Let me clarify why I like use of Spivak-and-related pronouns (e/em etc, or similar xe/xem ones) for me, and in general. I'm absolutely fine with singular they, but if we were constructing a language today, what would we choose syntactically to convey information?
To me, it doesn't make much sense at all to give preference at all to "carry information" about gender in the modern age. Our roles aren't that strict anymore, and mostly it pre-empts someone for stereotypical assumptions. (1/2)
(2/2) By contrast, singular/plural conveys a heck of a lot more useful information than gender cues.
Of course, if someone asks me to use a gendered pronoun, I'll use it because many people have to fight for their representation. And also, singular they/them has become wildly successful, and almost nobody is used to Spivak-style pronouns.
But I think exploration of gender-neutral singular pronouns and using them *by default unless asked otherwise* would be really great for society.
(3/2) Ok, bonus post.
I mostly think of myself as "gender awkward"; you can't really use the wrong pronouns on me, so you're not likely to mess up. (That's not true for everyone.) But I would *appreciate it* if you tried.
In the meanwhile, it's probably *easiest* to use they/them, because that's been very successful and isn't an uphill fight!
My asking people to explore Spivak is partly because I'm asking people to consider: why do we use language this way? What effects does it have?
@cwebber one advantage of they is that it includes people who prefer plural pronouns
(I have more "thinking out loud" I'd like to do on that direction, but it isn't something I have personal experience with, so I guess I'm only interested in doing so if you're willing to provide feedback?)
@trwnh Cool... first of all, I think there's probably a valid observation that the concept of "single agents" in general is kind of an illusion in the sense that everyone is composite. So that's a starting point; nobody is completely singular. (cotd ...)
@trwnh But I was also thinking about how sentence construction partly involves identifying targets (subjects, objects), and that pronouns are one place where this happen.
We can think of a graphics program that has a selection tool. We can select a single object; many programs also has a "mode" to select multiple objects at once. In a sense, singular vs plural can be seen as single-select vs multi-select. (cotd ...)
@trwnh However, that said, even single-select can select a bunch of things at once... by grouping them! In both Blender and Inkscape, for instance, you can select a group of objects and "group" them. Now they can be composed in terms of one abstract object that can be selected with single-click. However, if you un-group them or use a tree view, you can select he individual elements.
In that sense, even singular pronouns may encompass an agent that is plural, if that pluralization is grouped?
@trwnh The "?" is very intentional: again, this is thinking out loud, and not prescriptive. I'm very interested in what you think!
@cwebber i'll have to read this later as the power just went out and my phone battery is dying, but i'll be sure to respond asap!
@cwebber i think what you said is ok, but perhaps overcomplicating it? "select" is not the analogy i would use. if i had to pick a computing abstraction, i would pick "reference", as that's literally what it is. pronouns are just references. if we were using ActivityPub as an example, then it's like referencing a Person or a Group actor; should we use a different property for each, or just use "id"? how important is it to convey type information about actors?
@cwebber now assume the type of an object changes. does that mean the reference should also change? perhaps, but if we were being generalistic then we would choose one way of referencing that has nothing to do with type; type is a separate property. i view my pronouns as similar. "they" is generic enough to work without implying anything about state at the time of reference.
@cwebber ultimately, if you recognize that gender is not worth encoding in language, then maybe it can also be said that singularity/plurality is not worth encoding in language either, when trying to construct a reference. it is still possible to use more specific references in languages that support it, in the same way type hinting can be used in dynamically-typed languages.
@cwebber but whether the reference is int or string is just as irrelevant as whether it's a singleton or a list. a reference is a reference.
@trwnh All good thoughts. Yes, I was thinking via references too, but thought using a UI metaphor might be easier to follow in case any non-programmers were also following along. But I agree that references are an excellent choice, since one may very well have a reference to a list!
Anyway, thanks for talking about it with me. I really appreciated your thoughts and definitely wasn't an angle I was thinking about before. :)
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