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


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 onehundred years has been particularly evident in English-language jurisdictions. In the 1990s and 2000s, the adoption of a plain English style forced legislative drafters to avoid sentences of undue length, superfluous definitions, repeated words and gender specificity with the aim of achieving clarity and minimizing ambiguity. Experts in the legal field have suggested reorganizing sentences, avoiding male pronouns, repeating the noun in place of the pronoun, replacing a nominalization with a verb form, resorting to ‘the singular they’. This article gives a linguistic insight 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 issued in a selection of English-language jurisdictions (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, the US) in the last decade (2008-2018). Given the environment of legislative drafting techniques, where considerable reliance on precedent is inevita‐ ble, proposals to change legislative language may produce interesting results in dif‐ ferent jurisdictions.