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Preferred gender-neutral pronouns?
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jducoeur
Okay, here's a curious question: what sets of gender-neutral pronouns do you prefer?

The thing is, I'm writing LARPs in Querki nowadays -- that was the original motivation for the system (a dozen years ago), and while it's now only one use case among many, it's one that matters to me. In preparation for talking it up a bit at Intercon, I'm starting to get a first-draft LARP App ready, so that other folks can use Querki for LARP writing and management.

Gender has become a fairly hot topic in the LARP community: many people prefer to write relatively gender-neutral, not actually assigning genders to many or all of the characters until relatively late in the process. I tried this out myself for A Respectful Calm last year, and it was a fascinating exercise in pushing through my own assumptions: in the end, I would up with five "hard-gendered" characters, and 24 neutral. (That is, five characters were intrinsically gendered by the nature of their stories; the rest were left neutral until after casting.)

In order to do that, I had to create a way to write in a gender-neutral fashion in Querki; I did that by adding functions for the various pronouns. So for example, if you are writing in the context of a Character, you would say [[sie]] to mean "he or she". This works quite nicely in Querki -- a character sheet can refer to, say, B Ari (the CSI investigator) by pronoun as [[B Ari -> sie]], and that will become "he" or "she" depending on the final gender assigned to the character post-casting. Or in the Who You Know section of the character sheet, where any given entry refers to a specific character, you can just use [[sie]] and it'll interpret it appropriately. (I also added some special magic sauce in Querki to match case: if you say [[Sie]], it'll come out as "He" or "She".)

Of course, you can also leave the characters ungendered, and it'll just use the gender-neutral forms directly, but in my experience that's pretty unusual. Or you can completely ignore this whole mechanism and write in the traditional pre-gendered way -- this is more about allowing gender-neutral writing than requiring it.

It was an experiment, but I found that, once you get used to it, it becomes fairly natural. And the exercise changes the way you *think* about the characters, which opens up more design space: I found that there were a lot of characters where my original mental model had been for a particular gender, but in practice they worked fine (if, often, with subtly different culturally-influenced connotations) with the other. Indeed, about a third of them wound up cast opposite to my original expectations, and they worked well. It was quite refreshing.

But the thing is, I pulled the actual pronouns out of my ass. I used "sie" because it's the he/she I've come across most often, but wound up skating out onto thin ice as I figured out the rest of them. I wound up with:
  • Sie -- he / she (subject)

  • Hir -- her / him (direct object)

  • Hirs -- hers / his ("this thing is hers / his" -- I don't even remember which part of speech this is)

  • Hirp -- her / his (possessive -- this one was when I realized I was out of my depth)
The underlying mechanism is flexible, so folks can add their own variants if they like, but I'd prefer that the upcoming LARP App be based on the best consensus I can come up with.

So -- what set of gender-neutral pronouns do you think is best? Any particular reason, or just personal taste? I've found that I needed at least the above four parts of speech in order to write a complete character sheet, so I'm looking for suggestions that include all of them; I'm also quite open to more-complete sets. Also, to be useful, each pronoun must be at least as distinct as their standard gendered variant, since the point is to be able to translate these into their gendered forms automatically.
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They. They is a singular pronoun that is neutral, already in the langauge, and works with grammer the same way You does, both as a singular and a plural.

That's certainly one decent option. I have a mild twitch with it (too many years of mentally interpreting it as plural makes the gears grind a bit when I try to use it as singular), but they / them / theirs / their is probably the most real-English option. Do other folks prefer this?

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Wikipedia's got a good table of these. But all of them other than 'they' will likely feel foreign to users.

(Ey might work, though; it follows the 'they/them/their/theirs' pattern, is concise, and notably different.)

(Ey might work, though; it follows the 'they/them/their/theirs' pattern, is concise, and notably different.)

Intriguing. At a gut level I like it, but I suspect it would introduce new and special problems relating to "a" vs. "an" (since Ey starts with a vowel, and is mainly being substituted with values that start with consonants)...

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My personal favorite is ta, which is Chinese for he/she/it (Gendered pronouns were imposed on China in 1917, but only in the written language). But this is Querki. Can't you make it user-definable?

Oh, certainly so. This is just a question of what I include out-of-the-box in the LARP App. My rule of thumb is that stuff should be flexible, but most people will just go with the default, so it's worth trying to get the default right...

"They" certainly seems very popular these days. I only bobble at it when I don't have the context about whether the speaker is talking about one or more than one person. (Example: "I waited for them at the hospital" was one of my FB friends' recent status updates and I was somewhat worried about whether the poster's whole family was hit by a car or something - turns out it was one person, no major illnesses or injuries involved)

Edited at 2016-01-13 01:48 am (UTC)

I like ze/zim/zir/zirs.

Hadn't come across that one, but I like it -- thanks!

My personal preference is for "they", because a) it is already a natural part of the language and b) it feels like it fits in English in a way that I don't feel the conlanged ones do.

Second preference is for the Spivaks, as noted above.

The ones I've seen most often used are the zie/zir and sie/hir sets, though.

Okay, that's useful data -- thanks!

So, you could allow the user to use multiple placeholders to mean the same thing, based on what they were comfortable with:
[she][he][they][sie] -> all map to the same thing when filling in the placeholder
[her][him][them][hir] -> all map to the same thing when filling in the placeholder
[hers][his][theirs][hirs] -> all map to the same thing when filling in the placeholder

There's no need to only support one placeholder, as you're writing this from scratch anyway, right?


Correct, but I don't want to go *too* hog-wild with what I'm supporting out of the box -- the list of possible alternatives is large, and it gets unwieldy after a while. But I've already concluded that I need to support at least two alternatives, so it's possible we could go further...

Just anything but "hirp", please. It sounds like the whole "herp derp" thing which I still insist smacks too much of making fun of developmentally challenged people to be used in remotely polite company. Even if very few people agree with me.

That and "herp" being slang for herpes.

I'm pretty solidly in the "they" camp.

Yeah, even I don't like "hirp". I've sort of been thinking of that as "programmer art": the stick figure drawing that the programmer puts into the first draft of some software, which is intentionally so laughably awful that it *has* to get replaced by something better down the line. (Since, if you put in something that's at least barely adequate, management will say, "Good enough -- ship it!")

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