Purdue University Graduate School
Hernandez - Pronouns, Prescriptivism, and Prejudice.pdf (589.64 kB)

Pronouns, Prescriptivism, and Prejudice: Attitudes toward the Singular 'They', Prescriptive Grammar, and Nonbinary Transgender People

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posted on 2020-05-05, 20:23 authored by Ellis HernandezEllis Hernandez
Reviewing literature on the histories of and the attitude studies about transgender people, the use of ‘they’ as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun, prescriptive grammar ideology, and aversive prejudice theory provides insight into how these topics are interrelated and relevant to current issues surrounding nonbinary transgender people. This review inspired my research study. My participants (n = 722) completed an online survey in which they reported demographic variables and answered scales that measured ‘they’ attitudes in generic and queer contexts, attitudes toward trans people, and prescriptive grammar ideology. I found that the majority of participants approved of using the singular ‘they’. Regression analyses revealed that in a queer context, negative attitudes toward 'they' were best predicted by trans prejudice, while in a generic context, both valuing prescriptive grammar and anti-trans prejudice similarly predicted 'they' attitudes. This indicates that negative attitudes toward the singular 'they' are not merely an issue of taking a principled stance against "improper grammar". Additionally, both sexual orientation and gender (trans vs. cisgender) moderate the relationship between prescriptive grammar ideology and 'they' attitudes. Age, sexual orientation, and education level also influenced my pattern of results such that older participants, queer people, and more highly educated individuals were more likely to have positive attitudes toward the singular ‘they’. These findings have implications for LGBTQ+ individuals’ relationships with cisgender and heterosexual people as well as for theories of prejudice, particularly with regard to the increasingly important area of attitudes toward people with diverse gender identities.


Degree Type

  • Master of Arts


  • English

Campus location

  • Fort Wayne

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Shannon Bischoff

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Sarah Sandman

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Kate White

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Jay Jackson