Friday, May 21, 2010

NE-NER-NIS (part 2) - LANGUAGE 02

As mentioned in a previous post, I've created a trio of neuter singular pronouns, as follows:
NE: subject pronoun. Replaces he, she, he or she, they, or one.
NER: object pronoun. Replaces him, her, him or her, them, or one.
NIS: possessive pronoun. Replaces his, her, hers, his or her, his or hers, their or theirs, or one's.
These pronouns can be used for persons (or animals or robots) of unknown, unspecified, or irrelevant gender.

WHY NER, and not NIM, for the OBJECT PRONOUN

Some people tell me they'd prefer NIM for the OBJECT pronoun. I explain that I thought about that, too, before I rejected it in favor of NER for OBJECT and NIS for POSSESSIVE.

Principle #1. Gender Equality. NE uses the E that is common to both HE and SHE. For the non-subject pronouns, I wanted to be fair and borrow the masculine ending for one and the feminine ending for the other.

Principle #2:  Auditory Comfort. In order to be accepted, the substitute pronouns should be such that our mental and physical ears do not balk: the N is enough of a surprise.
The problem with using the ending sound of the feminine possessive is that it has two forms: HER and HERS:
It's HER book. The book is HERS.
HIS has only one form. The other grammatical persons have two forms, too, mostly with an S at the end:  OUR and OURS, YOUR and YOURS, THEIR and THEIRS.  Our ears want to add that S - or rather the sound of  Z - whenever the possessive pronoun is not followed by a noun. The only exception to the final S is the first person singular: MY and MINE. That makes HIS unique, or maybe I mean singular in two ways. Anyway, because HIS is the same with or without a following noun, NIS seemed the better choice for the possessive. That made NER the right choice for the object pronoun.

In addition, ER ends both the objective and the possessive adjectival forms of the feminine singular pronoun. That could lead to endless confusion or a violation of Principle #1 or both.

The Natural Superiority of NE NER NIS (with apologies to Ashley Montagu*)

Consider this sentence:
I feel certain that if people just start using these neuter
 pronouns, they can accustom their ears to the sounds.

Because there are two plural  nouns --  people and pronouns -- the word "they" after the comma is ambiguous or at least a potential stopper. To avoid a second ambiguity, I use "sounds" rather than "them" at the end of the sentence.  But with NE NER NIS at my disposal, I can write: 
I feel certain that anyone who starts using these neuter 
pronouns can quickly accustom nis ears to them.
As to ear-training: At some level, good grammar and good word usage are whatever does not offend the ears of the people who think they know better. And yes, I consider myself one of those people because I pay attention, I care, and I try to hold myself to a high standard of carefulness and thought. If you are reading this, you do, too.  If you don't like NE NER NIS, then "people who think they know better," who I hope also qualify as reasonable people, can differ.

* Montagu (1905-1999), a  male anthropologist, wrote The Natural Superiority of Women, one of my mother's favorite books.  It was first published in 1953.  A fifth edition came out in 1999.
rev to fix HRts: 11-14-2012
 to fix italics and make minor changes: 11-20-12
other revisions:  7-5-13, 1-31-14

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