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Subject:Re: Grammar in College? From:Christopher Miller <cmmiller -at- BRAHMS -dot- UDEL -dot- EDU> Date:Sun, 12 Feb 1995 00:08:59 -0500
On Sun, 12 Feb 1995, SANDRA CHARKER wrote:
> In spoken Australian English, there's quite a strong
> trend to using they as a singular. For example:
> "As time passes, a writer realises that their high school work was not as good
> as they thought at the time."
Actually, using 'they' as a generic pronoun is an old convention in
English. According to liguists Victoria Fromkin and Robert Rodman:
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, masculine pronouns
were not sued a *generic* terms; the various forms of *he* were
used when referring to males, and of *she* when referring to
females. The pronoun *they* was used to refer to people of either
sex even if the referent was a songular noun, as shown by Lord
Chesterfield's statement in 1759: "If a person is born of a
gloomy temper . . . they cannot help it."
By the eighteenth century, grammarians (males to be sure)
created the rule designating the male pronouns as the general
term, and it wasn't until the nineteenth contury that the rule
was applied widely, after an act of Parliament in Britain in
1850 sanctioned its use.
from *An Introduction To Language*, 1993
cmmiller -at- brahms -dot- udel -dot- edu