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Title: Epicene Pronouns:The Linguistics of a Prescriptive Problem
Written By: Michael Newman
Description:

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 pronoun. 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.

Publication Year: 1997
Publisher: Garland Publishers
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BibTex: View BibTex record
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Syntax
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Versions:
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0815325541
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 260
Prices: $66