A Linguistic Insight into the Legislative Drafting of English-Speaking Jurisdictions. The Use of ‘Singular They’

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Abstract

Gender specificity in legislation started being questioned in the late 20th century,and the need to reform the way in which laws have been written for more than onehundredyears has been particularly evident in English-language jurisdictions. Inthe 1990s and 2000s, the adoption of a plain English style forced legislativedrafters to avoid sentences of undue length, superfluous definitions, repeatedwords and gender specificity with the aim of achieving clarity and minimizingambiguity.Experts in the legal field have suggested reorganizing sentences, avoiding malepronouns, repeating the noun in place of the pronoun, replacing a nominalizationwith a verb form, resorting to ‘the singular they’. This article gives a linguisticinsight into the use of ‘singular they’ in English, beginning with a historical back‐ground and going on to assess the impact of its use in the primary legislation issuedin a selection of English-language jurisdictions (Australia, Canada, New Zealand,the UK, the US) in the last decade (2008-2018). Given the environment oflegislative drafting techniques, where considerable reliance on precedent is inevita‐ble, proposals to change legislative language may produce interesting results in dif‐ferent jurisdictions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-19
Number of pages17
JournalEUROPEAN JOURNAL OF LAW REFORM
Volume22
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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