Lavender linguistics, or the study of queer speech and language, has become a niche area within the greater science of theoretical and sociolinguistics. Academics have studied changes in speech patterns among drag queens when they are in drag as opposed to out, queer syntax, misgendering and malice, and a myriad of other fascinating topics. In a recent study conducted by The Trevor Project, non-binary identities were put under a microscope, and celebrated for their linguistic and characteristic diversity.
While paleontological evidence suggests that LGBTQIA+ people have always existed, new terms, phrases, and experiences have come into use to better define our identities. Words that were assigned by normative society have been recognized as problematic or reclaimed in defiance. Folx who never had language to talk about their bodies or who they loved (or didn’t) have more than just terminology—they have their own colorful flag to wave proudly.
Singular they is one example that folx attribute to this magnificent evolution. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, they/them pronouns referring to one person likely date back to before the 14th century. For context, this means that Shakespeare may have referred to his non-binary colleagues (or a person of undeterminable gender) in the same way we would in 2021.
One major complaint with singular they is that it is “ungrammatical” or follows an atypical sentence structure, when in fact, English speakers were using singular they before second person singular you (people said thou instead)!
Not convinced? Then thou will have to argue with the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s, and the American Psychological Association—all of whom recognize singular they as completely and unapologetically grammatical.
If you think about it, we use singular they all the time in daily conversation:
Person 1: “Hey, somebody left their phone here.”
Person 2: “Let’s leave it with the barista in case they come back to get it.”
The grammar police aren’t going to arrest the theoretical coffee drinkers from the example above because no language crimes were committed.
Singular they is more than just a pronoun that irks middle school English teachers; it’s a part of our community. Acknowledging its unique grammatical structure is one step toward supporting the unique, non-binary and gender diverse people who feel seen because of it.