The Yale Undergraduate Research Journal


The power of words we use to refer to one another is gaining recognition in contemporary socio-political discourse. Yet, interplay between language and complex cognitive processes, including moral judgments and identity formation, largely remains a subject of philosophical and theoretical debate. In order to begin examining the existence of such interactions empirically, this paper investigates the syntactic shift of the third person plural pronoun they/them to the third person singular, used to refer to gender non-binary/gender nonconforming individuals. Using grammaticality acceptance ratings and the Worthen 2016 moral attitudes test, administered under timed pressure, this study measures both intuitions surrounding the syntax of novel they/them pronoun usage and moral attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ individuals. Analysis revealed a strong positive correlation between high grammaticality ratings of novel pronoun (they/them) usage and moral attitude scores. These results may be the basis for future investigation into a psycholinguistic connection between intuitive judgements of syntax and complex cognitive processes i.e., moral judgments.

Included in

Linguistics Commons