LINGUIST List 23.665

Wed Feb 08 2012

Diss: Applied Ling/Socioling: Paterson: 'The Use and Prescription ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <xiyanlinguistlist.org>



Date: 01-Feb-2012
From: Laura Paterson <l.l.patersonleeds.ac.uk>
Subject: The Use and Prescription of Epicene Pronouns: A corpus-based approach to generic he and singular they in British English
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Institution: Loughborough University Program: Department of English and Drama Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2011

Author: Laura L. Paterson

Dissertation Title: The Use and Prescription of Epicene Pronouns: A corpus-based approach to generic he and singular they in British English

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics                             Language Acquisition                             Sociolinguistics                             Text/Corpus Linguistics
Dissertation Director:
Chris Christie Deborah Cameron Elaine Hobby Arianna Maiorani
Dissertation Abstract:

In English the personal pronouns are morphologically marked for grammaticalnumber, whilst the third-person singular pronouns are also obligatorilymarked for gender. As a result, the use of any singular animate antecedentcoindexed with a third-person pronoun forces a choice between he and she,whether or not the biological sex of the intended referent is known. Thisforced choice of gender, and the corresponding lack of a gender-neutralthird-person singular pronoun where gender is not formally marked, is theprimary focus of this thesis. I compare and contrast the use of the twomain candidates for epicene status, singular they and generic he, which arefound consistently opposed in the wider literature.

Using corpus-based methods I analyse current epicene usage in writtenBritish English, and investigate which epicene pronouns are given tolanguage-acquiring children in their L1 input. I also consider currentprescriptions on epicene usage in grammar texts published post-2000 andinvestigate whether there is any evidence that language-external factorsimpact upon epicene choice. The synthesis of my findings with the widerliterature on epicene pronouns leads me to the conclusion that, despite therestrictions imposed on the written pronoun paradigm evident in grammaticalprescriptivism, singular they is the epicene pronoun of British English.



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