I decided I, like many other people in the world, would take a crack at making gender-neutral pronouns in English. I contemplate it every time I seek an alternative and end up unsatisfied. I commonly fall back on substituting plurals with an implication toward a singular actor because it sounds okay phonetically. Yet it's grammatically incorrect and it fails terribly when you're also referring to a group (for example, "They came toward me. One stepped forward and they shook my hand.") Likewise, using "one" and "it" is frustrated by either grammatical clumsiness ("A child stepped forward and one gave me a flower.") or emotional and social distance ("A child stepped forward and it gave me a flower.")
Starting from how the "th" sound of "they" and "them" is phonetically similar to the "zh" sound, I considered substituting "zh" for "th". But I had adopted "Zhust" as my "Playa-name" for Burning Man in 2010, and although it should be pronounced like "just" with a more z-like "j" sound, most people pronounced it "zu'hust" instead (even if I spoke it first). As such, I'll simplify things and go straight to substituting "j" in the various "they" forms. I made a table to summarize, and in doing a bit more research, I found the work of Micheal Spivak which looked promising, as summarized in this Wikipedia article. (And while there, I decided to steal from the Wikipedia article "Gender-neutral pronoun" for my descriptions.)
|Description, Masculine Example||Masculine||Feminine||"They"||"One/It"||Spivak||Jayce|
|Nominative (subject), "he ran"||he||she||they||one||ey ("A")||jee|
|Objective (object), "go to him"||him||her||them||it||em||jem ("gem")|
|Possessive determiner, "this is his ball"||his||her||their||ones||eir||jeir ("jair")|
|Possessive pronoun, "the ball is his"||his||hers||theirs||its (or ones)||eirs||jeirs|
|Reflexive, "talked to himself"||himself||herself||themself||oneself||eirself||jemself|
So to take a sentence like, "He went to the store and bought himself a coffee with his own money.", my gender-neutral technique yields "Jee went to the store and bought jemself a coffee with jeir own money." I realize that "jem" is a homophone for "gem" and "jeir", a shortening of "Gerry", but that doesn't lead to the kind of pronoun confusion of the common substitutions — even "I gave jem a gem" (which sounds clumsy because of newness) is really no worse than, "he took on the airs of his heirs."
I think Spivak and I are on the same page regarding rationale (familiarity, pronunciation, starting from the plural forms), but I really don't like that "them" is often abbreviated "'em", and that logically the reflexive should be "emself" but it sounds like "himself" leading to "eirself". You can read a lot more about it in this lengthy and informative case.
So from now on, I'll start using these terms whenever necessary, probably to the consternation of all my friends.
[Edit 2017-Jul-10: fix possessive determiner from "hers" to "her".]
3,988 total views, 1 views today