Re: Changing our Language

Subject: Re: Changing our Language
From: David Fisher <DAF -dot- DSKPO27B -at- DSKBGW1 -dot- ITG -dot- TI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 1995 11:01:47 CST

I have been reading the deluge of messages about perceived gender bias in
pronouns quietly until now. Maria Hunt's message struck a nerve. As she says,
it is our moral obligation to avoid sexist language in our writing, but the use
of the non-gender specific pronoun he -- as defined in common American-English
usage -- is not sexist. It is, rather, proper usage as defined by our writing

It is our professional obligation to follow these rules in order to make our
communication clear. If language needs to change, leave it to the academics who
have changed language in the past to do so. Our job is to hold the line against
the constant onslaught of improper grammar and word usage. As professional
writers, we must follow the standards. Our domestic and international customers
deserve that from us. It is adherence to the standards that make a document
readable, clear, and concise. These attempts at changing language by using
plural pronouns where a singular pronoun is needed are simply wrong. The use of
he/she and him/her simply obscures whatever message you are attempting to send
in the chaff of political correctness. We must take a stand against this
obfuscation and return to the job of communication.

If you feel that your self-esteem is damaged by the use of the pronoun he, you
should seek counseling for your problem, not try to change a language which has
failed to damage many intelligent, dynamic, and successful women. It is time
for you to get over the fact that our language has rules with which you
personally disagree. Too bad. If you feel the need to avoid third-person
pronouns, do so. But, for the sake of a language that is under assault through
ignorance, neglect, and in some cases deliberate malice, follow the current
rules of American English and leave the changing of the language to
lexicographers. It is their job.

Don't bother to flame me, I don't care what you think. I'm a curmudgeon.

David Fisher
Sr. Technical Writer
dfisher2 -at- ti -dot- com

My comments are my own. No one else would have them.

-- attached message follows --

I've been reading all the "gender bias in pronouns" messages. Those
responses that state that the use of the generic "he" is acceptable have
really upset me.

I believe that as technical writers we have a moral obligation not to use
sexist language. It's easy to replace the pronoun "he" with "you" or
"they". BTW, I have *never* felt obligated to write an awkward subject-verb
agreement sentence (e.g., the user....they). As a matter a fact, I found
using the "he" pronoun makes the sentence awkward. I would only use
"he"/"him" if I was writing to one-male reader.

And for those who don't see the importance of not using "he", I'd like to
remind you that language *is* culture. Language constructs the world in which
we live. And whether you want to admit or not, our language is patriarchal.
(For a more extensive look at how the English language has been patriarchally
constructed, I suggest reading Julia Penelope's _Speaking Freely: Unlearning
the Lies of the Father's Tongue_. Pergamon Press Athena Series, I believe.)

The only way we can make change in our culture and our world is to make
changes in our language. Of course this means more than just using "they"
instead of "he", but at least it's a start.
Maria Picollelli Hunt, Sr. Technical Writer
(huntma -at- lims -dot- com) (518) 274-1990 ext.174
Laboratory MicroSystems, Troy, NY 12180
My views do not necessarily reflect those of Laboratory MicroSystems.

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