This article presents a Minimalist syntactic analysis of sociopragmatically conditioned gender features on pronouns. To account for inter- and intra-speaker variation, I locate the parameter for social gender in the presence or absence of an unvalued gender feature on the phase head D. Supporting this analysis, I show that variation in English speakers’ acceptability and use of definite, specific singular they, as in (i), is sensitive to reference; this sensitivity is robustly explained by the location of gender features on D.
(i) Taylori is writing theiri own autobiography.
For speakers who report (i) as ungrammatical, a crash results from the uGender feature on D remaining unvalued. For innovative speakers, uGender is not present on D and no crash results from a lack of gender features. This analysis explains why a pragmatic feature like social gender can cause true syntactic ungrammaticality, since the narrow syntax encodes certain pragmatic features as obligatory.