2020 Winner: A Pragmatic Account of Singular They

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A Pragmatic Account of Singular They
This paper presents a linguistic analysis of the modern use of pronouns such as “they”,”them”, and “theirs” with syntactically or semantically singular referents. It creates an analysis of uses of “singular they” based on data gathered through the author’s own observations in day to day life as well as the observations of other linguists. This analysis proposes that patterns in the distribution and interpretation of modern “singular they” use can be explained through pragmatic pronoun-antecedent matching, rather than syntactic matching as proposed in some previous analyses. According to this analysis, speakers choose singular they based on what information they wish to convey about the referent, and interpret other speakers’ uses of singular they through pragmatic reasoning, rather than basing their choice and interpretation of pronouns on syntactic rules to do with the grammatical properties of the referent.
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  • Clara Agnes Mcmahan (Kresge)