Monday, February 9, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Singular subject and Plural Reference

10-second review: “Everyone has a right to their own language.” We use it when we speak. We avoid it when we write. What’s wrong with that?

Title: “Everyone’s Right to Their Own Language.” M Kolln. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 100-102. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “So citing Cardinal Newman’s—or, Shakespeare or Addison’s or Swift’s—use of everyone as plural probably convinces no one of its acceptability.” p. 101.

Summary/Quote: “We do not serve our students well when we automatically mark as ungrammatical their use of the plural pronoun in reference to everyone and everybody. Such a policy does not reflect standard English. We cannot defend it on the basis of grammar rules or logic, nor on the grounds of efficiency. We cannot look to the past; history does not support us. There is simply no reason why the written language should follow one practice and the spoken language another in the matter of everyone/their.” p. 102.

Comment: Martha Kolln is one of the few English educators who makes sense when she writes about grammar. This time, however, I disagree with her. Since half the educated population will not accept the author’s reasoning that "everyone/their" is acceptable in writing and speech, why bother wasting energy? Beginning in the plural—“The partygoers returned to their homes” or “Students have a right to use their language any way they wish” —is both clear and precise and doesn’t offend the language purist. Or people who respect women as equal members of the human race.

Staying in the plural sounds better anyway. Avoids the string of “he/she” “his/her” constructions that English educationists like to use in their journal articles along with other creative devices like using “he” in the first reference and “she” in the next reference, all of which make me grit my teeth like chalk grating on a chalkboard. RayS.

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