Next time someone complains about singular "they" I'll point them to this 17th century rant against singular "you"
Source: The History of Thomas Elwood, written by Himself, London, 1885, pp. 32-34, https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6925
Discovered from cite in "The Varieties of Religious Experience," by William James, 1902.
@mwl Thank you for sourcing this! I was about to ask if it was George Fox or someone else among the valiant sixty.
@urbanhiker @kacey Aah, that explains it. From memory, I believe singular “you” is much older than 1600, possibly being imported grammatically from Norman French “vous” (vs “tu” for “thou”). People would have been using singular “you” for centuries (like singular “they” now), except Quakers, who I guess made a point of not making a T-V distinction.
We have this in English, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there are languages where there are two "we" pronouns, one for each of those.
I'm actually a thouist myself - I spend way too much time saying "you - I mean all of you, not just you..." and other stuff that adds meaning to the vague "you" that we currently use!
I wouldn't be surprised if this also happens in Australian Aboriginal languages, which often encode incredibly complex and subtle information about relationships and kinship.
@donaghy @kacey Not sure about oxen. Could just be similar plural suffix to "children". English plurals are a mess because of mixed origins, loss of older endings, generalising one example to others, simplification of using "-s" as suffix etc. Some Germanic plurals based on vowel change (umlaut) e.g. goose/geese or mouse/mice. Sometimes no suffix e.g. fish, sheep.
Mind you, Welsh plurals are even worse - different suffixes, umlaut, "singulative" endings etc. Great fun!
@kacey @otfrom I always found this resistance to "pronouns" in English hilarious. All my lecturers at college, most of the academic literature we read, generally formal English used "they/them" all the time. There is nothing particularly new about it. If there is resistance, it's not premised on linguistics, it's premised on politics.
@acousticmirror @kacey @otfrom I think there's a linguistic argument to be made for a third-person singular pronoun that stays conjugation-consistent with he/she/it. Take the following for example: "Andrea is going for a walk and they are bringing their dogs." The conjugation changes number despite referring to the same subject, creating extra ambiguity/confusion.
Unfortunately English just doesn't have a standardized number-disambiguated pronoun for this purpose, even despite the efforts of many neopronoun inventors. (Though I'm partial to "ey/em/eir/emself", perhaps with a starting apostrophe.)
One common idea is he/she, but as @djsumdog mentioned, this is annoying to use, and also doesn't accommodate non-binary people. So it's common to just default to the already-existent "they", despite its flaws.
Meanwhile, I would LOVE to have number disambiguation for second person. I use "y'all" regularly for precisely this reason.
@acousticmirror @kacey @otfrom excessive gendering in speech is a unique trait of the boomer generations speech patterns in England, the literary rule is once a gender is established further genderibgnis needless and rude, so "she went to the market and she had a good time" is incorrect English it should be "she went to the market and they had a good time" by original English language rules.
@kacey of course on the West Coast of Scotland, Gaelic speakers moving to English needed a plural form of you, so they devised youse. And in the US both youse and y’all may be heard as plural forms to fill the gap caused by using you as a singular.
So we have gone full circle.
my favourite thing birdsite has taught me is that singular "they" is so old that the first known written instance is spelled with a þorn.
@kacey Pretty much exactly what I do when people complain about singular "they", even if without the detailed quote.
@kacey it's almost like language evolves over time or something. Who woulda thunk.
Announcing my new pronouns are thou/thoust.
@kacey it's like people don't understand that language is completely made up and changes almost solely based on how its used
@kacey this is so good, I read a thread on the bird site not long ago showing old newspaper articles with a similar issue
@kacey My mum remembers getting into trouble at school for using thee and thou as it was considerd dialectical and Not Proper English. From which, I gather, the main lesson she learned was not to let herself be overheard by teachers.
@kacey i absolutely love this, linguistics is perpetually fascinating.
Woe!! Woe!!! The use of "you" as a singular has DEPRAVED THE MANNERS OF MEN!!!
I didn't even realize (or if I knew it I have entirely forgotten) that "you" used to refer to more than one, and "thou" was the singular.
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