Non-sexist Language Policy and the Rise (and Fall?) of Combined Pronouns in British and American Written English

Paterson, Laura L. (2020). Non-sexist Language Policy and the Rise (and Fall?) of Combined Pronouns in British and American Written English. Journal of English Linguistics (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0075424220938949

Abstract

This paper focuses on the use of combined pronouns (s/he, his or her, him/her, etc.) as an example of late twentieth-century non-sexist language reform which had an overt democratizing aim. Within the scope of second-wave feminism, the use of combined pronouns increased the visibility of women in discourse by encouraging the use of feminine pronouns (she, her, hers) alongside masculine pronouns (he, him, his). Despite their promotion, however, the use of combined pronouns is relatively rare. This paper uses the LOB and Brown families of corpora to diachronically and synchronically study patterns in the use of combined pronouns in written American (AmE) and British English (BrE) from the 1930s to the early 2000s. The analysis not only determines what forms these patterns take, but questions whether combined pronouns are influenced by (a combination of) syntax and/or semantics, and questions whether combined pronouns are really democratic at all.

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