What's your pronoun? Beyond he & she

Dennis E. Baron

Book - 2020

"The story of how we got from he and she to zie and hir and singular they. Like trigger warnings and gender-neutral bathrooms, pronouns are suddenly sparking debate, prompting new policies in schools, workplaces, even prisons, about what pronouns to use. Colleges ask students to declare their pronouns; corporate conferences print nametags with space for people to add their pronouns; email signatures sport pronouns along with names and titles. Far more than a byproduct of campus politics or ...culture wars, gender-neutral pronouns are in fact nothing new. Renowned linguist Dennis Baron puts them in historical context, demonstrating that Shakespeare used singular they; that women evoked the generic use of he to assert the right to vote (while those opposed to women's rights invoked the same word to assert that he did not include she), and that self-appointed language experts have been coining new gender pronouns, not just hir and zie but hundreds more, like thon, ip, and em, for centuries. Based on Baron's own empirical research, What's Your Pronoun? tells the untold story of gender-neutral and nonbinary pronouns"--

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Subjects
Genres
Informational works
Published
New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company [2020]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
283 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 249-271) and index.
ISBN
9781631496042
1631496042
Main Author
Dennis E. Baron (author)
  • The missing word
  • The politics of he
  • The words that failed
  • Queering the pronoun
  • The missing word is they.
Review by Booklist Reviews

If it is true, as Baron declares, that "Pronouns are suddenly sexy," then his nearly 300-page devoted to that part of speech must be X-rated! But, alas, there's nothing especially titillating here, only talk of such esoterica as the generic he, the invented pronoun (thon, anyone?), and the search for the missing word: a third-person singular, gender neutral, nonbinary pronoun. All of this, he says, "is tied directly to the recent focus on gender inclusivity, nonbinary gender, and gender nonconformity." While he gives attention to current circumstances, he spends more time on a deep dive all the way back to the first English grammars of the seventeenth century, evidencing that his quest is hardly new. He doesn't limit his search to history, however; he eventually turns his attention to the political controversies that have brought pronouns into the limelight, ending his search with the declaration that the missing word is (drumroll, please) the singular they. He concludes with a flourish: an überambitious, 58-page chronology of gender-neutral and nonbinary pronouns. Esoteric? Yes, but catnip for the grammarian, especially the culturally and politically conscious variety. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

What's Your Pronoun? is the definitive history to date of gender-neutral and nonbinary pronouns in the English language, an array of expressions that have been proposed or used as alternatives to he and she since the time of Shakespeare. Baron (emer., English and linguistics, Univ. of Illinois) is a Guggenheim and NEH fellow, and his linguistic research is meticulous. He explains not only the origin and usage but also the political and philosophical debate surrounding use of the now-outdated gender-neutral he, the plural they, and the array of zies, hirs, teys, and ims in between. The book includes a 62-page "Chronology of Gender-Neutral and Nonbinary Pronouns" and 24 pages of bibliographic notes. What's Your Pronoun? joins Baron's own Grammar and Gender (CH, May'86) as an essential reference on the subject. Baron's other numerous scholarly publications on the relationship between language and gender, law, and technology include A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution (CH, Mar'10, 47-3527) and The English-Only Question: An Official Language of Americans? (CH, Mar'91, 28-3720). His expertise is indisputable, and his accessible and fluid style ensure the book will find a wide audience. Summing Up: Essential. All readers.--G. Sikorski, Anne Arundel Community CollegeGrace SikorskiAnne Arundel Community College Grace Sikorski Choice Reviews 59:09 May 2022 Copyright 2022 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In recent years, pronouns have sparked debates across the country. People are adopting pronouns that are different from "he" or "she," and businesses, schools, and other institutions have started including other pronoun options on forms and applications, risking criticism from their communities and from grammarians alike. In this book, Baron (English, Univ. of Illinois) focuses on the grammatical argument for a universally accepted gender-neutral pronoun in English. He discusses the politics of pronouns, specifically how the nonexistent third-person, gender-neutral pronoun led to codified sexism (the use of "he" meaning any person, and the implied and explicit hierarchy of the sexes therein) and codified racism (using it in documents regarding slaves). Baron also discusses how alternate pronouns are not a new thing, but instead have been used for centuries as the search for gender-neutral (and nonbinary) pronouns has progressed; the oldest documented gender-neutral pronoun is ou, which dates back to 1789. VERDICT Based on decades of research, Baron's masterly work documents the historical and continued importance of personal pronouns. Those interested in gender politics or English grammar, or who feel that "he" and "she" are inadequate, would benefit greatly from perusing this book.—Ahliah Bratzler, Indianapolis P.L. Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

University of Illinois professor emeritus Baron debuts with an entertaining and thoroughly documented account of two centuries' worth of attempts to solve the problem of the English language's "missing word": a third person singular pronoun that includes all genders. Baron affirms the singular "they" is the best option by documenting the pronoun's long history in idiomatic English; asserting that "top-down directives" by lawmakers and style manuals "don't change language use"; and providing data about the popularity of "they" among people who self-identify as "trans, genderqueer, or nonbinary." He also digs deeply into the legal and cultural implications of pronoun usage, such as the generic "he" in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and addresses neologisms such as "hiser" and "thon," which met with the approval of grammarians in the 19th and 20th centuries, but never achieved significant public usage. According to Baron, "everybody hates" the only strictly grammatical option: "his or her." In conclusion, he offers an "annotated historical lexicon" of more 250 gender-neutral pronouns, a gold mine for readers who delight in the strangeness of language, as well as a clear demonstration of the thorniness of the issue. This easygoing, comprehensive guide will appeal to progressive word geeks. (Jan.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The University of Illinois linguistics professor and national commentator on language issues explores evolving debates regarding modern pronoun usage, tracing the history of pronouns, the creations of new gender pronouns and the role of pronouns in establishing identity and rights. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"The story of how we got from he and she to zie and hir and singular they. Like trigger warnings and gender-neutral bathrooms, pronouns are suddenly sparking debate, prompting new policies in schools, workplaces, even prisons, about what pronouns to use.Colleges ask students to declare their pronouns; corporate conferences print nametags with space for people to add their pronouns; email signatures sport pronouns along with names and titles. Far more than a byproduct of campus politics or culture wars, gender-neutral pronouns are in fact nothing new. Renowned linguist Dennis Baron puts them in historical context, demonstrating that Shakespeare used singular they; that women evoked the generic use of he to assert the right to vote (while those opposed towomen's rights invoked the same word to assert that he did not include she), and that self-appointed language experts have been coining new gender pronouns, not just hir and zie but hundreds more, like thon, ip, and em, for centuries. Based on Baron's own empirical research, What's Your Pronoun? tells the untold story of gender-neutral and nonbinary pronouns"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

heheshehirzieWhat’s Your Pronoun?