Why shall I call you ze?
Discourse analysis of the social perception of institutionally introducing the gender-neutral pronoun ze
It was the Oxford University’s Students Union (OUSU) which first promoted the use of gender-inclusive pronouns to avoid gender-binarism in the English-speaking European academic life. OUSU finds it supportive if students declare their chosen pronouns by which they wish to be addressed at meetings (he, she or ze). Public attention turned to the emergence of the new pronoun. The present study aims to explore the social perception of the newly appearing gender-neutral neologism by mapping public attitude towards the idea of institutionally introducing a neopronoun (ze) in the English language for the sake of celebrating gender diversity. The discourse plane investigated in the research was comments given to online newspaper articles. The genre of comments provides insights into the opinions and feelings of the general public. A near-thousand comments of online dialogues displayed on the websites of six British newspapers (three broadsheets and three tabloids) during a one-year timespan (December 2016 – December 2017) were analysed qualitatively. Arguments on either discourse position were studied, hidden premises were uncovered. The results of the exploratory study reveal that there is a notable imbalance in the voicing of opinions: the promotion of the gender-neutral English pronoun is markedly underrepresented in the public (1.32%) while the set of arguments against its introduction is versatile. The findings of the analysis indicate that the voice of the people does not consider pronoun-binarism as a sign of exclusion or the marginalizing of gender-diverse people; however, the novel pronoun tends to excite shock and refusal in the public.
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