Grund, Peter Jonas. The science of pronominal usage: He and It in coreference to inanimate entities in late Middle English texts on alchemy. J Eng Linguistics Dec 2010.
Published online before print December 20, 2010, doi: 10.1177/0075424210384225. This article explores the variation between he and it in coreference to inanimate entities (such as mercury, sulfur, and salt). Using alchemical texts from the fifteenth century as material, the article demonstrates that there was much more variation in pronominal reference in this period than has previously been shown. Of the possible explanations suggested by previous research, the earlier grammatical gender system and transference from Latin do not seem to play a role, while pronoun clustering and pronominal reanalysis appear to influence the quantitative distribution. The scale of individuation used by Siemund and Stenroos to explain similar usage is shown not to be a straightforward predictor. Other factors such as personification and perceived similarities between animate and inanimate entities may affect the degree of perceived individuation.The choice of he over she seems to be influenced by pronominal reanalysis and straightforward personification in some cases. In other instances, it is speculated that the he usage reflects (stereotypical) gender conceptions in the Middle Ages