Sunday, August 20, 2006

״הם היחיד״ מן התורה מנין؟

(Where do we find a Torah source for "Singular They"?)

Devarim/Deuteronomy 17:2-5

כִּי יִמָּצֵא בְקִרְבְּךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ƶ׳ ⊁-ֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ
אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי ƶ׳ ⊁-ֶיךָ לַעֲבֹר בְּרִיתוֹ

If there is found among you, in one of your gates which God is giving you,
a man or woman who does that which is evil in God's eyes, to transgress his covenant,

וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיַּעֲבֹד אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, לָהֶם
וְלַשֶּׁמֶשׁ אוֹ לַיָּרֵחַ אוֹ לְכָל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוִּיתִי

and he went and he worshipped other gods, and he bowed to them —
and to the sun or to the moon, or to the whole host of the heavens which I did not command —

וְהֻגַּד לְךָ וְשָׁמָעְתָּ
וְדָרַשְׁתָּ הֵיטֵב
וְהִנֵּה אֱמֶת נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר נֶעֶשְׂתָה הַתּוֹעֵבָה הַזֹּאת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל

and it will be told to you, and you will listen,
and you will enquire well;
and yo, it's true &mdash the thing is correct — this abomination was done in Israel!

וְהוֹצֵאתָ אֶת הָאִישׁ הַהוּא אוֹ אֶת הָאִשָּׁה הַהִוא אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ אֶת הַדָּבָר הָרָע הַזֶּה אֶל שְׁעָרֶיךָ
אֶת הָאִישׁ אוֹ אֶת הָאִשָּׁה
וּסְקַלְתָּם בָּאֲבָנִים וָמֵתוּ

Then you will take out that man or that woman, who did this evil thing, to your gates —
the man or the woman
and you will stone them with rocks, and they will die.


For more information, see:
— Language Log's They Are A Prophet (and here's another relevant post)
— Uncle Jazzbeau’s Gallimaufrey's mistakes in the third person plural
— Henry Churchyard's Everybody Loves THEIR Jane Austen

So remember, if anyone tries to tell you that "singular they" is incorrect, smack them upside the head with a well-thumped Tanakh and tell 'em, if it was good enough for Moshe it's good enough for me!
(and they've implicated themself as a heretic by implying otherwise)

Disclaimer:
This blogger does not condone the thumping of Tanakhs or any other religious text.
It's disrespectful. Don't do it. Friends don't let friends thump books.

21 Comments:

Blogger tikkunger said...

hum, this is not something i ever think about, but reading your post i do find the topic interesting. not clerks 2 interesting but interesting none the less.

8/20/2006 1:30 PM  
Blogger Kylopod said...

I always give the following example: "Everybody went into the living room. Then they left the house."

Try changing "they" to "he" and see whether the passage still makes any sense.

8/20/2006 1:31 PM  
Blogger Kylopod said...

Having said that, I think Hebrew is more tolerant of masculine-dominance than English is. (Talking to linguists, in fact, I've discovered that our extreme preoccupation with forcing gender-neutrality is unique to our language.) On the other hand, if someone says the Bible's language is sexist you can always point out that the feminine zot (זאת) is used as default in Biblical Hebrew.

8/20/2006 1:35 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Unlike English, Hebrew gender encompasses everything in a masculine/feminine dichotomy.

English has the 'out' of neuter "it" and epicene "they". So since our 'he' and 'she' genders are more directly tied to male and female sex, we're more loathe to extend the gendered/sexed categories into places where they don't belong.

i've been told by a French acquaintance of mine that while English-speaking feminists prefer to de-genderize language in order to make it more sex-neutral, French-speaking feminists prefer en-gendering language to make it more sex-explicit; i.e. since there's no way to have a neutral term for "firefighters" in French that is neither explicitly masculine/male nor feminine/female, they prefer to include both, with the equivalent of saying "firemen and firewomen" so that they aren't using the masculing form as a catchall to include the feminine.

8/20/2006 1:49 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Friends don't let friendss thump books

Lol.

But what about non-religious texts? Can I thump someone with a volume of the complete works of Shakespeare? Or the complete Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Or an encyclopedia?

8/20/2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Usually the verb thump is only used when the book is the object of the action. You can thump a Bible, but when you pick up that Bible and hit someone else with it, you are not 'thumping' them with the Bible.

Maybe you could thump other books, as in NO! «thump» the Encyclo«thump»pedia Brit«thump»tanica says that «thump»Newfoundand«/thump» is the most easterly point in North America, not «thump» Montauk!

It's just the thumping (or using as drums) of Tanakhs, Hhumashim, and Siddurs that rub me the wrong way.

8/20/2006 2:23 PM  
Blogger Warren Burstein said...

In Hebrew, I've come across two feminist rewritings of the gender catchall rule (there has to be some more precise way to say that). One is to always include both genders of plural, either explicitly or with a slash - מורוים ומורות = מורים/ות, the other is to go by the majority, so one could refer to the teaching staff as מורות even there are a few men among them. I've only once come across the latter.

At Kehilat Yedidya, some of the prayers have been slightly rewritten, and sometimes gender has been added, and sometimes removed. The prayer for soldiers was recently amended to say חַיָּלֵינוּ וְחַיָּלוֹתֵינוּ - previously it just said חַיָּלֵינוּ. Although other plurals in the prayer encompass both genders, e.g. חוֹלֵיהֶם וּפְצוּעֵיהֶם On the other hand the misheberach after yikum purkan had "neshoteihem" taken out (and not replaced with "heyn"), so "heym" refers to all members of the congregation without regard to gender.

8/20/2006 3:37 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Oh well in that case we're in agreement on the thumping of books (except for my use of "thumping" I guess.)

8/20/2006 3:44 PM  
Blogger Kylopod said...

Here are my suggested improvements to the English language:

1) Once and for all, come up with a short gender-neutral pronoun, "dee," to replace "he or she." Example: [Husband to wife] "I met someone at work yesterday, and dee asked me to go to a restaurant with der."
2) Abolish the letter "h" and replace it with a new letter, so there no longer can be any confusion between "I hate olives" and "I ate olives."
3) Make past tense forms more consistent. For instance, all verbs ending in -ake shall take -oke as their past tense form, so that "I baked cookies" will become "I boke cookies."
4) For all regular verbs, the past participle is formed with -en rather than -ed. "I've jumpen across the living room."
5) To prevent confusion between -en and -ing caused by the previous rule, change -ing to -inga. "I'm doinga my homework!"
6) Ee-ther vs. eye-ther. Choose one and stick with it!
7) Abolish all useless synonyms. Let's face it: begin and start mean exactly the same thing. So do maybe and perhaps, scared and afraid, etc.
8) The contraction of "am not" shall be "amn't."
9) Keep "whom." But the word "what" should work the same way, the objective case will be "Wham." (Pronounced "wum.") Example: "Wham are you doing?"
10) Bring back "thee" and "thou," but this time use them as a mode of respect when addressing working class folks. Example: [Boss to employee] "Thou art fired!"
11) Shall vs. will. Let's compromise. We'll make the future tense form always "shill."
12) We should start making the difference between capitals and non-caps discernible in speech like in the book Wicked so that it's possible to hear the difference between, say, Hell and hell.
13) From now on, "media" is always singular--you need not fear those damn purists any longer who insist that you utter monstrous sentences like "The media are covering this story." The true plural of this word should be "mediae."
14) We should insist that the Christians follow our example and refer to their savior on paper as J-sus so as not to erase the holy name.
15) We should follow the advice of many style manuals to prefer Anglo-Saxon words to Latinate ones. For example, we should stop saying "enemy" and instead say "foe."

8/21/2006 12:34 AM  
Anonymous sister miryam said...

It's easy....everything will follow the way of the 2nd person:

Thou - You
becomes
You - You
clarified to
You - Y'all.

He/She - They
becomes
They - They
clarified to
They - Th'all.

8/21/2006 7:59 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Sister Miryam-

I once heard that y'all was actually singular, and the plural was "all y'all." I wonder, does anyone follow that?

8/21/2006 12:44 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

1. Kylopod, some excellent ideas.

2. I've already long been of the opinion that merely violating language won't prevent the violation of women.©

3. Knitter, or may I say Nitah, y'all has spread far beyond the springs of Texas, while all y'all is still (?) local. Otherwise, you're right, of course.

4. Steg, your nice idea doesn't hold. Vomeisu works, but uskaltom is clearly masculine, and the plural doesn't change it.

8/21/2006 1:22 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Lipman-

Whoa, I'm right on a grammar post and Steg isn't? On his very own blog? Is this even possible? Is the world coming to an end?

8/21/2006 6:31 PM  
Blogger Amishav said...

When I think of thumping, it is usually as an adjective, a "thumper," mostly in reference to someone pounding protestant bible to emphasize a point upon which one cannot be contradicted. It indicates a kind of simplemindedness that intellectual discussions of the finer points of Torah law does not engender.

But Steg- I do agree with you. We shoudn't let protestants thump the bible- at least until they can read the Hebrew!

8/21/2006 9:30 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Lipman:

My point was not that -m was an epicene singular/plural ending, but that it was a *plural serving as an epicene singular*. After all, since Hebrew is a thoroughly-gendered language, you'd expect someting like:
את האיש או את האשה
וסקלתו
Since "a man OR a woman" seems to be singular, you'd follow it by a singular [masculine] form.
But, since they're being followed by a plural (which due to the nature of the Hebrew gender system can include both the masculine האיש and the feminine האשה), i'm saying that if you want to you could look at it as parallel to the English "them".

Knitter:

Oh, believe me, it's happened before ;-) .

Amishav:

Ah yes, the prototypical "Bible-thumper". Unfortunately i've seen Jews thumping Tanakhs, Talmuds, and other sefarim too.

8/21/2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Maybe you've been wrong before, but me being right on grammar is a rare occurrence. (I had so much trouble with my SAT II in writing...)

And is it just me, or does "thumping" sound kind of dirty?

8/21/2006 11:01 PM  
Anonymous Mike Koplow said...

Kylopod (your name, by the way, makes me think of a Greek millipede that's not a good speller, although I assume that doesn't really describe you): Good ideas. Once when I read similar ideas in an appendix to a novel, I considered them Orwellian, but they're fun to toss around anyway.

But yeah, synonyms are a pain. I once had a very brilliant professor whose English was fluent, idiomatic, demotic or geeky as the situation warranted, and very slightly accented, who once began a lecture with "Let's begin out by..." Very hard to fault him, and I didn't try to, and I still stand by what I said about his English.

8/22/2006 9:28 AM  
Blogger Kylopod said...

Well, my grandfather, who is a Polish Jew, once said that he is "neither afraid nor scared" of death. (Which suggested to me that he was in fact both.) English has got some great synonyms, but it's easy to get carried away.

Here's the story of my screen name. When I got AOL in 1996, I tried to make my name Chilopod, which is in fact the Greek-derived scientific name for "centipede." But somebody had already taken the name. So I altered the spelling to the form you see here. I occasionally post under the name "marbeh raglaim."

8/22/2006 11:59 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Chilopod:

Ahah!
So that's why i had trouble finding it in an online Greek dictionary... must go fix your link, then.

8/22/2006 12:34 PM  
Blogger heccy said...

and yo, it's true — the thing is correct — this abomination was done in Israel!

I didnt know Moses grew up in the 'hood.

8/23/2006 12:41 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

heccy:

well, you learn something new everyday :-)

8/23/2006 4:25 PM  

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