Friday, April 25, 2008
News on the grammar front. The Canadian Department of Justice (le Ministère de la Justice) has endorsed use of the pronoun "they" to refer to a singular indefinite noun. Linguists often use the term "epicene," or genderless, to refer to this use of the pronoun. (One wonders whether the French-speaking citizens of Canada have a similar linguistic problem.)
The Justice Department website declares that the generic pronoun is "useful to drafters in a legislative context to eliminate gender-specific language and heavy or awkward repetition of nouns," justifying its use by declaring that "[m]ost dictionaries and grammars deal with the singular usage of 'they' and its other grammatical forms ('their', 'them', 'themselves' or 'theirs')."
In further justification, the Justice Department points to Webster's Dictionary of English Usage and its examples dating back to Chaucer and Shakespeare (and check out Wikipedia's examples), as well as to the Attorney-General's Department of the Commonwealth of Australia, which also has endorsed use of the pronoun in the Corporations Law Simplification Program.