High school level essay to be exact, but I'd like to also know if Spivak pronouns could be used in papers or publications. Should I just rephrase everything using the one pronoun or singular they?
Edit: I'm not a native English speaker
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Personally, I use and recommend singular they.
It's good enough for - among others - William Shakespeare, is well known enough that a teacher will know what you're trying to do rather than thinking you've made a mistake, and (for my money at least) looks better on the page than alternating hes and shes.
Not to mention the fact that we live in a more-and-more non-binary world when it comes to gender issues.
Scientific and other non-literary publications are usually required to employ standard English. Spivak pronouns are not standard English usage, so would most likely not be accepted by most publishers, unless the publication deals with questions of gender-neutral language specifically.
In scientific publications the master rule for style is to write clearly and concisely. The most fundamental demand is that you must not be misunderstood. Everything else has to submit to this demand. Spivak pronouns are confusing, as @Jay has explained in his answer, and therefore run counter to the basic purpose of scientific (and journalist) writing.
Most scientific associations have published recommendations for unbiased language. As far as I know, none of these include the use of Spivak pronouns, instead they recommend (quoted from Purdue's online resource on the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association):
To avoid the bias of using gendered pronouns:
- Rephrase the sentence
- Use plural nouns or plural pronouns - this way you can use "they" or "their"
- Replace the pronoun with an article - instead of "his," use "the"
- Drop the pronoun - many sentences sound fine if you just omit the troublesome "his" from the sentence
- Replace the pronoun with a noun such as "person," "individual," "child," "researcher," etc.
Publisher acceptance aside, outside of the narrow field of gender studies I would at least explain Spivak pronouns in a footnote.
If you are writing the essay for a class in gender studies, or if the teacher is an extreme feminist, I would say yes, go ahead and use synthetic gender-neutral pronouns. If the essay is about sexism, maybe.
Otherwise, no. Very few English speakers are familiar with any given proposed set of gender-neutral pronouns. There are dozens of such proposals out there. Many English speakers have heard of the idea, but no one proposal is widely used. When I read your question, I recalled that spivak pronouns were a proposed set of gender-neutral pronouns, but I didn't remember just what they were. (Grateful for the link, though I suppose a search for "spivak pronouns" would have turned them up fast enough.) And I'm someone interested enough in language to be active on two English language forums. I haven't taken a survey, but I'd be surprised if more than 5% of English speakers could tell you what "spivak pronouns" are or would recognize them if they saw them in text.
For most people, when they first encounter such a pronoun in your text, they will think it is a typo. I suppose after they see a few they will figure out that this is something you are doing deliberately. They will have a hard time looking it up anywhere. If someone doesn't know that the pronouns you are using are called "spivak pronouns", what would he look up? Looking up "e" with Google is not going to give useful results. I suppose they could figure out what the pronouns mean from reading the context. But at the least it will be distracting and at the worst very confusing.
This is, by the way, why I think it will be very hard for any such set of gender-neutral pronouns to become widely accepted. If you invent a new word for a new idea or invention, you can introduce that word in the context of discussing the new thing. If it's truly something totally new, people will be grasping for a word to identify it concisely rather than having to describe it every time they refer to it. Like when the cell phone was invented, you COULD say, "One of those new phones, you know, the kind that use radio waves to connect to the communications network rather than wires, and that you can carry around in your pocket". But it gets pretty tedious if every time you want to refer to the thing you have to give a 15 minute explanation. So somewhere along the line someone said "let's call them cell phones" and someone else said "let's call them mobile phones" and maybe a few other proposals, but those two have become popular. When those words were new, they only came up in the context of talking about these new devices, so it wasn't a big deal to explain them when you used them. People expected you to.
But with new pronouns ... we already have pronouns. Yes, there are some complaints about implicit sexism, but the words we have do the job. Many people see no need for new words at all, and most don't see a very large need. And pronouns are used all the time, in everything you read or write, over and over. These words don't come up in just one specific context: they come up literally EVERYWHERE. When I'm reading about a new idea or invention, I expect to have to learn some new words. When I'm reading about mundane or familiar subjects, I don't. It's annoying and distracting.
If you personally fervently believe that we should use such pronouns, I suppose you could try and see what reaction you get. If you want people to understand them, you pretty much have to include a paragraph at the beginning of your text stating that you are going to use these new pronouns and listing them. Which, again, becomes a distraction from whatever you are actually trying to say.
Always think of what is best for the particular piece you are writing. Spivak pronouns are not widely accepted, used, or even recognized. Therefore they will be distracting. Unless the distracting nature of the pronouns somehow supports the argument you are making, don't use them. As other answers have illustrated, you have more options. I personally recommend feminine pronouns no matter your identity. That choice will convey an awareness of linguistic and academic gender bias clear enough without being distracting. Mixing pronouns should only be done with care, because done poorly it can be very distracting as well.