In French, each noun is either masculine or feminine, thus when you use a pronoun, it too must be masculine or feminine to match that which it replaces. They don't have an "it", and you use different pronouns depending on whether you're talking about an object or a person. You use different ones depending on if the noun is singular or plural.
So if English had gendered nouns, I'd buy the argument that we should use "he" or "she"when talking about a pronoun that's a person, but not a very specific one, such as "student". You could argue that using "they" muddies the language because then you're using "they" for both singular gender-neutral and for plural anything, but that's like saying that sloshing some sewage from the animals into a human outhouse's pit muddies the pit. English is already so dirty that a little more won't hurt anything.
Of course in very formal writing one should avoid such things like "they" and "you" and the passive voice, because in formal writing you're attempting to conform to some form, and the prominent grammar-universities tell us what those forms are (and you can bet that they're never "casual", "modern" looking or sounding, though sometimes they have good arguments). If English had more of a natural form to it, as French seems to, then I would write more formally more often. This is one of the reasons French sounds nice: their rules come from the strict Latin, then altered a bit to make it sound nicer. Formal and pleasing to the ear? What a deal!
Posted on 2009-06-12 by Jach
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Jach February 07, 2011 11:24:49 AM What the. Another test.
Test again February 07, 2011 11:25:25 AM Blaaaah.