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Thread: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

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    Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Is it a coincidence that this suffix in both these unrelated language families? Is there some deep psychological reason maybe?

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    It is present also in Scandinavian and Slavic languages. Probably something in PIE? And you can't say those languages are not unrelated, all come from PIE.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Ok, but Semitic languages are still not related to them.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Although, one must say, that Arabic verbs express muliebrity with "(-)t(-)", "-i" and "-n-" respectively.
    But, that is a whole different story.
    It is still curious, why feminine nouns mostly have the suffix "-a".

    EDIT: <Moderator note: Moved here>
    Last edited by berndf; 26th June 2012 at 1:37 PM.
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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    In Semitic the primary marker of the feminine gender is –t- or –at-, compare Arabic ibn-un ‘son’, and bin-t-un or ibn-at-un ‘daughter’. The feminine marker –a results from the loss of –t- and the case ending in pausal position (ibnatun > ibna). In Indo-European there is a contrast –o- vs. –ā- for masculine and feminine. Seen in this way, the two families are actually very different.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    In Semitic the primary marker of the feminine gender is –t- or –at-, compare Arabic ibn-un ‘son’, and bin-t-un or ibn-at-un ‘daughter’. The feminine marker –a results from the loss of –t- and the case ending in pausal position (ibnatun > ibna). In Indo-European there is a contrast –o- vs. –ā- for masculine and feminine. Seen in this way, the two families are actually very different.
    As a Hebrew native speaker, tFigterPilot is certainly aware that "t" was the original Semitic feminine marker. I think his question was why several languages (Hebrew/Arabic and Romance languages) developed (seemingly independently) -a as a feminine marker.

    @tFigterPilot: Are you aware that many linguists think that the PIE feminine has developed out of a collective inanimate form? I.e. the use of the -a suffix as neuter plural and as feminine singular marker is probably not by accident and the neuter plural meaning is the original one.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Sorry, that was a bit faux pas. Thought that Semitic languages belong to Indo-European... Nevermind.

    I think you must check when -a suffix appeared in Semitic languages first. In Western Europe it can be Latin with it's -a suffix for feminine adjectives and nouns. In Sanskrit there are -a, -is, -os suffixes, in Old Church Slavonic it was -a, -i and -'/-ь (soft sign). So we can assume first appearing of -a suffix in about 1000-500 BC. How about Semitic languages?

    EDIT:

    @Konanen: The same with Norwegian, names of places are feminine, if they don't have masculine root (ie. High Hill is masculine, because hill is masculine in Norw.).

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Why death have different sex in different cultures, then? ^^

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by perevoditel View Post
    It is present also in Scandinavian and Slavic languages. Probably something in PIE? And you can't say those languages are not unrelated, all come from PIE.
    One thing I've noticed in Russian (it may be present in other slavic languages too) is the masculine genitive and accusative singular have the ending -a. I found it interesting coming from a Romance language background where for example Robert / Roberta reveal gender differences. In Russian "of/ from Robert" and "I see Robert" become "Roberta".

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    As a Hebrew native speaker, tFigterPilot is certainly aware that "t" was the original Semitic feminine marker. I think his question was why several languages (Hebrew/Arabic and Romance languages) developed (seemingly independently) -a as a feminine marker.
    I do know that it was originally "t", but not because I'm a native speaker, rather because I study linguistics. But as you said, in both Hebrew and Arabic it turned into "-a" seemingly independently. Pretty sure Aramaic doesn't have it at all. I don't know much about the southern Semitic languages.

    @tFigterPilot: Are you aware that many linguists think that the PIE feminine has developed out of a collective inanimate form? I.e. the use of the -a suffix as neuter plural and as feminine singular marker is probably not by accident and the neuter plural meaning is the original one.
    My knowledge of Indo European languages is very limited tbh.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Aramaic has -a suffix for hell sure(at least jewish one), maya,haga leyisrael - though its actually for male, ata tura ve shata lemaya dkava lenura dehika lekalba de nashakh keshunra deachla legadya dizabin aba bitrey zuzey had gadya had gadya.
    You could expand your question to that: why most languages have the sound of /m/ in the word mom?
    Just think about it - babies use it because its the easiest one, so it became mom, ima, mamme, etc etc.
    so, -a is the easiest vowel of them all
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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by arielipi View Post
    Aramaic has -a suffix for hell sure(at least jewish one), maya,haga leyisrael - though its actually for male, ata tura ve shata lemaya dkava lenura dehika lekalba de nashakh keshunra deachla legadya dizabin aba bitrey zuzey had gadya had gadya.
    Of course, that's the definite suffix. It indicates neither gender nor quantity.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by tFighterPilot View Post
    I do know that it was originally "t", but not because I'm a native speaker, rather because I study linguistics.
    I thought because the <t> is revived in status constructus and in suffixed forms, it was still transparent to modern speakers that <t> is the "true" feminine suffix.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    I thought because the <t> is revived in status constructus and in suffixed forms, it was still transparent to modern speakers that <t> is the "true" feminine suffix.
    I think most speakers suppose it's the other way around, that "-a" is the original form and that "-t" is an allomorph.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by tFighterPilot View Post
    I think most speakers suppose it's the other way around, that "-a" is the original form and that "-t" is an allomorph.
    I see.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Interestingly, the -a appears in the IE languages also in masculine animated nouns: sluga, scriba, etc...

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by arielipi View Post
    Aramaic has -a suffix for hell sure(at least jewish one), maya,haga leyisrael - though its actually for male, ata tura ve shata lemaya dkava lenura dehika lekalba de nashakh keshunra deachla legadya dizabin aba bitrey zuzey had gadya had gadya.
    You could expand your question to that: why most languages have the sound of /m/ in the word mom?
    Just think about it - babies use it because its the easiest one, so it became mom, ima, mamme, etc etc.
    so, -a is the easiest vowel of them all
    I have done some researches about that, also because I had to do a presentation about first language acquisition of children.
    I came to the humble conclusion, that one of the first sounds babies experiment with, are bilabials, and thus parents conclude their children naming them with "mamamama" or "papapapap" or "bababababa".
    Ex.:
    Mama(D, HR, ...)/Mamma(IT)/Maman(FR)/Mom(EN) - mother
    baba (TR)/Papa(D)/... - father
    baba/baka (HR) - grandmother
    dad (EN)

    BUT: mama in Turkish means baby food.

    I ask myself, why feminina and not masculina or neutra?
    Why formed the "simplest" vowel, enunciated by merely opening the mouth (a), presumably overall (coexisting with some different forms and also forming other declensions) a feminine marker, whereas masculina had a complete diverse and unpredictable development?
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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    I don't think that the IE feminines would be much more "predictable" than the masculines. Nouns like mater, soror, domus, virgo, turris, aetas ... are feminines and belong to various declensions. The same is valid for the Slavic and other IE languages.
    Last edited by francisgranada; 25th June 2012 at 5:06 PM.

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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Excuse me tfp, but the -a suffix is actually for [single] male.
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    Re: Feminine "-a" suffix in Semitic and Romance Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by arielipi View Post
    Excuse me tfp, but the -a suffix is actually for [single] male.
    uh, the word for city, מדינתא (pronounced in Syriac mditta) is feminine.

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