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> Anyway, my point was that the URLs pointed by Steve and Cyril clearly
> indicate that the use of "they" instead of "he" is not uniform. In the
> spirit of our efforts for software standardization, I would like to
> propose that the Developers Reference references which style it follows,
> first to acknowledge that there is more than one way to do it, and
> second to indicate that what way to consistently follow within this
This is a good suggestion if we can find an on-line style guide that we're
happy with. Personally, I tend to defer to the Chicago Manual of Style
except in places where I have reason to disagree with it, since it's
considered one of the most canonical style guides for US English, but it
has the significant drawbacks of being (a) non-free ($65), and (b) huge.
> More in the detail, I am not particularly convinced by URLs given by
> Steve and Cyril. First, Wikipedia is often either over-emphasizing
> controversial points of view in the goal of being fair, or in contrary
> overly biased in articles that are made ad-hoc to support one cause
> (like the neurotypes).
In general, I agree with your concern about Wikipedia. On this particular
topic (singular "they"), the Wikipedia article is quite good. This is one
of those topics that's been hashed out quite a bit in grammar fora and in
academic writing, and while it's not yet entirely uncontroversial, I think
it's safe to say that singular "they" is slowly winning the battle for the
preferred gender-neutral pronoun form.
> I did a bit of research on my side, and found some guidelines on the U.S
> National Institutes of Health, where the use of the singular "they" is
> not mentionned among the solutions to the problem.
The 15th Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (whose text on the subject
is similar enough that my guess is that it's the origin of the NIH
guidelines) basically says that there's no good solution other than the
very difficult recasting of the sentence to avoid pronouns. They mention
both generic "he" and singular "they" and state that both of those options
will provoke widespread opposition and offense among many readers. (Ah,
and I see that there's some discussion of the stance of the Chicago Manual
of Style in the Wikipedia article.)
The 15th Edition was published in 2003. Since then, my personal
impression is that opposition to generic "he" has hardened considerably
and opposition to singular "they" has weakened somewhat. Using "he" as a
generic pronoun for a person of indeterminate gender is now generally
considered inappropriate in manuals and documentation in the free software
communities I've followed and the discussions I've seen, although there is
the occasional hold-out.
I see there's now a 16th Edition out, but I don't personally have a copy.
I'm curious whether it has changed its stance on singular "they" back to
the stance in the 14th Edition.
I think the most compelling argument in favor of the increasing acceptance
of singular "they" presented in the Wikipedia article is the citation of
the New International Version Bible, since that was apparently based on a
scientific study of actual language use.
> With the people to whom I talk everyday at work, the trend that I see is
> that masculine words are becoming neutral, like "guys" in "you guys",
> which I hear used by women adressing to women.
I would not draw conclusions about "he" from usage of "guys." "You guys"
is a colloquial expression with a much different history and with much
different cultural connotations than "he." I agree with you that "guys"
is probably becoming less gendered over time, but my impression is that,
if anything, "he" is becoming *more* gendered.
> To my knowledge, nobody here is using the singular they.
Use of singular "they" is essentially universal among native US English
speakers in day-to-day spoken language to the extent that we don't notice
it because it's so familiar. Many of us had it drummed out of our writing
during early education precisely *because* it was universal in common
speech even when considered formally incorrect, and therefore is widely
used in writing without enforcement of rules to the contrary. This is one
of those cases where I suspect that people who learn English as a second
language are likely to use the language differently because
second-language instruction usually teaches a more "formally correct"
version of the language than native speakers learn.
My impression is that the insistance that "he" is a universal pronoun in
written work, which was still widespread when I was in elementary school
in the 1980s, has now dropped off considerably, although I haven't
actually checked current grammar curricula and I'm not positive about
that. But the history of the stance of the Chicago Manual of Style seems
to support that.
In the above, I can only speak for US English. I don't know what the
state of singular "they" in UK English is.