1. ZYX
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    ZYX Member

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    Pronouns for a character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ZYX, Apr 14, 2015.

    So, I have a nonbinary character as a POV character. However, since this is going to be third person limited, I'm going to be using this character's pronouns a lot, and I can't decide what to use.

    Singular they is the most well-known, but i know using that confuses me when there's multiple people around, so I figure it might be an issue for others. I like ze/hir, zie/zir, and xe/xim, but I'm worried people might be confused by that, since they're not exactly mainstream. I also don't want to use he/him or she/her because then people will use that to justify the character as a boy or girl or get confused. Writing this little description without pronouns was really hard, so I definitely need pronouns ...

    I don't think I'm going to come right out and state " [Name] is nonbinary " but I do kind of want it to be clear ?

    One of my friends noted that the people picking up a book with a nonbinary protagonist / POV character would probably be doing it in part because they know the character is nb but I'd still like it to be accessible to people who don't know.

    Opinions ??? Thank you !
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is it set in a different culture? If so, how do THEY refer to nonbinary people?

    Alternatively, the rule for the regular world is to use the pronouns the person prefers. Which pronouns do you think your character would like?
     
  3. ZYX
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    ZYX Member

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    It's basically science fiction space Europe. So, fairly similar to modern day but there are changes. They would use preferred pronouns for the person where this character grew up.
    I've alternated between quite a few that would work for the character but none really stand out as This Character's Pronouns ( which is how I decided for all my other nb characters in other projects ) so I decided to look into which ones would be the most accessible for people who don't really know about nonbinary people and stuff.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ok, so these are humans with a linguistic history shared with us. There are some things that are important to know if you want to stick to real linguistics. If you don't (your story, your choice) then I have an example where what you mention can be seen in use.

    In true language, pronouns are very slow to change. They belong to a group of words that are strongly resistant to change over time in Indo-European languages. Pronouns, words for family members, etc. In order for a new word to really come into play to express and denote a person who is non-binary, The People have to pick up the word and make use if it in a gestalt fashion. If that doesn't happen, the word may have a short life as slang* and then die out.

    Now, if we wish to ignore the constraints of linguistics (most writers do) :) then I would suggest a little overview of Storm Constantine's Wraeththu series where everyone who is no longer purely human is a sort of hermaphrodite, capable of "fathering" or "mothering" a child. Storm refers to the new evolution as har, plural, hara. Combinations are created from this to create terms such as everyhar, nohar, somehar, etc.



    *slang: Important to note that the common definition for slang is utterly wrong. True slang is any term that is used by a group to self-identify. "We who say this word belong to X group". This is why slang has such a short shelf life. As soon as others start to use it, it no longer serves to self-identify and is replaced by something new.
     
  5. LittleMe
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    LittleMe New Member

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    Have you read Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie? It's a really interesting FPP foray into gender neutrality and really challenges the sexism that sci-fi is so terribly fraught with. Plus it's a really excellent book.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that Ancillary Justice was interesting, but I did feel like it kind of bashed me over the head with the gender/language thing. I mean, when I try to remember the characters, or the plot, I kind of can, but I feel like that was all overshadowed by the pronoun usage.

    It'd be cool to do something similar, but not quite so overpoweringly...
     
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  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. What I liked about Storm's choice of har and hara was that it feels like a natural progression, linguistically, out from he and her. Anything too concocted or synthetic will feel, well, concocted and synthetic.
     
  8. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    Interesting. This is a topic I've actually been meaning to ask about, as this is also a problem I need to address. I have a character who can't be referred to as either he or she because they are completely genderless and sexless due to being a singular, ageless demigod.
    So far I simply refer to it as ... well, it. Yet, that seems somewhat awkward.

    Unfortunately, there doesn't really seem to be any better alternative. I actually do believe that our language could do with some gender neutral pronouns, not for "political correctness" but simply because it seems like it would be an improvement over the it/they/them routine. Although, these pronouns are unlikely to join the language any time soon, partly because people are fine with it in most circumstances and the few where it isn't appropriate are somewhat niche, and partly because the people who do want to make this change can't stop bickering over whether it should be ne/nem/nir, ve/ver/vis, ey/em/eir, xe/xem/xyr or any of the countless others people are churning out.
    To be honest, I don't remove myself as part of the problem here, since as much as I think this would be a neat change, I don't want to be an early adopter, and the reason for this is, well, they just sound kind of weird and confusing to most people. Even to people who know about them they sound kind of strange, and their use comes off as somewhat pretentious, and probably controversial to a great many people.
     
  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm glad to see that we've had some linguistic suggestions - because using they, them and their when referring to a singular is horrible, and often done by people who are too idle to use him or her instead of using them.
     
  10. ZYX
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    ZYX Member

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    I could never use it for a character that isn't a flower pot, I'd feel like I'm dehumanizing my own character. I have another nonbinary character that's actually in a similar boat, and I used they for them because their existence makes more sense if you think of them as a plural being ?? Maybe that didn't make sense, whoops. I don't know, something about using " it " irks me.

    Har and hara sound really nice if not a little out there, since I haven't actually seen them before. My problem with stuff like ne/nym and xe/xem is they seem so niche I'm not sure people will get it. I'm so jealous of languages that have a singular, animate, gender-neutral pronoun whereas English-speakers are stuck using the plural or inanimate.
    I've recently started considering sie/hir, but I'm not sure what I think of the sie spelling ( se ? ) and it's reading very feminine to me. They look to be actual pronouns that remind me of she/her and he/him in the same way as har and hara but I'm not sure that they're immediately recognizable as pronouns and not something else entirely.

    I absolutely hate having to use "him or her" in essays. Singular they, to me, is best for when you're referring to a generic or otherwise unknown person. "Him or her" excludes people that aren't a him or a her. I've read mixed opinions on whether or not it's grammatically correct, but I get confused once you start referring to groups and using singular they.
     
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is no singular they.

    By definition, "they" refers to the third person plural. "He", "She" and "It" refer to the third person singular.

    I hate it when you hear something like "The group are upset." Wrong. The group - being ONE group - IS upset. Alteratively, THEY (the - plural - members of the group) are upset.
     
  12. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    No, it just describes someone who is. When did we start thinking of simple description as exclusionary?

    The 'singular they' is incorrect, mainly because it doesn't exist. If you're describing 'they', it's plural by definition.
     
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  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The Oxford Dictionary disagrees with you: :bigtongue:

     
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  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Careful with the "singular they is incorrect" absolutism - there's a pretty long history of it being used that way by some masters of the language. Kind of depends if you're a descriptivist or a prescriptivist regarding grammar, but if you're looking for authority you could check out the OED, as outlined at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/he-or-she-versus-they.

    I mean, if you don't want to use the construction, fair enough. If you're writing for a body that has a style guide that forbids the construction, okay. But cross-the-board 'incorrect'? I don't think we can go that far.

    ETA: Wow. Cross-posting is one thing, but cross-posting with the EXACT same reference link? Possibly I'm psychic...
     
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  15. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    If your child is thinking about a gap year, they can get good advice from this website.

    Plug that into Google translate and, in German, you get:

    Wenn Ihr Kind über ein Jahr Auszeit zu denken, sie gute Ratschläge von dieser Website zu bekommen.

    "They" is translated as "it", because it's a (non-specific gender) child.

    That's the problem with "common usage".


     
  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or it's the problem with Google translate...

    I regularly find pronoun gender issues when I use online translators to read other languages. Doesn't mean there's a flaw in the other language.
     
  17. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Or maybe I disagree with the Oxford Dictionary. It's interesting that so many 'source authorities' about language seem to be coming to the conclusion that anything goes. My suspicion is that they think they can attract users (read : buyers) if they tell everyone his or her 'special constructions' are as valid as anyone else's. I've seen style manuals which state that the word 'unique' can have qualifiers, for example. (I'm thinking of writing my own style manual, titled, "I, Pedant".)

    There has always been, and continues to be, I think, a distinction and a difference between spoken colloquial language and written prose. For myself, I'll continue to take some measure of pride in using the language in which I write correctly. Each of youse guys can do as they please.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just my two cents - but if you're going all-in on having a non-binary character you should probably use non-binary pronouns...and I say that as someone who finds the non-binary pronoun debate profoundly annoying and counter-productive. But if you're going to do it, do it - don't compromise on how you want to tell your story. Actually in a sci-fi setting it could be really interesting to FORCE people to think in a non-binary way by slamming them over the head with it over and over again. Explain it somewhere on the front end so that people understand what you're doing, then just go for it. I've seen this done with establishing in-world slang and jargon, and in sci-fi people are willing to go with it. It would be interesting to see if you could force that mental switch with pronouns rather than just slang. Xe/Xim might be a decent choice because it mirrors "he/him" in format so closely that it might be an easier mental switch for people who don't know it coming in (as opposed to "Zie/Hir" which I've always found cumbersome) .

    That - or since you're in the future, you have the option of inventing pronouns. Actually on an intellectual level I'd be really interested to see if you could get people's minds to work with language components that don't actually exist in real life.
     
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  19. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    Similarly, if you take any given German sentence which uses 'sie' in the plural sense and put it through google translate into Icelandic, you end up with the wrong pronouns.
    'Sie sind gekommen' would translate into 'Þeir eru komnir' (assuming it's a group of masculine nouns), when 'Þær eru komnar' and 'Þau eru komin' are just as likely to be correct.
    You can basically always find sentences which cause issues when translated into other languages; I don't think that means we should change one or both of them.

    If you really want to pick at problems arising from machine translation from English to German, what about you-Sie/Ihnen/du/dich/dir/ihr/euch? I doubt you'd find anyone willing to accept that as an argument for only using 'you' in the plural sense (as much as I'd champion a revival of 'thou/thee').
     
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  20. ZYX
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    ZYX Member

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    If you plug " I was talking about the girls; they said they'd come. " into Google translate and translate it into french, you get " Je parlais des filles; ils ont dit qu'ils étaient venus. " Ils is the masculine plural, and grammatically it should be elles ont dit because its all girls.

    Colloquial language is what shapes written prose. It doesn't mean that you're going to be able to use lmao in a formal essay, but if language wasn't meant to change, we'd still be writing in the same form of English you'd find in Beowulf or the Canterbury Tales. The reason Oxford changed it is to reflect the most accurate form of the English language. Oxford doesn't make the rules of what is grammatically correct so they can sell dictionaries, they make the rules so that you can write in a way other people will understand. There's no need to be all elitist about it because you use a different form of a flawed, constantly changing language that has a variety of dialects anyways.

    I feel like this part of the conversation really veered off-course from the initial question though, sorry about that !!! I didn't mean to start a debate over the mechanics of the English language !!!!!!
     
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  21. ZYX
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    ZYX Member

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    (( I did this in two posts since the topics are different. I'm still kind of new here so sorry if that's annoying / spam / just not what people do or something ))

    I'm thinking using pronouns the majority of people might not recognize may be my best bet. I think it's hard enough sf ( is that a term people still use ?? if so did I even use it correctly ???? ) that I can probably get away with. I was mostly concerned with it turning away readers, but it sounds like my intended readership probably won't mind to much. Thank you !!
     
  22. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sounds like a good plan especially if you're in the Hard-SF lane (or hard-ish SF - I feel like I need to make a joke here about why we should be all binary about whether something is or isn't "Hard SF"). But seriously - readers in that lane generally want their brains to be challenged anyway.
     
  23. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    As one of the published authors here, do you use that construction in your published work?

    None of us lives forever. The only impetus I can think of that would lead so many people to try to do something as difficult as writing fiction is the desire to have part of us go on after our time here. In order to have our work possibly achieve any sort of 'immortality', it has to be published and distributed to some sort of audience. While we have a lot more options now for publishing as compared to twenty years ago, the stickler is still the distribution part. The odds of a self-published book selling well are still in the struck-by-lightning range. So, if I want my masterpiece to reach a large enough audience to possibly ensure its' living on beyond my years, I need a publisher, and my guess is that that the first order of business of any editor from any legitimate publisher, when presented with a manuscript containing nonsense like ze/hir, zie/zir, and xe/xim would be to tell the author to replace those pronouns with the ones used by authors who write in actual English. Those who insist that they only write for themselves, please ignore the above.

    I also believe that our editor would tell @ZYX that what people want from a work of fiction is well-known: a good story with a believable plot, and characters the reader can relate to. Very, very few would even notice the political correctness aspects that @ZYX is dithering over, even in a book about a 'non-binary' character. Go ahead and alternate him and her. It wouldn't be any more confusing to the reader than ze/hir, zie/zir, and xe/xim.
     
  24. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    I like they/them/their. Sorry guys. I know people who use this, and it seems like the best solution. These words exist in English already, and people understand what it means when they are used in the singular. That's good enough for me. I use they very often when I just don't want to mention someone's gender. I don't like the new pronouns (ze or xe) personally, too spacey sounding.

    Alternating him and her might be like describing orange by alternating yellow and red.
     
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  25. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the colour really is orange, "it" might be more appropriate where there is no specific gender.
     

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