LINGUIST List 8.130

Thu Jan 30 1997

Books: Sociolinguistics

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>

Additional information on the following books, as well as a short backlist of the publisher's titles, may be available from the Listserv. Instructions for retrieving publishers' backlists appear at the end of this issue.


  1. hdry, Book Announcement--please post

Message 1: Book Announcement--please post

Date: Tue, 28 Jan 97 12:16:02 -0500
From: hdry <>
Subject: Book Announcement--please post


Newman, Michael; Epicene Pronouns: The Linguistics of a
Prescriptive Problem; 0-8153-2554-1, cloth; 260 pages, $66;
Garland Publishing

Few usage issues have proven as persistent and as troublesome as
epicene pronouns (i.e., pronouns coreferent with singular
antecedents and with referents of unknown or indistinct
sex). Previous studies have examined the issue from an
exclusively social perspective, focusing on sexism or
prescription. While these studies have raised speakers' and
writers' awareness of the issue, they have not forged a
consensus about appropriate usage. Instead they have given the
impression that the problem is irresolvable and is due to a flaw
in the English pronoun paradigm: the lack of a dedicated epicene

This study makes a fresh start by examining, for the first time,
the linguistic facts that lie behind the use of these
pronouns. First, an account of these previous studies reveals
the assumption of the traditional understanding of pronouns as
substitutes for full noun phrases. An examination of modern
pronoun theory reveals, however, that such a view is
linguistically implausible. Scholars from diverse schools of
linguistics coincide in concluding that anaphoric pronouns are
more dynamic elements, with complex semantic properties. A study
of usage in television talk shows examines this semantics in
epicene contexts. It found that speakers use different pronouns
to indicate particular referential perspectives, signaling sex
bias, number, and, degree of individuation imputed to a
referent. In terms of usage, the perceived need for a single
epicene pronoun is an artifact of tacit assumption of a
simplistic theory of pronouns and agreement.

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