LINGUIST List 2.797

Sat 16 Nov 1991

Disc: Human Research; Chaucer's Pronouns

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Re: 2.776 Human Research
  2. , Human Subjects Research
  3. michael newman, chaucer's epicene pronominals

Message 1: Re: 2.776 Human Research

Date: Tue, 12 Nov 91 20:43:57 PST
From: <>
Subject: Re: 2.776 Human Research
Well, if the paperwork appears too unsurmountable, we can always avoid
it by interviewing only ideal native speakers who know their language
perfectly and are not hampered by factors such as memory restrictions,
inattentions, distraction, nonlinguistic knowledge and beliefs, and
who are totally invulnerable to linguists' attempts to invade their
privacy, pry into their competence, invade their innate capacity of
language, extort their grammaticalness judgments, and thus bypass
the whips and scorns of the ethics committee, the law's delay, the
insolence of office, and seek refuge in the realm of pure theory,
that undiscovered country from whose bourn no linguist returns, for
thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and research projects of great
pitch and tone are sicklied o'er with the pale cast of fear,
and lose sight of reality -a consummation devoutly to be wished.
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Message 2: Human Subjects Research

Date: Thu, 14 Nov 91 09:26:18 CST
From: <GA3662SIUCVMB.bitnet>
Subject: Human Subjects Research
Thank you to the many people who responded both personally
and on the net to my query about linguists and human
subjects committees. I will be preparing a digest of all
the responses I received (those I can repeat in public)
shortly. I have discovered part of the problem lies in
radical cultural differences between different sciences,
and I will attempt to address that in my report.
Geoff Nathan <ga3662siucvmb>
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Message 3: chaucer's epicene pronominals

Date: Wed, 13 Nov 91 22:36:51 EST
From: michael newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.bitnet>
Subject: chaucer's epicene pronominals
About two weeks ago I sent a query about the following usage I found in the
Pardoner's Tale in Chaucer. coreferents are capitalized, variations separated
by single slashes:
WHOSO (=whoever) fyndeth HYM (=himself) out of swich blame/fame
HE/THEY wol come up and offre in Goddes name
and I assoille (=absolve) HYM/HEM (=them) by the auctoritee ...
I said in my query that my colleague who teaches the Chaucer class told me that
in her authoritative edition, which claims to show all the variants only gives
the version with HE/HYM/HYM, but other--basically--cheap paperback editions
show all the other possible combinations.
No one on Linguist was able to answer the query but someone, I can't remember
who, kindly forwarded it to ANSAX list. I also received a request to pass on
the solution to my puzzle once it was received. Well here it is. Paul Schaffner
of the Middle English Dictionary sent me a definitive list of variations found
in the manuscripts. The variations in modern editions have nothing to do
with modernizing on the parts of contemporary editors, except to the extent
that these editors choose between MSs. In any case to present the findings
in box score format, here they are: HIM/THEY/HEM:17 HIM/THEY/HIM:21
HIM/HE/HIM:4 (but this pattern is found in the Hengwrt MS 'often taken as the
base, and probably the oldest) HEM/THEY/HEM:2 Forms without all the pro-
So much for consistency. If this sort of usage continued up till the 18th cent-
ury no wonder the grammarians of the time went crazy about it.
These 15th cent. MSs are the first instances of so-called singular THEY that I
know of. The oldest entry in the new OED is 16cent. It is interesting to me
that unlike other early usages of 'singular-THEY' (Would someone suggest a
better name there is noting singular about it really--it's only coindexed
with a formally singular NP) in this one the antecedent is not notionally
plural, but is rather neutral in number.
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