Just when I thought the absurdity of political correctness/perceived insult exemplified by the contrived controversy over the “lighter is better” beer commercial could not be topped, along comes p.c.’s most ludicrous artifact yet: new pronouns.
A couple of days ago, I watched in shock and awe as Tucker Carlson interviewed a woman who explained them:
As a linguist, I am as liberal and objective as possible about language change. (Even I have my own annoyances: I will continue to say home in on and not hone in on till my dying day, just as I will cringe when somebody says “proverbial” about something that is merely familiar, but not in an actual proverb, as in “It’s just another case of the proverbial sour grapes.”)
But these and countless other changes happen spontaneously, not by decree. They start with a particular group and spread to others by various processes. In a world language like English, new words and meanings appear by the hundreds and thousands, as millions of speakers and writers put the language through intensive use every minute of every day.
You cannot dictate language innovation. If a small group of gender-obsessed, pampered intellectuals concocts a major innovation, such as replacing pronouns, how are they going to get it accepted and taught? Exactly how are their wonderful new pronouns going to make it into the New York Times stylebook?
I went along with the feminists when they wanted to eliminate the suffix –man from job titles. A few obvious uses of man should probably go — “staff the facility” rather than “man the facility.” Bound forms, as in mankind and humanity, are over the line for me. And don’t get me started on history, woman, and hurricane.
The supposedly scientific basis of the feminists’ argument was not only that language should reflect reality but – and here’s the unverifiable part – that our perceptions of reality are influenced by our language.
Like all scientists, linguists look for hard evidence. The idea that language determines how you think is not amenable to empirical testing. Who knows what really goes on in the brain?
It is, however, an empirical fact that in-groups have a lot of words for whatever it is they’re obsessed with. Jazz musicians are obsessed with tempo and rhythm, so they have a wealth of (relative) terms for the speed and spirit in which a song is to be played: ballad, up, up-tempo, bop, medium, medium swing, Latin, jazz samba, bossa, slow 3, and more.
Another sociolinguistic fact: The new pronouns are created by people whom we already know to be obsessed with gender. They regard “gender studies” as a legitimate intellectual pursuit. In recent years, they have exploded the number of gender categories; there are now about 30.
And now, pronouns. To look at their list is to simultaneously weep at their naïveté and recoil at their doctrinaire, witless thought processes.
Here’s their list. I look at this page the way an astronomer looks at an astrological chart:
The site includes such helpful info as
How you could ask:
“What pronouns do you use?”
“What pronouns would you like me to use?”
How you could share:
“I’m Jade and my pronouns are ze and hir.”
“Leo, I prefer they and them, but he is fine too.”
“My pronoun is co.”
A bit of constructive criticism: they forgot the first and second-person pronouns. Shouldn’t there be gender-neutral pronouns for when one refers to oneself or addresses others? We wouldn’t want gender ambiguity there. I/me/my/mine; we/ us/our/ours; you/your/yours – that’s eleven more pronouns. Back to work, kids.
The rest of us are not obsessed with gender. We don’t need that much information. Language must reflect the practical needs of its users, and frankly, the biologically based duality works for the vast majority of us. Even with homosexuals, we use the pronouns that reflect their genitalia.
Have these people nothing better to do? Can you imagine questions like “What’s your pronoun?” intruding into everyday conversation? (Actually, it sounds like a pretty good pickup line.)
On a succeeding site page, there are topics of interest to the seriously obsessed. Under “What are pronouns and why do they matter?”, we find that
Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them. Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known. Or, worse, actively choosing to ignore the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people do not or should not exist.
Do you get it now? If you confine yourself to he and she, you are not only causing offense (for the nth time, people choose to be offended), you are in effect wishing for the death of large numbers of people!
It’s all about oppression, victimization, and the politicization of language. These deluded folks pretend that by dividing us into exquisitely defined gender categories, they are promoting inclusion – whereas in fact, they create endless opportunities for division and offense (and oppression, don’t forget oppression).
Now let’s get to the bottom line: you cannot invent pronouns. Yes, there can (rarely) be a pronoun meaning/usage shift, as when they/their/them is used as a pronoun with indefinite antecedents: A doctor could prescribe this medication for their patients gets around the “he/she” problem in everyday conversation.
I think it’s pretentious when people write feminine pronouns with indefinites (her patients in the example), to show how liberal and gender-neutral they are, when just shifting the subject into the plural would do the job: Doctors…their patients. Note that no one uses she in speech unless the antecedent is known to be feminine.
But you absolutely cannot invent a whole array of new pronouns. The last new addition, sche, ‘she,’ happened in the Middle Ages. Old English used heo for both genders.
Pronouns are such an intimate part of language structure that you learn them early so that you can use these and other almost-meaningless “function words” like articles and verb auxiliaries (have, been) without thinking about them to create sentences using all the meaning-bearing (or “lexical”) new words you acquire.
The function-words are the bones of our utterances. They are what enable us to create an endless variety of utterances. Once we master these, our linguistic abilities increase rapidly.
You don’t learn new function words. The suggestion is wildly impractical and doomed from the start, good only for giving me, Tucker, and hopefully you a chuckle.
One last question: UC-Davis has a Linguistics Department. I haven’t heard one of them speak out against this nonsense. Is that because they live at the epicenter of it and actually take it seriously?