All gendered IIR languages: gender of letters of alphabet and of numbers

Discussion in 'Indo-Iranian Languages' started by Dib, Apr 9, 2014.

  1. Dib Senior Member

    Bengali (India)
    What are the genders of the letters of alphabet in our I-Ir languages with grammatical gender?

    Should we say in Hindi "daadii" kaa pehlaa da, or pehlii da? The vowel-marks are feminine, I know: ... kii maatraa.
    Should we say in Urdu "daadii" kii pehlii daal*, or pehlaa daal?
    Should we say in Punjabi (Gurumukhi) "daadii daa pehlaa daddaa"? What about the vowels and vowel marks?
    Should we say in Gujarati "daadii no/nuN/nii pahelo/paheluN/pahelii da"? What about the vowels and vowel marks?

    ... you get the idea.


    * No pun intended. ;)
  2. Cilquiestsuens Senior Member

    In Urdu: all the alphabet letters are feminine.
  3. Dib Senior Member

    Bengali (India)
    Actually my interest was ignited by Urdu. I noticed on these forums a couple of times them being referred to in feminine, but in one place I even saw an explicit correction that they should be masculine, here post #2 - "qainchii waalaa/-ii qaaf". Contextually, this reference could be to Punjabi, but I doubt that. Then I extended my question to the rest of the languages out of curiosity.
  4. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    For Urdu:

    (Is your reference to post # 2 accurate?)

    I am not really sure about the gender of letters of the Urdu alphabet. I am most likely to envisage them with my Punjabi psyche and therefore interpret them differently. I know "ye" is definitely feminine because of its two forms referred to as "chhoTii ye" and "baRii ye". If one checks for "alif" in Platts, as a starting point, he assigns it the masculine gender. So, I suspect the gender is mixed, depending on which letter one has in mind.

    I am sure Cilquiestsuens SaaHib will let us have more details on this topic.
  5. Dib Senior Member

    Bengali (India)
    I meant, the last two lines of that post. And, thanks for the rest of your comment.
  6. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    OK, sorry. My misunderstanding.

    Now you have three answers.

    a) BP SaaHib. They are all masculine

    b) Cilquiestsuens SaaHib. They are all feminine

    c) Poor Old Me. They are masculine and feminine

    It seems all very clear to me. What do you think?:)
  7. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    I think they are different in gender!

    Let me quote a certain Qureshpor from another thread
    Huqqe waalaa He. ح

    EDIT: in Urdu, in order to avoid any confusion and headache, we can say Harf-e-x, Harf-e-laam, Harf-e-xe etc.. and it will be always masculine after حرف Harf.

    EDIT2: Dib babu, what about Bengali? I think there is no gender but I am not sure.
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2014
  8. Dib Senior Member

    Bengali (India)
    That was one of the triggers for this thread. I didn't allude to it originally, in order to not bias people. It would a leading question, so to say. ;)

    Interesting. I think I have also heard chhoTii he, baRii he.
  9. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    Let me take the onus of being troublesome on my own shoulders. I have edited my post in between with the question to you.
  10. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I am curious in getting to the bottom of this enquiry. Thank you Dib Jii for raising it. I am hopeful that other friends in the forum will participate in answering Dib SaaHib's question.
  11. Dib Senior Member

    Bengali (India)
    As you have rightly pointed out, Bengali is a dull language - no grammatical gender. :p


    To the question of Urdu, my impression - based on the (tenuous) data gathered or alluded to in this thread - is that (many? all?) letters seem to be feminine in popular usage (data: QP's laam, PG's original qaaf, plus common baRii/chhoTii ye and probably he/He). A stronger version including all letters is supported by Cilq.

    However, it seems, at least some - or maybe even most/all - letters are prescriptively assigned a masculine gender (data: Platts' alif, PG's agreeing to make qaaf masc, marrish's He). A stronger version including all letters is supported by BP.


    Also, I'd like to add numbers/digits into the question, like - "tere/terii 48 kaa/kii aaTh chhuT gayaa/gayii".
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2014
  12. Cilquiestsuens Senior Member

    Well, sweeping statements...

    After I wrote that message above, I just realized that a letter at least is undoubtedly masculine and that is alif.

    However, if we are to trust Feeroz ul Lughat:

    alif M Saad M
    be F zwaad M
    pe F Toe M
    te F zoe M
    Te F 3ayn M
    se F ghayn M
    jiim M / F fe F
    che F qaaf M
    He F kaaf M
    khe F laam M
    daal F miim M
    Daal F nuun M
    zaal F vaav M
    re F hamzah M
    Re F he F
    zhe F ye F
    siin M
    shiin M

    This is quite contrary to what I am used to hear.
  13. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    Here are the genders of letters according to Farhang-e-Asafiyyah:
    ا M ص M
    ب F ض M
    پ F ط F
    ت F ظ F
    ٹ F ع M
    ث F غ M
    ج F ف F
    چ F ق M
    ح F ک M
    خ F گ M
    د F ل M
    ڈ F م M
    ذ F ن M
    ر F و F
    ڑ F ہ F
    ژ F ء M
    س M ی F
    ش M ے F
  14. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Thank you Cilquiestsuens and marrish SaaHibaan for your comprehensive tabulated charts. Both the LuGhat and the Farhang seem to be in agreement. Therefore, we should have:

    Huqqe vaalii He

    qaiNchii vaalaa qaaf ...and

    dil kaa laam
  15. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    This one went unnoticed, somehow. I believe numerals as such can be perhaps categorized under adjectives with no specific gender mark:
    chaar laRke aur chaar laRkiyaaN.

    Numbers or digits as such, to the best of my knowledge, remain in default of any noun they would define, masculine.

    Having said this, I would go for "tere 48 kaa aaTh chhuT gayaa". Perhaps the best argument to back up this stance is the comparison of these small numbers with units: hazaar nahiiN (milaa), do hazaar mile. us meN ek sau bhii kam nah thaa.

    I'm curious whether someone has different views or knows other usages.
  16. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    [Urdu] Here is a summary made by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi:

    اردو کے حروف تہجی کی جنس
    انشا نے “دریاے لطافت” میں حسب ذیل حروف کو مونث لکھا ہے: ب، پ، چ، خ، ر، ز، ط، ظ، ف، و ، ی
    اس سے گمان گذرتا ہے کہ باقی حروف مذکر ہوں گے۔ صفیر بلگرامی نے “رشحات صفیر” میں حسب ذیل حروف کے مذکر ہونے کی سند فراہم کی ہے
    urduu ke Huruuf-e-tahajjii kii jins
    Inshaa ne "daryaa-e-lataafat" meN Hasb-e-zail Huruuf ko mu'annas likhaa hae: be, pe, che, xe, re, ze, toe, zoe, fe, waa'o, ye.
    is se gumaan guzartaa hae kih baaqii Huruuf muzakkar hoN ge.

    خوش نویسوں نے کہا دیکھ کے بینی اس کی* لکھا ہے کاتب قدرت نے الف کیا سیدھا
    (بہادر شاہ ظفر)

    xush nawiisoN ne kahaa dekh ke biinii is kii --- likhaa hae kaatib-e-qudrat ne alif kyaa siidhaa (Bahadur Shah Zafar)
    کس طرح توام لڑائی میں نہ ہو فتح و شکست*شین ہے مفتوح بھی مکسور بھی شمشیر کا
    (مظفر علی اسیر)

    kis tarH tau'am laRaa'ii meN nah ho fatH-o-shikast --- shiin hae maftuuH bhii maksuur bhii shamsher kaa (Muzaffar Ali Aseer)
    دکھایا جب کلام مدحت چشم دید بیضا * کسی پر بیض ہوتا ہے کسی پر صاد ہوتا ہے
    (علی اوسط رشک)
    dikhaayaa jab kalaam-e-midHat-e-chashm~diid baizaa --- kisii par baiz hotaa hae kisii par saad hotaa hae (Ali Ausat Rashk)
    بندگی لازم ہے پیری میں جوانی کے سوا* قد خم گشتہ نہیں یہ لام ہے تاکید کا
    (مظفر علی اسیر)

    bandagii laazim hae piirii meN jawaanii ke siwaa --- qad-e-xam~gashtah nahiiN yih laam hae taakiid kaa (Muzaffar Ali Aseer)
    معانی قل ہوالّلہ احد کے ہیں عیاں ناسخ براے قافیہ رکھا ہے میں نے میم احمد کا

    ma3aanii qul hu-allaahu aHad ke haiN 3ayyaN naasix --- baraa'e qaafiyah rakhaa hae maiN ne miim aHmad kaa (Nasikh)
    کیا ہی لپٹا ہے مرے دست تمنا کی طرح * نون تیری ناف کا میم کمر ہونے لگا
    ٰ(خواجہ وزیر)
    kyaa hii lipTaa hae mire dast tamannaa kii tarH --- nuun terii naaf kaa miim-e-kamar hone lagaa (Khwaja Wazeer)
    صفیر بلگرامی یہ بھی لکھتے ہیں کہ کلب حسین خاں نادر نے میم کو مونث لکھا ہے اور دبیر نے واؤ کو مذکر۔ لیکن صفیر کو اس سے اتفاق نہیں۔ صفیر بلگرامی نے مزید لکھا ہے کہ میرے رسالے “رشحات صفیر” کی بنا استادوں کی سند پر ہے۔ ہرچند سب کچھ معلوم ہے مگر اپنی جانب سے کچھ دخل نہ کیا گیا۔ “اس کے باوجود وہ حروف تہجی کی جنس بیان کرنے
    میں غالب کی سند بھول گئے ۔ غالب نے اپنے خط مورخہ ۱۸۵۶ میں مرزا یوسف علی خاں عزیز کو لکھا ہے:۔​
    Safiir Bilgraamii yih bhii likhte haiN kih Kalb-e-Husain XaaN Naadir ne miim ko mu'annas likhaa hae aur Dabiir ne waa'o ko muzakkar. lekin Safiir ko is se ittifaaq nahiiN. Safiir Bilgraamii ne maziid likhaa hae kih mere risaale "rashHaat-e-Safiir" kii binaa ustaadoN kii sanad par hae. har~chand sab kuchh ma3luum hae magar apnii jaanib se kuchh daxl nah kiyaa gayaa." is ke baa~wujuud wuh Huruuf-e-tahajjii kii jins bayaan karne meN Ghaalib kii sanad bhuul ga'e. Ghaalib ne apne xatt mu'arraxah 1856 meN Mirzaa Yuusuf 'Alii xaaN 'Aziiz ko likhaa hae:

    الف مذکر؛ ب، ت ث مونث؛ جیم مذکر؛ ح، خ مونث؛ دال، ذال مونث؛ رے، زے مونث؛ سین، شین مذکر؛ ص، ض، ط، ظ مونث؛ عین، غین مذکر؛ ف مونث؛ قاف، کاف، لام، میم، نون مذکر. واو،
    ہے ، یے مونث. ہمزہ مذکر۔ لام الف حروف مفردہ میں نہیں۔ مگر بولنے میں مذکر بولا جائے گا
    alif muzakkar; be, te, se mu'annas; jiim muzakkar; He xe mu'annas; daal, zaal mu'annas; re, ze mu'annas; siin, shiin muzakkar; saad, zaad mu'annas, 3ayn, Ghayn muzakkar; fe mu'annas; qaaf, kaaf, laam, miim, nuun muzakkar, waaw, he, ye mu'annas, hamzah muzakkar. laam-alif Huruuf-e-mufarradah meN nahiiN magar bolne meN muzakkar bolaa jaa'e gaa.

    غالب نے ان حروف کا ذکر نہیں کیا ہے جو اردو سے مخصوص ہیں۔ ان کی مندرجہ بالا رائے کی روشنی میں ہم ان بقیہ حروف کی جنس حسب ذیل متعین کر سکتے ہیں:۔
    پ، ٹ مونث؛ چ مونث، ڈ مونث؛ ڑ، ژ مونث؛ گ مذکر
    Ghaalib ne un Huruuf kaa zikr nahiiN kiyaa hae jo urduu se maxsuus haiN. un kii mundarajah-e-baalaa raa'e kii raushanii meN ham un baqiyyah Huruuf kii jins Hasb-e-zail muta3ayyan kar sakte haiN: pe, Te mu'annas; che mu'annas, Daal mu'annas, Re, zhe mu'annas, gaaf muzakkar.
    دوچشمی ہ اگر چہ حرف نہیں لیکن وہ بھی ہ کے حکم میں ہے اور مونث بولی جائے گی۔ یہاں یہ بات بھی مذکور کرنا ضروری ہے کہ آج کل بعض لوگوں کی زبان پر بعض حروف ک جنس
    غالب کی بیان کردہ جنس سے مختلف سنی جا رہی ہے۔ وہوہٰذا:
    مذکر: چ، خ ز، ڑ، ز، ژ، ض [صاد پہلے بھی مذکر تھا، جیسا کہ رشک کے منقولہ بالا شعر سے معلوم ہوتا ہے۔ نذیر احمد نے بھی “تو بة النصوح” میں مذکر استعمال کیا ہے: “تمھاری اس
    تجویز پر میرا صاد ہی”۔’]۔
    du~chashmii he agarchih Harf nahiiN lekin wuh bhii he ke Hukm meN hae aur mu'annas bolii jaa'e gii. yahaaN yih baat bhii mazkuur karnaa zaruurii hae kih aaj kal ba3z logoN kii zabaan par ba3z Huruuf kii jins Ghaalib kii bayaan~kardah jins se muxtalif sunii jaa rahii hae. wa huu haazaa:
    muzakkar: ch, x, z, zh, zwaad [saad pahle bhii muzakkar thaa, jaisaa kih rashk ke manquulah-e-baalaa shi3r se ma3luum hotaa hae. Naziir aHmad ne bhii "taubatu-nnusuuH" meN muzakkar isti3maal kiyaa hae: "tumhaarii us tajwiiz par meraa saad hii"]

    مونث: س، ش، م، (میم پہلے بھی مونث تھی جیسا کہ کلب حسین خاں نادر کے بیان سے معلوم ہوا
    مونث: ض، ف
    mu'annas: s, sh, m (miim pahle bhii mu'annas thii jaisaa kih Kalb-e-Husain XaaN Naadir ke bayaan se ma3luum hu'aa, mu'annas: zwaad, fe.
  17. HZKhan

    HZKhan Senior Member

    Karachi, Pakistan
    Persian (Cultural Language)
    Interesting thread!

    Apart from 'ye', I've always instinctively considered all these letters to be of masculine gender in Urdu.
  18. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    Perhaps because 'ye' combines with 'baRii' and 'chhoTii' - the gender is then unmistakably obvious. At this moment I have two conclusions: the gender is not obvious and is probably fluctuant and the majority is indeed masculine. Could you expand on numbers please? (Post No. 15)
  19. eskandar

    eskandar Moderator

    English (US)
    Marrish SaaHib, I'm just curious - could you please share the name of the work by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi you cited in post #16?
  20. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    It was luGhaat-e-rozmarrah, a book I only came to know about yesterday from the deleted thread :)
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2014
  21. tarkshya Senior Member

    Hi Dib, I can't give references from lughaats and farhangs, as I am no Urdu scholar by any means, but I will give you a reference from the best source to learn Urdu - Hindi movies! :) I am not much given to scholarly pursuits. Whatever Urdu I learnt is from Mass entertainment.

    Movie - Lekin by Gulzar. A character called M A Siddiqui (Played by Amjad Khan) introduces himself and helpfully spells his name. He explains the letter q in his name as "baRe qaaf se qaaf". Meaning, for Amjad Khan at least, qaaf is masculine.

    For whatever it is worth :)
  22. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    What gender are the letters of alphabet (and numbers) in Hindi?
  23. tarkshya Senior Member

    Letters (Akshar) are masculine. Diacritical marks (Matra) are feminine. Numbers (Unk) are masculine.

    As always in Hindi, there is no logic in gender assignment to words.
  24. desi4life Senior Member

    There is a logic, but it's complex. It has to do with etymology, how the particular item is conceptualized, word structure, and influence from words of equivalent meaning.
  25. tarkshya Senior Member

    OK. Then tell me the logic behind these gender assignments.

    Dahi khaya/piya jata hai, lekin lassi pi jati hai. (Adding sugar adds the feminine touch to yogurt :confused: )
    Chawal khaya jata hai, lekin khichdi khai jati hai. (May be cooking and boiling emasculates the rice :))

    I am actually not kidding. Hindi genders have always confounded the speakers of gender neutral languages. We even assign genders to English words. (Cars and Buses are feminine, but trucks are masculine!) I will be really surprised if there is any logic behind all this. As far as I know, it is all random.
  26. desi4life Senior Member

    The examples you gave have to do with etymology as far as I'm aware. The Hindi words retained the gender of their presumed etymons, with the exception of dahi, whose etymon has neuter gender. Since neuter gender is not present in Hindi, it was treated as masculine. The English words car and bus were equated with gaadi, which is feminine; and truck was probably equated with gaada, which is masculine.
  27. littlepond Senior Member

    The English word "truck" is feminine! Meanwhile, cars, buses and trucks are not masculine or feminine: the words are. That is why your lassi example is also wrong - objects themselves are not masculine or feminine, only words to designate them are. The same thing can have two words to designate it, both being synonyms, where one word can be masc. and the other fem.

    Meanwhile, as far as I know, there is a logic behind genders in Hindi, based on etymology, word structure and, most importantly, the sound of the word. I think this is the case in most, if not all, languages which have gender distinctions (like French or Italian).
  28. tarkshya Senior Member

    Out of curiosity (and not to start a debate), can somebody explain the logic behind the gender of words in Hindi. Since two people are claiming there is a logic, let's hear it.
  29. mundiya Senior Member

    Hindi, English, Punjabi
    I'm a bit puzzled by your question, tarkshya jii. The gender for the word "truck" can be masculine or feminine. But besides that, posts 24, 26, and 27 have explained the logic already. Is there something that's unclear to you?
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2014
  30. tarkshya Senior Member

    Now it's my turn to be puzzled.

    Where was the logic explained? By logic I mean a non-native learner of Hindi should be able to take word, evaluate it against some sort of formula and determine its gender, with reasonable number of exceptions allowed. Where is that formula?

  31. tarkshya Senior Member

    You are simply stating the obvious! No doctor in this world can examine a car or bus and determine its gender. :)
  32. littlepond Senior Member

    I am sorry, but then why did you use the following comments? (Interestingly, masucline addition pleased you and feminine addition didn't?) It does not seem from the below comments that you are able to distinguish between an object and the word(s) assigned to that object.

  33. desi4life Senior Member

    Words that end in long a or long u are commonly masculine, while those ending in long i are commonly feminine, with some exceptions based on the criteria I mentioned above. For example, saphaltaa is feminine because its etymology dictates that taa is a feminine suffix, and mehboobaa is feminine because its etymology dictates that it's the feminine counterpart to mehboob.

    For other words, one must observe speech or use a book because they are based on more detailed etymology or popular usage. For example, one can't predict aankh is feminine without knowing that its Prakrit etymon akkhi is feminine. It's also important to mention that in some languages and within some dialects of Hindi, genders can differ. For example, we said that dahi is masculine, but it can also be feminine for those who treat the final i as the common feminine ending of words.

    I hope you can now see that this is far from random as you previously asserted. There is a rhyme and reason behind the genders, but it's complex and not always predictable without observation or some knowledge about a word.

    Btw, did you have trouble learning the genders in Hindi? Does Marwari have genders?
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2014
  34. tarkshya Senior Member

    I see where you are coming from. I know a week inference can be drawn by considering the end vowel of a word, but exceptions abound, and probably as many words don't follow the rule as the ones that do. Off the top of my head itself, I can think of plenty of exceptions (paani (water) - mas., panchhi/pakshi (bird) - mas, chidiya - fem)

    For Indo Aryan words we can fall back to Prakrit roots, but why would Persian/Arabic loan words differ in gender from their IA synonyms (subah - fem., savera - mas.)

    The point I am making is that there may be a historical reason why every noun in Hindi got its gender, but it so complex and unwieldy that the end effect is still such that it is random for all practical purposes.

    I mean, if you ask a non native Hindi learner this question - What is correct? "Paani bhar gayaa hai" or "Paani bhar gayi hai"? He/she won't be able to tell unless they consult some etymological dictionaries. So for them it is random for all practical purposes and has to be just memorized.

    Last edited: Dec 18, 2014
  35. tarkshya Senior Member

    No, I did not have trouble learning the genders in Hindi. I am a native Hindi speaker for all practical purposes. However, I have plenty of non-Hindi speaker friends, and it is always amusing to see how they struggle to find the right gender when speaking Hindi.

    And yes, Marwari has genders too. Mostly it has same gender assignments as Hindi, but there are notable exceptions too.
  36. tarkshya Senior Member

    Well, that was an attempt at humor, which obviously did not register with you :)
  37. desi4life Senior Member

    1st para: Those exceptions are also due to etymology, but I see your larger point that learners are just going to memorize the genders and not analyze the words.

    2nd para: Unfortunately, I don't know Arabic, but my guess is that subah is feminine in Arabic and the gender of this word was retained.
  38. littlepond Senior Member

    Native speakers develop an intuition for words' gender; even if they encounter new words, they know what gender to assign it. Learners, shorn of that intuition, have to learn everything. This is in fact the best argument that how grounded in logic words' genders are.

    Learners have to memorize genders in any language with genders (there are of course languages like Italian where there are more visible rules and fewer exceptions); Hindi is no exception. That does not mean that genders were assigned randomly.
  39. eskandar

    eskandar Moderator

    English (US)
    Actually SubH (sub_h in Urdu, not subah FYI) is masculine in Arabic. A great many--perhaps most--Arabic loanwords in Hindi/Urdu have the opposite gender of their Arabic original. This is one example; others include kitaab and wajh (masculine in Arabic, feminine in H/U), and most words ending in a short -a (eg. ijaaza, HiSSa, HaafiZa, etc. etc.) are feminine in Arabic but masculine in H/U. I wonder if there is another [feminine] synonym for 'morning' that sub_h was linked to, besides savera ​?
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2014
  40. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    ^ Possibly "bhor" and "poh/pauh".

    From Akhtar Sherani's haunting poem, "o des se aane vaale bataa"

    kyaa gaa'oN pih ab bhii saavan meN
    barkhaa kii bahaareN aatii haiN
    ma3suum gharoN se bhor bahe
    chakkii kii sadaa'eN aatii haiN
    aur yaad meN apne maike kii
    bichhRii huii sakhiyaaN gaatii haiN
    O des se aane vaale bataa!searchin/alt.language.urdu.poetry/bhor/alt.language.urdu.poetry/6DaXE-OXxoc/BFcN-BwOhPMJ

    And here is "pau" from Nazm Tabatabai's masterly translation of the English masterpiece "Gray's Elegy"

    vuh is kaa nuur ke taRke idhar gul-gasht ko aanaa
    vuh pau-phaTne se pahle aa ke phirnaa sabzah-zaaroN meN
    vuh kuchh din kam rahe us kaa lab-i-juu kii taraf jaanaa
    vuh us kaa muskuraanaa dekh kar shor aab-shaaroN meN!searchin/alt.language.urdu.poetry/gor-i-GhariibaaN/alt.language.urdu.poetry/SVq8P4iL0Ag/kCZVHq3PanQJ
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2014

Share This Page