As one of the primary means of constructing gendered identities, language is a matter of central concern to transgender people (Zimman 2018). In this talk, I highlight the burgeoning relationship between transgender communities, linguistics, and social justice, drawing attention to the role language has played in wider cultural orientations to transgender issues as well as the ways in which linguistics can be at the forefront of this critical activism. By way of example, I report on joint work with Elizabeth Cowper (in prep.) on the non-binary usage of singular they; that is, they as used to refer to individuals whose gender identity is not, or is not exclusively, masculine or feminine (1). Despite they's widespread usage, not all speakers judge this most recent innovation to be grammatical, even if they do not object to singular they in quantified (2), generic (3), or otherwise gender non-specific (4) contexts and would produce such examples natively.
(1) When Arthuri arrives, please ask themi to fill out this form.|
(2) If anyonei comes to the door, tell themi to go away.
(3) The perfect studenti always finishes theiri homework.
(4) I heard they hired a new teacheri. I wonder which grade theyi’ll be assigned to.