Thursday, February 28, 2008

Oh! The Damage to Our Mother Tongue!

I cannot pass this up!

Norm Geras writes in Tradition, tradition:

Suppose you set out deliberately to write a column which would be so obviously laughable a decade or three on that it already is laughable, to put together a sad rant about how everything is going to the dogs, you couldn't do much better than the piece I've just read by David Gelernter. It's an 'end of civilization as we know it' lament, and the particular thing that's at stake for him is our language.

Read the rest and the rant he is referring to.

David Gelernter needs to get his facts straight. Gender-neutral language was the baby of American big business, not the Women's Liberation Movement (though they liked it for obvious reasons). AT&T was the first to rewrite all corporate documents in an effort to get better executives (through more competition) by insuring the promotability of women. Other corporations followed suit - for purely mercenary reasons ;-)

The implications of the Civil Rights Act made the government then follow suit.

The publishing industry then followed suit, again for the purely business reasons I outline here.

So, quit bawl-babying about them evil feminists, will ya? Don't you think it's about time you guys got used to it?

What's more, the singular "they" is going to destroy the English language? Give us a break: it has been in use since before Shakespeare's time.

May God grant everyone their heart's desire.

Shame on Bill for damaging the English language like that.

Jeez, I wonder why (she says, scratching her head) these traditionalists don't mind the singular you which replaced thou much later? Why do they blow a gasket only when such a change brings women from out behind the literary hajib? Hmmm?

The English language is (or at least till now) has been forged in speech, not writing. In speech, for many centuries now, all native speakers of English use have used gender-neutral language when in mixed company. It's only polite to do so.

Of course, he and man mean what we all think they mean, and studies show that we all think they mean "adult male." Gelertner couldn't be more wrong when he denies that. Pendants don't determine what words mean to us: the users of the English language determine what they mean.

Hence, unlike our forebears of the 7th century, we'd never say that the "princess is a wonderful man." Even these traditionalists would never dare say that, would they?

Learn more by clicking the "gender-neutral language" label below.

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