So here's the deal:
- The gender binary is shitty.
- Resisting the gender binary means resisting binary gender categorizations.
- Current english third-person pronouns create binary gender categorizations.
- We need new pronouns which don't do that.
Now, none of this is news. People have been talking about how the pronoun binary has problems for ages, and proposed various solutions as well. As a linguist, I have a few qualms with the attempts so far and so am putting forth my own solution here for further reference. (Importantly, this gives me something to cite in my college essays so that my pronoun choices sound more official.)
For those wanting to get straight to the point, the proposed pronoun set is as follows: ve/vem/vy/vyne. What follows is a discussion of why.
So the well-established pronoun used for nonbinary folx is usually cited as they. They is a plural pronoun, and it's important to clarify what
plural means when talking about the english language. In grade-school they teach you
more than one, but that's not actually quite right: In English, plural forms are ambiguous.
One easily identifiable instance of this is when dealing with zero: Note we say
zero strawberries are not
zero strawberry is, even though zero isn't more than one (the same holds true for fractions). We also see this when the number of something is unknown:
How many strawberries are there? Note that in this case the number of strawberries could be one, so we can't even say that plural forms are strictly non-singular.
The main consequence of this is that using a plural pronoun like they to refer to a single person isn't agrammatical, it just doesn't make sense when a more precise pronoun could be used instead. They has a long history of being used to refer to people of ambiguous number, gender, or definiteness. The problem with using they as our sole nonbinary singular pronoun, however, is that it is also ambiguous when it comes to one other factor: animacy. Maybe it's just me, but using the same pronoun to refer to someone as you use to refer to your underpants seems kinda problematic.
Although they works in a lot of cases, people who identify with it have to put up with always being referred to ambiguously—Are they a person or a thing? One or several?—and that's a problem that people who use he or she never have to face. We can do better.
Forming a new pronoun set:
If we're going to ditch they, though, we need something to replace it. In terms of our root sound, we want something that sounds natural but doesn't conflict with existing words. We can note the following about existing personal pronouns:
- the consonant-sound of existing pronouns is generally formed in the front of the mouth (me, thee, we)
- the consonant-sound of existing pronouns is generally fricative (thee, she, he) or approximant (you, we)
- the consonant-sound of existing pronouns is generally voiced (me, thee, we, you)
Given the trends above, the consonant-sound that makes the most sense for our genderless pronoun is v: It has all of these properties, and isn't used in any current pronouns.
In terms of declensions, I originally plannedThere's more I could say about this but it's not really relevent; if you really care about my previous approaches feel free to contact me and I'll fill you in. to model things after the historical first- and second- person pronouns I and thou. This would provide vey/ve/vy/vyne, but for a current speaker of English, who is used to he/him and she/her, vey/ve sounds backwards. So instead, I propose we let the nominative form be ve, and model the accusative/objective after them: vem. vy and vyne should be familiar possessive forms due to the prevalence of my and mine.
Here are some sample sentences which demonstrate ve's versatility and intuitiveness (try reading them out loud!):
- Ve walked to the park. I saw vem there.
- When I passed vem, ve was walking vy dog.
- That book is vyne but I'm borrowing it for the day.