But there’s one thing we can’t seem to get right: pronouns, reports NPR today: ” We know that if you say, “Every child has his monkey,” it excludes girls. So instead we might say, “Every child has their monkey,” even though it’s not grammatically correct. And “Every child has his or her monkey,” is just clunky.
“But some kids in Baltimore have come up with a solution that has caught the attention of linguists.
“At the UMAR Boxing Gym, you hear the word “yo” a lot.
“You know, like yo hit me … yo took my stuff! Yo, yo! … yo right there is crazy.” Instead of “he” or “she,” it’s “yo.” It’s slang people have been using for years in Baltimore. Margaret Troyer, a former Baltimore-area teacher, published the first paper showing that “yo” is being used to replace “he” and “she.” Troyer first noticed it while she was teaching middle-school kids in the area.
“Some examples would be ‘yo wearing a jacket,’ ” Troyer says, referring to her research. “Another example from the paper is, ‘Yo threw a thumbtack at me,’ which is a typical middle school example.”So Troyer began to study her students. She gave them blank cartoons and asked them to fill in the captions — many of the cartoon characters were androgynous. Troyer found the kids used “yo” instead of “he” or “she” when they didn’t know the gender of the character. But they also used “yo” as a substitute even when they did know the gender.
“They said things like, ‘Yo put his foot on the desk.’ So it was clear from this that they knew it was a male person, but they were just using ‘yo’ to refer to the person,” says Troyer. “And then in other sentences they would use ‘yo’ to refer to a female as well.” Christine Mallinson, a sociolinguist at the University of Maryland, calls this interesting and unusual. “Usually things like pronouns don’t change once a language has been established,” Mallinson says.
“She says kids in Baltimore solved a very old problem in linguistics: English doesn’t have a gender-neutral pronoun. That makes it difficult to refer to people if you don’t know the person’s gender.It’s also a problem for people who don’t want to be identified as “he” or “she.” “There have been activists who have wanted to propose something like ‘zee’ and ‘zeer’ as an option for something other than ‘he,’ ‘him,’ ‘she,’ ‘her,’ but that hasn’t really caught on,” Mallinson says.”