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Friday, October 11 • 3:40pm - 5:30pm
(A4) Conrod: Nonbinary Singular they in Apparent Time

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Nonbinary Singular they in Apparent Time

I present two experiments probing the use of the singular English pronoun 'they' to refer to a definite, specific antecedent. Singular 'they' is attested for epicene and generic antecedents as far back as the 15th century (Curzan 2003), but the definite specific singular 'They' (dsT) is an emergent phenomenon.

(1) Each student admired their professor           Epicine sg. 'they'
(2) Jordan admired their professor                      Definite specific (dsT)

Experiment 1 uses data from dyadic and solo sociolinguistic interviews; in these data dsT is far more frequent than epicene singular they, and the speakers who produced dsT the most were younger adult speakers. Experiment 2 is an acceptability-rating study comparing dsT with other singular pronouns ('he,' 'she'). Younger participants in Experiment 2 rated dsT higher in more contexts. The results of both experiments suggest that dsT is increasing in apparent time, and that it is much more frequently used than previously reported.

avatar for Kirby Conrod

Kirby Conrod

Lecturer, University of Washington
Kirby has just completed their dissertation on gendered pronouns in English as a way of learning about the socio/syntactic/pragmatic interface. How do gender features and/or pronouns index the identity and relationships between speaker, addressee, and third person referent? Ask Kirby... Read More →

Friday October 11, 2019 3:40pm - 5:30pm PDT
EMU Ballroom