April 28, 2007

Singular they on Facebook

Greetings yet again from the Youth and Popular Culture desk at Language Log Plaza. The singular they phenomenon is usually Geoff Pullum's beat (his most recent report is here), but we've just come across another set of examples that we thought we'd report directly.

When you login to Facebook, you're presented with a "News Feed" that lets you know what your Facebook friends are up to: what groups they've joined, what they've got planned for the weekend, who else they've become friends with -- anything they want to let you know. Facebook users can leave their sex unspecified if they like, and if they do so, singular they is used to refer to that user. So, for example, a news item from a specified-male Facebook friend will show up on my news feed like this:

John Doe added "fried chicken" to his favorite foods.

An item from a specified-female Facebook friend will show up like this:

Jane Doe added "pizza" to her favorite foods.

And an item from an unspecified-sex Facebook friend will show up like this:

Kim Doe added "burgers" to their favorite foods.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at April 28, 2007 09:50 PM