Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Sie and hir
Sie and hir are two terms proposed to serve as gender-neutral third person singular personal pronouns in English (see gender-neutral pronouns). These neologisms are used by some people who feel that there are problems with gender-specific pronouns because they imply sex and/or gender (see non-sexist language). However, sie and hir are very rare compared to other solutions and most commentators feel that it is unlikely that they will catch on.
The recommended usage is shown in the table below. See Declension for more information on each of the cases.
|Subject||Object||Possessive adjective||Possessive pronoun||Reflexive|
|Male||He laughed||I hit him||His face bled||I am his||He washes himself|
|Female||She laughed||I hit her||Her face bled||I am hers||She washes herself|
|Neutral||It laughed||I hit it||Its face bled||I am its||It washes itself|
|Gender-neutral||Sie laughed||I hit hir||Hir face bled||I am hirs||Sie washes hirself|
You can capitalise these words for all of the reasons you might capitalise other pronouns. For example, if you believe in a transgendered deity, then you might pray to Hir in the hope that Sie will intervene in your life.
- Consider someone trying to put a left hand into a right-handed glove; if either the glove or the hand is replaced with its reverse you'll get a gloved hand. Obviously this doesn't work if the person specifically wants this glove on hir left hand
- First recorded usage of hir on usenet – May 26 1981
The ancestors of this pronoun set could date back to at least the 1930s: to hes, hir, hem (quoted in the Washington Post), and se, sim, sis (quoted in the Liverpool Echo). Some people believe that the current form has been in use since the 1980s.
Hir probably comes from patching together his, him, and her – sharing the common "h" and taking an "i" from his or him and an "r" from her. Alternatively, it might come from the pronoun hir in Chaucer's English, meaning "her". Once you have hir, extending it to hirs and hirself is quite natural.
One theory for the origin of sie is that it came from S(he), I(t), (h)E. Another is that it was borrowed from the German sie, which means you, she, her, they, or them depending on context and/or capitalisation.
Like many neologisms introduced on the internet, different people pronounce these words in different ways. The most common pronunciations are included here, along with pronunciation guides — see the International Phonetic Alphabet for English to decode them.
- Sie or /zi:/. About three quarters of people in a quick sample of usenet said they pronounced this roughly like see /si:/, while the rest said they pronounced it roughly like zee /zi:/.
- Hir /hi:ə(r)/ or /hɜ:/. About three quarters of the sample said they pronounced this roughly like here /hi:ə(r)/, while the rest said they pronounced it roughly like her /hɜ:/.
- Hirs and Hirself — extended from hir in the way you'd expect: adding an "s" or self sound onto the end. Of course, this can vary depending on how you choose to pronounce hir.
Problems with "sie" and "hir"
These are some of the arguments some people make against these pronouns:
- There are existing solutions, such as singular they, or the neutral third person it, that render neologisms unnecessary.
- Sie and hir, unlike they, have not evolved naturally in spoken English. Instead they have been imposed artificially. Historically, such examples of language have not had significant staying power.
- Sie and hir are unintuitive and cumbersome.
- The variation in pronunciation and the similarity to the corresponding female pronouns and other words could cause confusion.
- Sie and hir have a female bias, because they sound similar to the corresponding female pronouns. Furthermore, sie is the female pronoun in German. (Historically this was an asset: the initial uptake was probably helped by irritation at the use of male pronouns as gender-free terms.)
Supporters of "sie" and "hir" do not accept these criticisms, or feel they do not outweigh the advantages of these words.
- Zie and zir were introduced slightly later to correct the perceived female bias of sie and hir. The Z is pronounced similarly to tz. This pronoun set is now thought to be about as common as sie and hir, though neither are widespread.
- Kate Bornstein uses ze and hir thoughout her book My Gender Workbook.
- Xe is another common replacement for sie
- Ve is less common, but also used. Greg Egan uses ve, ver and vis for non-gendered artificial intelligences in his novel Diaspora, and for "asex" humans in Distress.
- Shi is sometimes seen as an alternative to sie, especially among the furry community. It is pronounced like shay.
- People commonly use they and them when they are talking about an indefinite person and feel the need to use a gender-neutral pronoun.
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