When I woke up this morning, my thoughts were focused on the day's events. It's a Saturday. This is one of my busiest days of the week. Students are attending classes. I'm teaching classes. Moreover, today we have an Open House. I didn't foresee starting my Language Arts class with a discussion regarding pronouns. My fourth grade language arts class understands pronouns. They know that he is a singular masculine pronoun. She is a singular feminine pronoun. It is a pronoun typically used to refer to a thing, although, "it" can also refer to a person. "It" can be used to identify a gender neutral person.
Yet, we spent the first portion of class discussing pronouns. We discussed the ambiguity that already lies with pronoun usage, or rather the overuse of pronouns. You can't utilize a pronoun unless you have already identified the noun or thing to which you are referring. Why? The purpose of writing is to communicate. Communication is useless unless the reader clearly understands the writer's intentions. Thus, the writer must clearly articulate their message. Then, we discussed the proper use of the pronoun "they."
At first glance, this might appear to be a rather elementary discussion. "They" is, historically, defined as a third person pronoun that serves as a plural of he, she, or it. Today, the AP Style Guidelines released a revision that allows for the use of "they" as a singular pronoun when the writer wishes to be gender neutral. Wait, didn't I just say that "they" is a plural pronoun? Yes, I did. Historically, the pronoun "they" is a plural pronoun. Now, I suppose it can be both?
The use of "they" as a singular pronoun only furthers the point that I made in "Millennial Speak: Say What?." However, this is much worse. The AP self-proclaims itself as a arbitrator of the English Language*, a grammar enforcement agency. It is a multi-national non-profit organization owned by contributing newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. The AP produces "style" guidelines that the majority of the English speaking world adheres to. Why? They monopolize the industry. They set a standard. The herd follows. The AP is setting a standard for ambiguous writing. The use of the pronoun "they" as a singular pronoun lacks specificity. It creates confusion. It creates written chaos.
I realize that society now demands a gender neutral pronoun. The pronoun "it" seemed sufficient to me. However, I realize that this causes some offense to those who wish to be non-gender specific. The social constructs "xe" or "ze" seem OK to me too. The world rallied when society added "Ms." to the list of appropriate list of titles. In this instance, women sought to identify as a woman. The use of the title "Ms." told the world that they[women] didn't want to be identified by their marital status, but rather as an individual. This reduced the specificity that a title allowed, however, it didn't create confusion or ambiguity. A new term was coined. This, I believe, is perfectly acceptable.
I recognize that new words and terminology are necessary as society advances and changes. I recognize that this is a necessity. However, the purpose of language is to communicate. The purpose of communication is to convey a message -- a clear message -- a message that any reader could reasonably understand without requiring undue clarification. "They" is a plural pronoun. It always has been. It should continue to be a plural pronoun.
Yes, I'm a librarian. Yes, I teach language arts. Yes, I advocate adhering to the AP style guidelines. Yes, I advocate for proper word usage, mechanics, and grammar. Yes, I advocate for well-read children and proficient writers. No, I do not advocate for the use of "they" as a singular pronoun. Nope. Absolutely not.
*Credit for this phrasing is given to Mitch Allen, Twitter @RealDadReading
**Evidently, I do use a serial comma. The AP guidelines do not specifically require nor prohibit the use of a serial comma. The serial comma is not necessarily encouraged. However, I believe that the serial comma adds specificity by differentiating the last two items in a list as separate items.