Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Yo, peeps: Pronoun news

It always gets crazier, doesn't it? Like most of you, I chuckled at stories on the gender-neutral pronoun yo among Baltimore kids. Not everybody is laughing. Our CapTimes (no link to this, it seems like, maybe for the better) ran Word Court with this headline:
Peep this: 'Yo' won't cut it
OK, I'm not going into a rant here, but I gotta note the level of argument used. Beyond the complaint that it was actually the teachers who promoted this, the examples are these:
Yo is tuckin' in his shirt.
Peep yo.
The objections? These aren't really gender-neutral sentences. And the pronoun sounds 'disrespectful'. (Say whut? Because yo qua discourse marker is associated with African-American speech?) The 'his' later in the first example betrays the gender of the referent. That's a little usage issue, not a flaw of the pronoun. In the second, it is — hang with me here — that the speaker sees the person in question, so that somebody can tell the gender of the person referred to. Therefore, this doesn't count as 'gender-neutral'. Yo, judge! (That's the discourse yo not the pronoun, fyi.) A zillion languages lack gender marking on pronouns and they don't mark gender whether you know it or not. The Judge apparently wants something that is specifically restricted to cases where we want to be vague about gender.

But it goes off the cliff from there. Yo is part of a 'private language', namely youth language, followed by some outrage that teachers are documenting "this stuff" instead of teaching Standard English.

Oh. My. God.


The Ridger, FCD said...

Words fail me.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, I was left making Neanderthal noises as my eyes spun in my head.

Ollock said...

Did it ever occur to the people writing this that the linguists studying this phenomenon aren't actually advocating the usage? It's an interesting natural phenomenon -- not a proposal.