SOCIAL SCIENCES

What’s Your Pronoun? Beyond He and She

Liveright: Norton. Jan. 2020. 304p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781631496042. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631496059. SOC SCI
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In recent years, pronouns have sparked debates across the country. People are adopting pronouns that are different from “he” or “she,” and businesses, schools, and other institutions have started including other pronoun options on forms and applications, risking criticism from their communities and from grammarians alike. In this book, Baron (English, Univ. of Illinois) focuses on the grammatical argument for a universally accepted gender-neutral pronoun in English. He discusses the politics of pronouns, specifically how the nonexistent third-person, gender-neutral pronoun led to codified sexism (the use of “he” meaning any person, and the implied and explicit hierarchy of the sexes therein) and codified racism (using it in documents regarding slaves). Baron also discusses how alternate pronouns are not a new thing, but instead have been used for centuries as the search for gender-neutral (and nonbinary) pronouns has progressed; the oldest documented gender-neutral pronoun is ou, which dates back to 1789.
VERDICT Based on decades of research, Baron’s masterly work documents the historical and continued importance of personal pronouns. Those interested in gender politics or English grammar, or who feel that “he” and “she” are inadequate, would benefit greatly from perusing this book.

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