A Verbal Hygienic Investigation of Non-Binary People’s Perception of They


  • Clara Hein Damgaard University of Copenhagen


Pronouns, Non-binary, They, Verbal hygiene, Perceptions


The English language has seen an interesting change in the last couple of years. That is, a wide introduction of a singular, non-binary variety of the word “they” functioning as substitution for “he” or “she” for non-binary people. This paper examines how people who identify with the non-binary variety of “they” understand the current language and societal change they are part of. The analysis is based on qualitative interviews of non-binary Americans and draws on the theoretical framework of “verbal hygiene”, which describes the normative processes of language that everybody participates in. The findings show how non-binary “they” is essential for the participants’ sense of self. Furthermore, while the participants hesitated to make any normative statements about non-binary “they”, they did use normative statements when they distanced themselves from neopronouns. The arguments that the participants had heard against non-binary “they” often indirectly targeted non-binary identity as a whole rather than the linguistic change itself. Since this linguistic change is relatively new, the amount of research available is limited. This article seeks to contribute to this limited research with an understanding of non-binary individuals’ perception of this new function of “they” through the lens of verbal hygiene.


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How to Cite

Damgaard, C. H. . (2022). A Verbal Hygienic Investigation of Non-Binary People’s Perception of They. Journal of Language Works - Sprogvidenskabeligt Studentertidsskrift, 7(1), 57–69. Retrieved from https://tidsskrift.dk/lwo/article/view/132784