Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

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fagricipni
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Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby fagricipni » Wed Aug 31, 2016 3:07 pm UTC

Douglas Hofstadter wrote something called "A Person Paper on Purity in Language". It's an exercise in what language would be like if race were as baked in to English as sex is now. English isn't a problematic for gender-neutral language as other languages in which all nouns have genders, but it still shows to a surprising degree if one looks at it with an unaccustomed eye. I'm not sure how to best explain this except by suggesting reading the paper, including the "Post Scriptum". This inspired me to experiment with leaving all gendered terms out of my writing; it's harder that it seems, even when one allows oneself to use the gender-neutral pronouns: ey, em, eir, eirs, and emself.

What I am wondering is what is the phrase "Person Paper" doing in the title? It doesn't seem to be a common phrase for a document according to Google: results include pages that refer to this document, and the next closest meaning is that of "first person paper" and "third person paper". So I am led to believe that Hofstader was trying to avoid using a word or phrase when ey used the phrase "Person Paper", but "manuscript" is the only thing that I can think of and "manuscript" comes from the Medieval Latin "manuscriptum" which derives from the Latin "manu scriptus" (lit., "by-hand written"). "Manu" simply means hand (yes, it's in the ablative form); it has nothing to do with the gendered English word "man". Did Hofstadter make a mistake or is there something that I am missing?

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby Sizik » Wed Aug 31, 2016 3:25 pm UTC

I think it's supposed to be a "white paper", but using less "racist" language.
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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby Soupspoon » Wed Aug 31, 2016 4:12 pm UTC

fagricipni wrote:even when one allows oneself to use the gender-neutral pronouns: ey, em, eir, eirs, and emself.

I will doubtless learn more when reading said paper, later, but I don't see any reason to presume gendering in (I think) the words "they"1, "them", "their", "theirs" or "themself". If it is the apparent removal of the digraph "he", a much larger stretch than with the word "women"2, then ("en"?) might I suggest some equivalent of the alt-spellings of "womyn" or "hir". "Thim" is probably not acceptable, but "thym"/"tham" seems better (the latter works particularly well with "thay" and "thair(s)"; partly so with "thamself/ves").

I speak as someone with no personal gender issues to make me directly conscious of such things at every turn, but with a surprisingly diverse range of friends and friendly acquaintences (cue "I'm not FOOist! Some of my best friends are FOO...") for whom such linguistic gymnastics is generally agreed to be at best a puzzling distraction and at worst demonstrates the 'wrong' kind of hyper-radical posterchild for the cause that increases intolerance.

Still, each to their own. I'm just reporting on the general concensus within my existing circles of friends, none of whom have yet demanded depersonded such extremes, and most of 'em have actually decried the more extreme solutions.


1 Plural or (the dreaded but still useful) singular

2 Which at least is etymologically derived from 'biased' terms ranging from 'wife persons' through to 'female men', depending on your chosen derivative.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby Aiwendil » Wed Aug 31, 2016 5:25 pm UTC

Soupspoon wrote:I will doubtless learn more when reading said paper, later, but I don't see any reason to presume gendering in (I think) the words "they", "them", "their", "theirs" or "themself"


There is no presumption of gender in these words, nor any objection to them*. The "ey", "em", "eir", "eirs" forms are intended as a singular equivalent to the already gender-neutral "they", etc.

*Well, I'd object to "themself", as it should be "themselves", but that's a distinct issue.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby fagricipni » Wed Aug 31, 2016 5:41 pm UTC

Soupspoon wrote:
fagricipni wrote:even when one allows oneself to use the gender-neutral pronouns: ey, em, eir, eirs, and emself.

I will doubtless learn more when reading said paper, later, but I don't see any reason to presume gendering in (I think) the words "they"1, "them", "their", "theirs" or "themself". If it is the apparent removal of the digraph "he", a much larger stretch than with the word "women"2, then ("en"?) might I suggest some equivalent of the alt-spellings of "womyn" or "hir". "Thim" is probably not acceptable, but "thym"/"tham" seems better (the latter works particularly well with "thay" and "thair(s)"; partly so with "thamself/ves").


You misunderstand, I questioned Hofstadter's avoidance of the word "manuscript" on the basis that the "man" in "manuscript" has nothing to with the word "man". Nor am I trying to eliminate the letter pattern "he"; the word "heat", as is the word "they", is perfectly acceptable under the rules that I have made for myself. I do forbid myself the words "woman" and "man", not because they have the letter pattern "man", but because they have gender-specific meanings. However, the word "manuscript" is not gender-specific in meaning nor derivation; nor do I consider the word "human" to be gender-specific in derivation: the word "human" is not derived from *"hu-man" but from the Latin word "homo". My rules are clear to me; though you have caused me to realize that I would need to work more on detailed explanations if I were to try to explain my rules to other people.

I want to make one thing clear, though. I am not trying to force my language rules on others; I have chosen a harder path for myself than I would expect from others. Consider the conditions that I impose on myself as an exercise in Constrained writing like the novel without the letter "e", though, E-Prime is a closer analog to what I am doing.

One will also note that I do allow myself to use the forbidden words when discussing them as words; so, nobody object that that I used a word in solely describing why it is forbidden to me.

Soupspoon wrote:Still, each to their own. I'm just reporting on the general concensus within my existing circles of friends, none of whom have yet demanded depersonded such extremes, and most of 'em have actually decried the more extreme solutions.


I'm not pushing it this far; nor would even most (I'm reluctant to say all) of the most strenuous advocates of non-sexist language.

Soupspoon wrote:{referring to the word "they"} 1 Plural or (the dreaded but still useful) singular


I suspect that singular "they" will succeed; eventually only the kind of people who object to the use of the word "awful" to mean "terrible" rather than "awe-inspiring" will object to singular "they". However, I would like to maintain the distinction between the singular and plural; so, I am using the set of constructed pronouns (which incidentally I did not invent) that I believe have the best chance of succeeding, though it's only a better chance compared to other sets of constructed pronouns: I believe that all of them have a slim chance of being adopted generally.

(Incidentally, speaking of singular and plural pronouns; I have sometimes wished for distinct singular and plural forms for the second person pronoun "you".)

Soupspoon wrote:{referring to the word "women"} 2 Which at least is etymologically derived from 'biased' terms ranging from 'wife persons' through to 'female men', depending on your chosen derivative.


It could reasonably be argued that the problem isn't the use of the morpheme "man" in words like "chairman", but the fact that we lost the Latin word "vir" or the Old English word "wer" or "wæpman". While believing this to be historically correct, I think it is too easy a justification for not making the effort to change one's usage even when it would not be hard to do so: what's wrong with using the word "layperson" rather than the word "layman"?
Last edited by fagricipni on Wed Aug 31, 2016 6:23 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby fagricipni » Wed Aug 31, 2016 6:01 pm UTC

Aiwendil wrote:
Soupspoon wrote:I will doubtless learn more when reading said paper, later, but I don't see any reason to presume gendering in (I think) the words "they", "them", "their", "theirs" or "themself"


There is no presumption of gender in these words, nor any objection to them*. The "ey", "em", "eir", "eirs" forms are intended as a singular equivalent to the already gender-neutral "they", etc.

*Well, I'd object to "themself", as it should be "themselves", but that's a distinct issue.


You understand better what I am doing.

My actual prediction for standard English is, as mentioned above, that singular "they" will eventually be accepted as standard, but that the verbs will still be the plural forms; ie, it will be as it currently is for "you" even when logically singular; ie, the proper phrase is "you are right", not *"you is right", even when there is only one person included in the referent of the word "you"; so it will be with "they" even when when is logically singular; ie, the proper phrase will be "they are right" even when the referent of the word "they" is singular. Whether or not it is the word "themself" or "themselves" that will be accepted as the singular form, I don't know. I'm guessing "themselves".

Of course, when using the constructed "ey"-series of pronouns, "emself" is more logical. While I would like standard English to develop a distinct gender-neutral third person pronoun series, and thus use the "ey"-series; I expect the future usage will be a singular "they".

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Aug 31, 2016 8:29 pm UTC

fagricipni wrote:
Soupspoon wrote:
fagricipni wrote:even when one allows oneself to use the gender-neutral pronouns: ey, em, eir, eirs, and emself.

I will doubtless learn more when reading said paper, later, but I don't see any reason to presume gendering in (I think) the words "they"1, "them", "their", "theirs" or "themself". If it is the apparent removal of the digraph "he", a much larger stretch than with the word "women"2, then ("en"?) might I suggest some equivalent of the alt-spellings of "womyn" or "hir". "Thim" is probably not acceptable, but "thym"/"tham" seems better (the latter works particularly well with "thay" and "thair(s)"; partly so with "thamself/ves").


You misunderstand, I questioned Hofstadter's avoidance of the word "manuscript" on the basis that the "man" in "manuscript" has nothing to with the word "man". Nor am I trying to eliminate the letter pattern "he"; the word "heat", as is the word "they", is perfectly acceptable under the rules that I have made for myself.

I think you misunderstood Soupspoon, more than the other way around. The question wasn't about "man" at all, but of your "even when" comment about gender-neutral neopronouns. The context in which you mentioned them suggested (to me as well) that maybe you were avoiding the existing gender-neutral pronoun "they" for some reason. Soupspoon then speculated about what that reason might be.

In any case, the title doesn't avoid "man" (in which case we would have expected "personuscript"), it avoids "white".
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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby fagricipni » Wed Aug 31, 2016 9:56 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:I think you misunderstood Soupspoon, more than the other way around. The question wasn't about "man" at all, but of your "even when" comment about gender-neutral neopronouns. The context in which you mentioned them suggested (to me as well) that maybe you were avoiding the existing gender-neutral pronoun "they" for some reason. Soupspoon then speculated about what that reason might be.


On thinking about it, I guess I can see how one could get that impression. One example of what I mean is that in a draft, I had referred to someone's "girlfriend". First, I almost didn't catch it. Second, I had a lot of trouble coming up with a replacement, given that the other party was cheating on eir spouse, "SO" seemed wrong; "mistress" would be correct in standard English, but can only be used to refer to one gender; it took me a long time to come up with "lover". I run in to cases like that which cause me to pause to have to think more often than I expected I would.

gmalivuk wrote:In any case, the title doesn't avoid "man" (in which case we would have expected "personuscript"), it avoids "white".


I thought ey was trying to be smoother than that, instead of just jamming the word "person" into a word. It never occurred to me that ey was referring to a "white paper"; in fact, I had to Google the word to find a definition because I had only the vaguest idea of what that expression meant.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby speising » Wed Aug 31, 2016 10:06 pm UTC

I have to ask? What's the justification to avoid gender specific words when talking about a specific person of known gender, like Hofstadter or this girlfriend?

Btw, there's a whole paragraph in the article discussing the "ridiculousness" of having to repace every color specific word with person, so the title of the paper follows from that.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Sep 01, 2016 12:14 am UTC

fagricipni wrote:One example of what I mean is that in a draft, I had referred to someone's "girlfriend". First, I almost didn't catch it. Second, I had a lot of trouble coming up with a replacement, given that the other party was cheating on eir spouse, "SO" seemed wrong; "mistress" would be correct in standard English, but can only be used to refer to one gender; it took me a long time to come up with "lover".
The word that comes immediately to my mind is "paramour".
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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby fagricipni » Fri Sep 02, 2016 5:41 pm UTC

speising wrote:Btw, there's a whole paragraph in the article discussing the "ridiculousness" of having to repace every color specific word with person, so the title of the paper follows from that.


I think you may not understand the satire as well as you think you do. The paper is written in two voices: Hofstadter's in the "Post Scriptum", and a hypothetical opponent of non-racist language reform in Hofstadter's fictional world in which standard English was divided by race rather than by gender. The first part of Hofstadter's paper is a "translation" of what Hofstadter considered to be bad arguments made by opponents of non-sexist language reform in this world.

(I was initially confused by "person paper" because of my unfamiliarity with the term "white paper".) Interestingly, I am still confused by the Hofstadter's choice to title the paper a "person paper", unless Hofstadter, emself, believes that "white paper" is racist; the fictional author of the first part of the paper would have no problem with writing "white paper".

speising wrote:I have to ask? What's the justification to avoid gender specific words when talking about a specific person of known gender, like Hofstadter or this girlfriend?


However, in another sense you are correct Hofstadter does hold emself to the standard that I have imposed on myself: ey uses in the "Post Scriptum" the words: "women", "hers", "Mrs.", and "her". I have chosen to write in a "gender-free English" as if the language were as gender-free as the fictional race-divided English, but obviously not incorporating the racial division that the "Person Paper" does. It is going to be a bit difficult for me at first, just as I'm sure that writing in E-prime, which excludes all forms of the verb "to be", must have been difficult for a while; but two psychologists wrote a whole book in E-prime in the 1970's.

I would very much like to see standard English add gender-free forms for the singular third person pronouns, and word pairs like "uncle"/"aunt" and "niece"/"nephew", just as currently "sibling" can replace "sister" or "brother". I'm not sure that in some cases whether the elimination of some gendered pairs from standard English is even desirable: while they can quite often be replaced with the word "person", the use of the terms "woman" and "man" can serve as a useful shorthand for having to say/write "female person" or "male person" every time when genders are in fact relevant.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby Aiwendil » Fri Sep 02, 2016 6:19 pm UTC

fagricipni wrote:I think you may not understand the satire as well as you think you do. The paper is written in two voices: Hofstadter's in the "Post Scriptum", and a hypothetical opponent of non-racist language reform in Hofstadter's fictional world in which standard English was divided by race rather than by gender. The first part of Hofstadter's paper is a "translation" of what Hofstadter considered to be bad arguments made by opponents of non-sexist language reform in this world.


Umm, I think speising understood that just fine, and is simply pointing out that the term "person paper" occurs as a (hysterical, slippery-slope type, satirical) substitute for "white paper" in the essay itself, and that is where the title comes from.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby speising » Fri Sep 02, 2016 6:36 pm UTC

Exactly. However, if you don't know the term "white paper", i can see how this can be confusing.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby fagricipni » Fri Sep 02, 2016 8:15 pm UTC

Aiwendil wrote:Umm, I think speising understood that just fine, and is simply pointing out that the term "person paper" occurs as a (hysterical, slippery-slope type, satirical) substitute for "white paper" in the essay itself, and that is where the title comes from.


:oops: Even after having "person paper" explained to me, I still missed the depth of Hofstadter's thinking; ey's imagining eir hypothetical opponent of non-racist language using even the title to satirize eir opponents. I might have seen that if I were familiar with the term "white paper". My confusion over what Hofstadter was doing here is cleared up.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby Xanthir » Wed Sep 07, 2016 11:50 pm UTC

Related to this! (And the side discussion that temporarily flared up here.)

I've been attempting to intentionally degender my language for a little bit, and one part of that is using "they" for everyone. However, a few people have objected, for an unexpected reason - they're gendering "they". That is, when they hear "they" being used to refer to a single specific known person, they assume it implies they're genderqueer, and are explicitly rejecting "male" and "female" pronouns. They've invented a third grammatical gender which is, as far as I can tell, applied *only* to this one word. Other gendered word triples in English (e.g. congressman/congresswoman/congressperson) don't evoke this same reaction - they allow the neuter one to be used for specific known people without it implying anything about their gender.

I've seen this reaction occur among both cis and trans friends of mine, so it's not just an "ignorant cis people" problem. Thoughts?
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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby fagricipni » Fri Sep 09, 2016 1:28 am UTC

Xanthir wrote:Other gendered word triples in English (e.g. congressman/congresswoman/congressperson) don't evoke this same reaction - they allow the neuter one to be used for specific known people without it implying anything about their gender.


The word you are looking for instead of "neuter" is "common" gender or "epicene". (However, I'm not fond of the word "epicene" because while it originally referred to a grammatical property, it was quickly extended to have less neutral meanings, consider two definitions drawn from dictionary.com, especially the one labeled 2:

2: flaccid; feeble; weak
3: effeminate; unmasculine

As far as your original point, that using "they" as a singular gender-neutral pronoun "to refer to a single specific person" is taken to mean that that person has explicitly rejected gendered pronouns; I'd never heard of this before. I remember on a Usenet group in the '90's, the constructed pronouns of the "sie"-series and "zie"-series weren't taken that way; of course, the members of that group were more open to using constructed pronouns than is average. Though, the difference between the cases could also have to do with the increasing visibility of people who wish to reject the standard gendered pronouns.

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Re: Hofstadter's "Person Paper"?

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Sep 10, 2016 11:17 pm UTC

Dammit. I haven't encountered this, but I hope not to do so soon. I've only barely attenuated myself into being entirely okay saying (and writing) "they" and "them" as the gender neutral personal pronoun regardless of number. I was using that, dammit.
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