Re: Sie/hir

Subject: Re: Sie/hir
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 1994 15:02:06 EST

Laurie Rubin <lmr -at- SYL -dot- NJ -dot- NEC -dot- COM> writes:
>Does anyone remember the "universal language" idea that was being tossed aroun
>as becoming the "international language"? I think there was talk about it in
>the 1970s. The language even had a somewhat complicated name that has alluded

Esperanto? It is, as I remember, a compromise between several major
European languages, eg English and Spanish.

>me. Well, I don't think that language got off the preliminary think tank

It did, although it never achieved mass-market appeal. There is a world-wide
association for Esperanto speakers, with a fairly large membership. Not
enough to be in competition with English, though, as an international language.

>I can't see how something like "sie/hir" could, either! If we assume these
>names are used only for English text, I agree with Anatole that they don't
>change the bipolar use of his/her, he/she sexist thing. That is why I always

Instead of he/she, write "sie". Instead of him/her, write "hir". It does
allow for gender-neutral language that standard English usage does not
adequately support. Whether the cure is worse than the disease is another
question: it does, at least, address the problem of choosing a gender in
technical writing.

>try to use "the user" (for any user: male, female, monkey, alien, etc.) or
>"you" in my docs.

I also use second person, where possible. Sometimes, though, you need third-
person, and when you do, it's nice to have access to a pronoun, rather than
parrot "the user" for every reference to him or her. This is something
I write around, for now, but it can become awkward.

Just to muddy the waters a little more: although I do write to avoid gender,
I am not wholly convinced of the connection between gender use in language,
and sexism in society. There are languages in the world right now that
don't have gendered pronouns, and historically the speakers have oppressed
women just as much as (or more so than) English-speakers.

Take care,

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's

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