I'm not sure about the sentence in the title.

I feel like there should be an article, but I often see how people write "I'm vegan" omitting the article.

Why do they omit it?

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    – tchrist
    Jan 21 '19 at 22:38

Because the term vegan can be a noun or an adjective, it would be correct English either to use the article or not use it.

Having said that, the distinction between the two only becomes apparent when the term is then applied to a person in a negative context. It’s a very subtle discrimination initially, but it opens the door to bigotry along the lines of ‘Jewish’ and ‘a Jew’, or ‘black’ and ‘a black’.

Try to see it as the difference between describing a person as alien (adjective) or as an alien (noun).

If I use an adjective to describe a person, then the noun person is implied by the pronoun he/she.

e.g. She is ugly. meaning: That is an ugly person.

Despite the negative meaning of the adjective, the assumption remains that we are still talking about a person.

But if I use alien as an adjective, then I can only use it to describe something that is ‘alien’ about a person - their mannerisms, their appearance, language, etc. - otherwise there is confusion as to whether I still consider them to be a person.

Because an alien cannot also be a person. If I refer to someone as an alien, particularly in a negative context, then I call into question their personhood, their humanity - even as I continue to use the pronouns he/she. The noun alien effectively replaces the noun person in how one makes sense of who they are. It effectively challenges the assumption that we’re talking about a person, thereby giving permission to see them as ‘not a person’.

So every time we describe a person using a noun, we challenge the assumption that we are still talking about a person. Then when the context becomes negative, we give permission to others to treat the one labelled in this way as ‘not a person’.

  • Negativity from a noun term is a possibility, but it's the uncommon exception to the normal rule. In the majority of situations, this doesn't apply. (I'm a democrat. I'm a Christian. I'm a doctor. Nobody would say that any of those denotes nonpersons.) Jan 21 '19 at 8:37
  • @JasonBassford, are you suggesting that nobody would treat a democrat with less dignity than a human deserves, with hatred, fear or vilification, simply because he’s seen as ‘a democrat’? That nobody who follows another faith or even militant atheism would dismiss or even hate another person who is referred to as ‘a Christian’? It is the identification as ‘other’ that makes it so easy to think - I’m a person, but you’re a democrat. Jan 21 '19 at 9:35
  • I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm just saying it's highly unlikely. You're making far bigger deal out of something that's normally irrelevant than you have to. You seem to be saying that nobody should be referred to by any noun other than person. (Almost as if you're advocating dispensing with other nouns.) But, by the same token, that also means that referring to somebody as a person takes away from every other noun you could refer to them as. Surely other nouns have just as much legitimacy. Jan 21 '19 at 10:28
  • Wow! Now I'm even more confused. Can you please examine this full sentence: If you are not [a] vegan, you can choose this option. Should there be an article? If not, why?
    – John Dean
    Jan 21 '19 at 11:20
  • I did say it is correct with or without the article, and I stand by it for this new sentence. Jason is right that I’m making a bigger deal out of this than is needed. I was offering a reason why people tend to omit the article (it’s part of the question). When in the minority, have you noticed that we choose the adjective rather than the noun - explaining ’I’m Christian’ if staying with a Jewish family during Ramadan, or ’I voted democrat’ when surrounded by passionate republicans? I’d call it self-protection, in a sense. But feel free to ignore it like everyone else... Jan 21 '19 at 15:03

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