The present study addresses an issue of the English language that has been discussed at length for the past several decades: Which pronoun should one use when referring to a singular, genderless antecedent (e.g., student)? Though much has been written on the subject of the use of the generic masculine, singular they, and he or she constructions in published works, and other studies have looked at how English speakers process and interpret the aforementioned pronouns in writing, few studies have researched the use of these pronouns in free response to questions including a singular, genderless referent. The present study contributes to the last of these three methodologies by exploring which pronouns native English speakers use when writing about a genderless person (i.e., “the ideal student”). The results of this study indicate that a large majority of participants (79%) include a gender-inclusive approach (he or she type constructions or singular they) when referring to a singular, genderless antecedent; 68% use singular they. However, participants note that he or she type variations do not include some who may not identify within the gender binary.
Darren K. LaScotte; Singular they: An Empirical Study of Generic Pronoun Use. American Speech 1 February 2016; 91 (1): 62–80. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-3509469
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