism in good faith i promise 

@nerdsorrow And so we wind up asking, and for people who've already made the shift to seeing gender as private, of course that's a terribly invasive thing, and we're caught in this terrible Whorfian place where we're trying to wrestle with both decency and grammar, and coming up short.

As I've found myself concluding a lot this week on queer issues, I think the change IS happening, for the better, but not fast enough to cope with the pain already in the world.

pronouns, english grammar, gender (tiny thread) 

@ErikaAlpert the relationship between grammatical animacy and social personhood is a great point that I don't see brought up often enough.

pronouns, english grammar, gender (tiny thread) 

@templewulf Thank you! It’s one of my favorites. There’s not enough talk about animacy and English in general, I think.

pronouns, english grammar, gender (tiny thread) 

@ErikaAlpert this is a great point. Hadn't thought of 'animacy' as part of pronoun aspect - but you're totally right. Will have to do some thinking about how this works for the "ghosts of extinction" and whether we can tinker with animacy as a playful intervention.

pronouns, english grammar, gender (tiny thread) 

@kidwellj I definitely see a few people in the fediverse with "it" as a preferred pronoun and I'm certain there's some kind of animacy as a playful intervention thing going on there. It's a preference that gives me some very base of the spine shivers, I'll say, so if the goal is some kind of unsettling, it's definitely working.

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