December 07, 2004

Another comedian for singular their

According a 12/6/2004 BBC News article, Rowan Atkinson "has launched a comedians' campaign against a government bill to outlaw inciting religious hatred", arguing that "parts of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill are 'wholly inappropriate' and could stifle freedom of speech".

Mr Atkinson told a meeting at the House of Commons on Monday night there are "quite a few sketches" he has performed which would come into conflict with the proposed law.

He added: "To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom.

"The freedom to criticise ideas, any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society.

"A law which attempts to say you can criticise and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed." [emphasis added]

Mr. Atkinson's argument strikes me as an eminently sensible one. However, the language-related point is his straightforward and unselfconscious use of singular their, in a well-written and serious speech delivered in a formal setting. [via email from Stefano Taschini]

[Some earlier posts on this topic are here and here. ]


Posted by Mark Liberman at December 7, 2004 07:29 AM