Whether it is the original author or fan's engaged in discussion, Does the word "Person" exclusively refer to a "human" or can non-humans be "persons" too?

Are Elves "People", was (is) Yoda a person?

closed as off topic by user366, user1767, Mike Scott, PearsonArtPhoto, Jeff Jun 13 '11 at 15:31

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  • I've answered this here, but I think you might be better off at writers.stackexchange.com, if you are looking for authors' perspectives. – Jeff Jun 11 '11 at 16:50
  • Technically, this is a question about English Language & Usage, but since it's about usage amongst the kind of people who would frequent Science Fiction & Fantasy, I guess this is a good place for it. – user56 Jun 11 '11 at 17:25
  • @Jeff and @Gilles, I am neither looking for an author's perspective nor am I really concerned with the proper English usage. I would guess that since neither Elves nor Wookies are real I am guessing that English language scholars (excluding J.R.R. Tolkien) have put much thought into this subject. Rather what I am interested in is, "What does the audience Think when they hear the word "person" in a sci-fi/fantasy context. Perception is reality, at least for the reader :) – Cos Callis Jun 11 '11 at 19:48
  • 2
    Isn't this a bit too subjective? The definition could easily vary from author to author. – Ryan Jun 12 '11 at 5:52
  • If it weren't "subjective" I would just look it up. As I said I am looking to see what the audience thinks about this. – Cos Callis Jun 12 '11 at 10:15

The word “person” usually includes any entity that is sufficiently human-like in terms of social behavior. If it has a will or mind of its own, then it's a person. This extended usage predates science-fiction; in legal terminology, the word “person” includes any entity that can be a party to a contract, including corporations.

When discussing science-fiction, “person” generally includes any entity that's thought of as a character. That can include aliens, fantasy beings, artificial intelligences, … In-story, there can be a debate as to whether a particular entity or class of entity is considered a person for this or that purpose.

Related tropes (non-exclusive list):

  • Even if I didn't agree fully, I'd have to give a +1 for the TV tropes links...y'know, now that I finished reading them. – Jeff Jun 13 '11 at 4:39

It depends on the POV character, frankly. A 'person' is defined by the entity applying labels. So, while most sci-fi protagonists will grant the 'person' status to any sentient, other characters (more bigoted) may not see aliens as 'people', but as 'things'.

The same can apply to androids, AIs, and other non-carbon based sentients.

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