Saturday, June 20, 2015

Singular Gender Neutral Pronoun for English

Wow, that's a long post title, but I wanted to be specific.  This is a fairly hot topic lately and somewhat charged with emotion.

I know there are many people who are struggling with societal gender and sexual roles; descriptions; and labels.  I had been thinking about this for a while and I had originally gone to the Wikipedia page for it.  I recently found an old blog called The Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog.  From there I found there are several facebook pages (here, here and here for instance).  This issue is very hotly debated, deeply personal and potentially a raw nerve glaringly exposed by the ubiquitousness of social media and the internet.


I had originally come up with three reasons I wanted to decide on what singular gender neutral pronoun I wanted to use:

  1. Spiritual discussions and my search for a definition for; as well as a convincing argument for the existence of a GOD.
  2. For use in my Science Fiction and Horror writing
  3. To use on the internet when I'm unsure of a person's gender or they have identified themselves as non-binary in their own gender.
I've decided, based on visiting the facebook sites above, that I will leave off #3 entirely.  A particular post caught my attention and I realized that a person should be able to choose their own pronoun.  When I am out and about on the net I should stick to what I've always done, use their web ID as a proper name and make no other assumptions.

My search for a word for GOD that neither diminishes what I hope is the Ultimate Consciousness was what originally made me think of this.  The decision process was fairly long and specific for this particular application so I won't go into it here (maybe a future blog post).  Suffice to say I decided on "GOD" as the spelling of the name and "G" as the pronoun.

Neither of these is appropriate for self-aware artificial intelligence, aliens that don't fall into our gender structure, or genetically modified humans that would populate my stories and need pronouns.  I went back to the drawing board.

Am I overthinking this?  Of course I don't think so, but additionally, seeing all the talk on-line regarding this subject I thought I could make available a detailed explanation of my decision that others could use when making their own decision.  Or not, it's completely up to them.

Possible Letters

In building this pronoun I want to use letters that evoke the other pronouns, are unambiguous when sight-read, and are more rare (because I want to balance out the letter use).

Candidates consonants based on letter frequency are:  Z (0.074%), Q (0.095%), X (0.150%), J (0.153%), K (0.772%), and V (0.978%).

Z has an advantage in my mind because "she" and "they" both begin with a digraph, which Z can be pronounced as well. 

The two least used vowels are U and I.  Unfortunately I is ambiguous to the extreme, being pronounced like |ee| or |i| or |I|.

U is too guttural, making it sound masculine to me.  It's also too big sounding for what I want to be a short word.  O has this problem too.

I'm leaning toward E over A only because it is more recognizable as part of a pronoun (he, she, they, we).


I'm going to rule out the use of "they." I already feel that English is at a disadvantage because we use, "you" for both the singular and plural second person pronoun.  I don't want to see, "they" end up this way also.  I believe in maximizing the information communicated efficiently.  I think we are missing out on an opportunity if we use, "they" this way.

If I may digress slightly; I'm certainly not a grammar nazi, but I am a communication nazi.  I don't mind when words are added or changed; or when definitions are stretched.  I do mind if they become more confusing, more redundant and/or convey less information because of the change.

I know language changes, especially English; but I want that change to be for the better, to grow the communication or clarify it.  Not all change is good.

That's also why I'm ruling out, "Xe" pronounced as |zee|.

Using a table based off the one in Wikipedia and The Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog:
He called him on his phone, which is his.  He likes himself
She called her on her phone, which is hersShe likes herself
It called it on its phone, which is itsIt likes itself.
They called them on their phone, which is theirs.  They like themselves.
Suggested Gender Neutral Singular Pronouns
(Sasha Newborn 1982)
Hu called hum on hus phone, which is hus. Hu likes humself
Ne called nem on nir phone, which is nirs.  Ne likes nemself.
Ey called em on eir phone, which is eirs.  Ey likes emself.
Ve called ver on vis phone, which is vis.  Ve likes verself.
(German based)
Ze called zem on zir phone, which is zirsZe likes zemself
(Foldvary, Fred (2000))
Zhe called zhim on zher phone, which is zhersZhe likes zhimself
My Suggestions
(replace he with ze)
Ze called zim on zis phone, which is zisZe likes zimself
(replace she with ze)
Ze called zer on zer phone, which is zersZe likes zerself
(like a noun)
Ze called ze on ze's phone, which is ze's.  Ze likes zeself.
Iz (or Iq or Ix)
Iz called iz on iz's phone, which is Iz'sIz likes izself [it breaks down with the possessive for any of them]

Gender-Neutral Pronoun Blog had a good rating system based on three criteria graded on a five point scale: 
  • Ease of pronunciation
  • Distinction from other pronouns
  •  Gender neutrality

Based on this rating system the blog rated Ne/nem/nir/nirs/nemself as the best.

I'd like to do the same, however my criteria are a bit different (I will rank each candidate against each other, except Short):
  • Ease of pronunciation (actually pronouncing the word)
  • Distinction from other pronouns
  • Gender neutrality
  •  Ease of sight-reading (guessing the correct pronunciation and ease of identifying as a pronoun)
  •  Letter usage (use of rarely used letters and or phonemes)
  •  Easy rules to remember
  • Short (graded by total number of letters used in all forms)
    Green are the top, or "best" grades and red are the bottom or "worst" grades. 
As you can see, my own invention had the lowest score, and lowest was graded as best.  I was probably biased, of course.  I don't see that as a problem, since there is no convention and it is a personal choice.

The numbers and my rationale are there so anyone can use it and make their own decision.

Based on this, I'll be using "Ze" as a singular gender neutral pronoun in my fiction writing.

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