'Yo' as a Gender-Neutral Pronoun

Margaret Troyer, a former Baltimore-area teacher, published the first paper showing that "yo" is being used to replace "he" and "she." Troyer first noticed it while she was teaching middle-school kids in the area.

"Some examples would be 'yo wearing a jacket,' " Troyer says, referring to her research. "Another example from the paper is, 'Yo threw a thumbtack at me,' which is a typical middle school example."

So Troyer began to study her students. She gave them blank cartoons and asked them to fill in the captions — many of the cartoon characters were androgynous.

Troyer found the kids used "yo" instead of "he" or "she" when they didn't know the gender of the character. But they also used "yo" as a substitute even when they did know the gender.

"They said things like, 'Yo put his foot on the desk.' So it was clear from this that they knew it was a male person, but they were just using 'yo' to refer to the person," says Troyer. "And then in other sentences they would use 'yo' to refer to a female as well."


...kids in Baltimore solved a very old problem in linguistics: English doesn't have a gender-neutral pronoun. That makes it difficult to refer to people if you don't know the person's gender.

It's also a problem for people who don't want to be identified as "he" or "she."


Folksonomies: gender language

/health and fitness/sexuality (0.440213)
/society/sex (0.415212)
/education/homework and study tips (0.406516)

Pronoun Margaret Troyer (0.984797 (neutral:0.000000)), gender-neutral pronoun (0.813391 (negative:-0.240325)), typical middle school (0.664140 (neutral:0.000000)), yo (0.644854 (negative:-0.276483)), Baltimore-area teacher (0.512928 (neutral:0.000000)), middle-school kids (0.483720 (neutral:0.000000)), blank cartoons (0.455825 (negative:-0.681321)), cartoon characters (0.448671 (negative:-0.681321)), male person (0.442352 (neutral:0.000000)), old problem (0.411399 (negative:-0.219546)), paper (0.311675 (neutral:0.000000)), example (0.306244 (neutral:0.000000)), people (0.290707 (negative:-0.512598)), thumbtack (0.281052 (negative:-0.276483)), substitute (0.263471 (negative:-0.286724)), jacket (0.260674 (neutral:0.000000)), captions (0.258239 (negative:-0.681321)), sentences (0.257035 (neutral:0.000000)), students (0.252859 (negative:-0.387182)), examples (0.252412 (neutral:0.000000)), research (0.252080 (neutral:0.000000)), desk (0.251018 (neutral:0.000000)), things (0.248879 (positive:0.240222)), foot (0.248757 (neutral:0.000000))

Margaret Troyer:Person (0.910405 (negative:-0.534252)), Baltimore:City (0.126688 (negative:-0.219546))

Personal pronoun (0.982188): dbpedia | freebase
Middle school (0.728913): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Male (0.688180): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Gender (0.679442): dbpedia | freebase
Grammatical gender (0.674709): dbpedia | freebase
Gender-neutral pronoun (0.674699): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Female (0.646542): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Reflexive pronoun (0.608806): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 'Yo' Said What?
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Hersher, Rebecca (04/24/2013), 'Yo' Said What?, Retrieved on 2015-02-19
  • Source Material [www.npr.org]
  • Folksonomies: gender language