After four rowdy rounds of voting, the Vancouver School Board approved a new string of gender-neutral pronouns Monday: “xe,” “xem,” and “xyr,” the Vancouver Sun reports.
The grammatical additions, pronounced “zee,” “zem,” and “zare,” according to the Globe and Mail, will replace “he” or “she,” “him” or “her,” and “his” or “hers,” respectively.
The policy intends to better accommodate transgender students in schools. Someone unsure of a transitioning student’s gender could use the generic “xe,” and students who don’t identify with either gender, typically known as agender, could choose to go by “xe,” as well.
“We’re standing up for kids and making our schools safer and more inclusive,” board member Mike Lombardi told the Sun.
But not everyone approves of the movement. One of the most vocal dissenters, Cheryl Chang, chair of the Parent Advisory Council for Lord Byng Secondary Schools, thinks gender identity is a medical issue that schools shouldn’t address.
“This is not a meaningful conversation. This is politics of division. It’s getting people upset and angry,” she told CBC News.
While some consider “they” gender-neutral, the word is technically plural, enraging old school grammarians. But the school board didn’t just pull the idea for specific gender-neutral pronouns out thin air. While it would address some sex-discrimination, the idea is hardly new.
In 1789, William H. Marshall recorded the existence of the gender-neutral pronoun “ou.” “Ou will” meant “he will,” “she will,” or “it will,” according to Dennis Baron’s “Grammar and Gender.” “Ou” stems from the Middle English epicene “a,” used in the 14th century by writers for “he,” “she,” “it,” they,” and even “I.”
From there, Don Rickter is the most widely accepted inventor of “xe,” xem,” and “xyr” in 1973.
Another modern version of gender-neutral language are the Spivak pronouns. By dropping the “th” from “they,” “them, and “their,” mathematician Michael Spivak created “ey,” “em,” “eir,” widely used by LGBTQ advocates.
Despite intense debate, English has included provisions for gender-neutrality in grammar well before these issues revealed themselves.
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