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In an insightful interview with Newsweek, Dr. Jennifer Arnold, a respected psychology and neuroscience professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences, discussed a fascinating study exploring the evolving use of they/them pronouns.

The article, authored by science reporter Jess Thomson, highlights a recent study published in the journal Glossa Psycholinguistics that confirms an increasing trend of people using they/them pronouns when telling stories. This significant research sheds light on how our mental language system is adapting to cultural shifts and changing needs.

Dr. Arnold explained, “Within the last decade, people have started to use ‘they’ as a personal pronoun, often because they identify as nonbinary or gender nonconforming. This usage is called non-binary ‘they.’ This change is new, and it is not fully understood how our mental language system is changing as a result.”

The study, the first of its kind, found that in storytelling, college students used singular “they” for characters whose pronouns are they/them just as they used he/she for characters with binary pronouns. Dr. Arnold noted, “Because this usage is new, our participants revealed a little difficulty, but overall were fairly successful.”

This shift reflects broader societal trends. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, an increasing number of people are familiar with someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.

Dr. Arnold observed, “The use of they/them as personal pronouns began to appear in mainstream culture within the last decade. This newer form is hard for some people but naturally will become easier with practice.”

In their experiments, the researchers discovered that college-aged speakers adeptly used they/them pronouns, indicating that these pronouns are becoming a regular part of our language.

The researchers hope that this study will encourage people to understand how language changes with the times and how terms can be used differently to fit evolving needs. Dr. Arnold emphasized, “Current teaching materials may not acknowledge this form, but given that young people are already using it, it must be taken into account in educational settings.”

This important study highlights the natural evolution of language and how society adapts to meet the needs of its members. The findings encourage greater acceptance and understanding of nonbinary pronouns, reflecting a positive step toward inclusiveness.

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