Gender in languages - why?

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Pivra

Senior Member
...
I would like to know the reason of the existance of genders in languages. Especially in Romance and classical Indic languages. The Pali and Sanskrit's legacy of genders still exist in Thai but is very rare (for nouns and adjectives but not particles or pronouns). In English there is almost to verb or noun changing of genders. What is the whole purpose of having them anyway??
 
  • germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    Pivra said:
    I would like to know the reason of the existance of genders in languages. Especially in Romance and classical Indic languages. The Pali and Sanskrit's legacy of genders still exist in Thai but is very rare (for nouns and adjectives but not particles or pronouns). In English there is almost to verb or noun changing of genders. What is the whole purpose of having them anyway??
    Well, as you know, the English have somehow managed to rid themselves of the silly habit of ascribing gender to everything. Now if only we could encourage everyone else to abandon this practice it would save countless hours of pain for children (and adult learners) everywhere who struggle to retain - and then retrieve and process this rather pointless information.

    If there is a good reason for ascribing gender to nouns (apart from the usual sentimental attachment to a mother tongue) I too really would like to know what it is. :)
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    Pivra said:
    I would like to know the reason of the existance of genders in languages. Especially in Romance and classical Indic languages. The Pali and Sanskrit's legacy of genders still exist in Thai but is very rare (for nouns and adjectives but not particles or pronouns). In English there is almost to verb or noun changing of genders. What is the whole purpose of having them anyway??
    English words have gender too. It's just that there aren't as many. You know when I say "She left." or "I'm with her." that I'm talking about a female. You know when I say "I wrestled a bull." that I wrestled a male animal. You have names like "Samantha" (it's a girl). However, what we don't seem to have in English is grammatical gender. Well, not anymore. In Old English, sēo sunne (the sun) was feminine and se mōna (the moon) was masculine.

    Those who are natives of Romance languages notice that it's the opposite in their languages. Those assigments might have meant something at some point, for example Luna was a Roman godess and that might explain why it's la luna, la lune etc.) but if you make a list of inanimate nouns you will soon notice it's arbitrary.

    Take a look at this article for more info.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Residente Calle 13 said:
    English words have gender too. It's just that there aren't as many. .
    English no longer has grammatical gender.
    English pronouns/nouns refect the sex of person or animal.

    Some people refer to this as "natural gender".

    Gender is not a problem for native speakers. It seems totally natural to them.
    There is no "reason" for gender, any more than there is a "reason" for verbs to have tenses and conjugations; or for nouns to have case; or for adjectives to agree.

    Chinese has none of these features, and the Chinese have no difficulty communicating among themselves.
     

    Pivra

    Senior Member
    ...
    Brioche said:
    English no longer has grammatical gender.
    English pronouns/nouns refect the sex of person or animal.

    Some people refer to this as "natural gender".

    Gender is not a problem for native speakers. It seems totally natural to them.
    There is no "reason" for gender, any more than there is a "reason" for verbs to have tenses and conjugations; or for nouns to have case; or for adjectives to agree.

    Chinese has none of these features, and the Chinese have no difficulty communicating among themselves.
    and how do chinese communicate??....(thais are naïve to extreme east cultures lol... seriously.. belief me.... i dont even know how do use chopsticks lol)
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    Brioche said:
    English no longer has grammatical gender.
    English pronouns/nouns refect the sex of person or animal.

    Some people refer to this as "natural gender".

    Gender is not a problem for native speakers. It seems totally natural to them.
    There is no "reason" for gender, any more than there is a "reason" for verbs to have tenses and conjugations; or for nouns to have case; or for adjectives to agree.

    Chinese has none of these features, and the Chinese have no difficulty communicating among themselves.

    There's a reason for everything Brioche surely?
     

    TimeHP

    Senior Member
    Italian - Italy
    What is the whole purpose of having them anyway??
    The purpose might be accuracy and clarity. And I have to admit that I like having the possibility to choose my words...:)


    Chinese has none of these features, and the Chinese have no difficulty communicating among themselves.
    But their ideograms have a sign for female nouns...
    妈妈 (mother)
    (she)
    妹妹 (sister)

    Ciao

     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    germinal said:
    Well, as you know, the English have somehow managed to rid themselves of the silly habit of ascribing gender to everything. Now if only we could encourage everyone else to abandon this practice it would save countless hours of pain for children (and adult learners) everywhere who struggle to retain - and then retrieve and process this rather pointless information.

    If there is a good reason for ascribing gender to nouns (apart from the usual sentimental attachment to a mother tongue) I too really would like to know what it is. :)
    For languages that have retained inflectional capabilities (as romance ones) gender is useful because it helps to free word order within sentences, permitting more complex sentences without losing instantaneous understanding of the sentence itself. Think to the gender agreement between nouns, adjectives, participles etc..
    In any case I think we cannot consider a language as a mere means of quick and efficient communication: languages are larger than we are and have long history, they have not to be by force strictly logic or simple to be learned.
    Ciao
     

    mansio

    Senior Member
    France/Alsace
    In German you have three genders: masculine, feminine and neutral.

    Many genders seem to be arbitrary although one can find explanations when going back thousands of years in the language history.

    The word "butter" derives from Greek. In German it has a masculine ending -er but the word is feminine in gender, and in French it has a feminine ending -e but the word is masculine.
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    Cnaeius said:
    For languages that have retained inflectional capabilities (as romance ones) gender is useful because it helps to free word order within sentences, permitting more complex sentences without losing instantaneous understanding of the sentence itself. Think to the gender agreement between nouns, adjectives, participles etc..
    In any case I think we cannot consider a language as a mere means of quick and efficient communication: languages are larger than we are and have long history, they have not to be by force strictly logic or simple to be learned.
    Ciao
    That's quite a claim to say that language is larger than we are. The historical span of (spoken) language is miniscule compared with our history, which stretches back to the first creatures on earth and written language is even younger of course.

    How could the ideas contained in your first sentence be applied to the sentence itself to demonstrate their ability to permit instantaneous understanding? :)
     

    danielfranco

    Senior Member
    I would hazard a guess that the very reason why some languages make gender distinctions more than others has been lost in the millenia of transformational history of the languages in question. I would speculate that the idiosyncrasy of each particular group of people that contributed to the origins of gender-specific languages had much to do with the development of such devices in their language...
    It might very well be impossible to know why at this point in human history.
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    mansio said:
    In German you have three genders: masculine, feminine and neutral.

    Many genders seem to be arbitrary although one can find explanations when going back thousands of years in the language history.

    The word "butter" derives from Greek. In German it has a masculine ending -er but the word is feminine in gender, and in French it has a feminine ending -e but the word is masculine.

    This may explain how the English kicked the whole thing into touch as we are basically a mixture of Germanic peoples who came under the domination of a French-speaking aristocracy.

    Maybe the effort to reconcile the languages prompted the jettisoning of features which tended to unnecessary complication?

    An afterthought: Although maybe the Anglo-Saxons had already started the process? Any expert views?
     
    Well, I'll second what danielfranco says about how gender allows you more freedom in word order. It is hard to do so without giving an example, and I cannot think of a good one right now. But in French, you can come across sentences where the gender agreement itself tells you to what (or to whom) the word is connected, and this allows French sentences to become quite lengthy and complicated, while maintaining a great deal of clarity and precision.

    When you translate these kinds of phrases into ENglish, you are usually obligated to break them down and form seperate sentences where you re-establish what or who we are talking about. I wish I had a good example.

    FWIW, I don't think it's any use passing judgement, other than tongue-in-cheek, about why some languages have gender. They just do. And it's interesting. ANd if you learn to use it/understand it correctly, you will see it has its advantages. And disadvantages. Why the rush to judge it as good or bad?
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    badgrammar said:
    Well, I'll second what danielfranco says about how gender allows you more freedom in word order. It is hard to do so without giving an example, and I cannot think of a good one right now. But in French, you can come across sentences where the gender agreement itself tells you to what (or to whom) the word is connected, and this allows French sentences to become quite lengthy and complicated, while maintaining a great deal of clarity and precision.

    When you translate these kinds of phrases into ENglish, you are usually obligated to break them down and form seperate sentences where you re-establish what or who we are talking about. I wish I had a good example.

    FWIW, I don't think it's any use passing judgement, other than tongue-in-cheek, about why some languages have gender. They just do. And it's interesting. ANd if you learn to use it/understand it correctly, you will see it has its advantages. And disadvantages. Why the rush to judge it as good or bad?
    But they don't `just do` - there must be a reason and that, as you say, is interesting, which is why the question has been asked.

    .
     
    By "just do", I certainly do not mean to dismiss the question of why gender exists - but rather to quash the notion that it is a positive or negative attribute to a language. I would love to have added some interesting info about why French has maintained gender, but I have none.:)

    However I wanted to echo Danielfranco, who points out that gender agreement allows for certain linguistic acrobatics that languages which do not have genders cannot perform. For me, that is a hard fact.
     

    Fernando

    Senior Member
    Spain, Spanish
    As a speaker of a language that has three genders (masculine, femenine and neutral) plus odd combinations (ambigous, epicene words...) it is hardly a problem to me. Spanish speakers commit some mistakes with extrange combinations (el agua/esta agua), but minor ones. For 90% of the words you only have to remember (by heart, it is true), the gender of the names. As an example, "sun" is masculine in Spanish and femenine in German (1). "Milk" is masculine in Portuguese and Galician and femenine in Spanish.

    On my biased point of view I find far more difficult the huge number of English set phrases and the absolute lack of rules.

    (1) My knowledge of German is dangerously close to zero. So, correct me if wrong.
     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    germinal said:
    That's quite a claim to say that language is larger than we are. The historical span of (spoken) language is miniscule compared with our history, which stretches back to the first creatures on earth and written language is even younger of course.

    How could the ideas contained in your first sentence be applied to the sentence itself to demonstrate their ability to permit instantaneous understanding? :)
    :confused: Sorry, I explain better what I meant: the history of the language with respect to the history of the man judging the language (about 80 years).

    I try an example to explain what I've said. I have to use italian, that is a romance language:

    - Marco prese la collana e non l’anello, in quanto donatagli dalla moglie
    - Marco took the necklace and not the ring, because the necklace was a gift of his wife


    Thanks to gender it is possible to express the same fact with exactly the same words putting different emphasis on different words, according to word positioning:

    Marco prese non l’anello ma la collana, in quanto donatagli dalla moglie
    La collana e non l’anello prese Marco, in quanto donatagli …
    La collana prese Marco e non il cappello, in quanto donatagli…
    In quanto donatagli dalla moglie, Marco prese la collana e non l’anello..
    And so on..

    Some sentences sound more fluid, other sentences less fluid, but in any case they are perfectly and instantaneously understandable and usable

    Word positioning is quite free in this example thanks to gender.
    Ciao
     

    Vespasian

    Senior Member
    Switzerland, German language
    germinal said:
    This may explain how the English kicked the whole thing into touch as we are basically a mixture of Germanic peoples who came under the domination of a French-speaking aristocracy.

    Maybe the effort to reconcile the languages prompted the jettisoning of features which tended to unnecessary complication?

    An afterthought: Although maybe the Anglo-Saxons had already started the process? Any expert views?
    I'm not an expert. But as far as I know the Danes settled in Britain after the Anglosaxons. The roots of their words were the same but the endings diverged enough to confuse everyone. After all it proved to be easier to nearly completely omit the endings for a better communication.
     

    TimeHP

    Senior Member
    Italian - Italy
    And are they all feminine? I was thinking of snow-queens, ice-maidens - or are there any snowmen? :D
    No, they aren't. Sorry...:)

    In Italian there are also feminine and masculine proper nouns.
    And we wouldn't call a girl Mario, nor call a boy Debora...
    Ciao
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    Cnaeius said:
    :confused: Sorry, I explain better what I meant: the history of the language with respect to the history of the man judging the language (about 80 years).

    I try an example to explain what I've said. I have to use italian, that is a romance language:

    - Marco prese la collana e non l’anello, in quanto donatagli dalla moglie
    - Marco took the necklace and not the ring, because the necklace was a gift of his wife


    Thanks to gender it is possible to express the same fact with exactly the same words putting different emphasis on different words, according to word positioning:

    Marco prese non l’anello ma la collana, in quanto donatagli dalla moglie
    La collana e non l’anello prese Marco, in quanto donatagli …
    La collana prese Marco e non il cappello, in quanto donatagli…
    In quanto donatagli dalla moglie, Marco prese la collana e non l’anello..
    And so on..

    Some sentences sound more fluid, other sentences less fluid, but in any case they are perfectly and instantaneously understandable and usable

    Word positioning is quite free in this example thanks to gender.
    Ciao
    I agree that there can be confusion in English where two nouns are used in a sentence but doesn't this advantage in Italian disappear if the nouns are the same gender and number?
     

    TimeHP

    Senior Member
    Italian - Italy
    I agree that there can be confusion in English where two nouns are used in a sentence but doesn't this advantage in Italian disappear if the nouns are the same gender and number?
    Well, accurate but not perfect...:D

    Ciao
     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    germinal said:
    I agree that there can be confusion in English where two nouns are used in a sentence but doesn't this advantage in Italian disappear if the nouns are the same gender and number?
    Yes, of course. In fact I said that "gender helps". If the gender are the same then the number can help, if gender and number are the same only the context can help to distinguish and a smaller number of word orders is possible.
    Notice that the same facts can be applied to a larger extent to Latin, that is the father of Romance languages: in Latin also cases of declensions help to free word order
    Ciao
     

    natasha2000

    Senior Member
    Cnaeius said:
    :confused: Sorry, I explain better what I meant: the history of the language with respect to the history of the man judging the language (about 80 years).

    I try an example to explain what I've said. I have to use italian, that is a romance language:

    - Marco prese la collana e non l’anello, in quanto donatagli dalla moglie
    - Marco took the necklace and not the ring, because the necklace was a gift of his wife


    Thanks to gender it is possible to express the same fact with exactly the same words putting different emphasis on different words, according to word positioning:

    Marco prese non l’anello ma la collana, in quanto donatagli dalla moglie
    Marco didn't take the ring, but did the necklace....
    La collana e non l’anello prese Marco, in quanto donatagli …
    The necklece and not the ring was what Marko took.....
    La collana prese Marco e non il cappello, in quanto donatagli…
    Marco took the necklace and not the ring....
    In quanto donatagli dalla moglie, Marco prese la collana e non l’anello..
    And so on..
    As the necklace was the wedding present, Marko took it, and not the ring...

    Some sentences sound more fluid, other sentences less fluid, but in any case they are perfectly and instantaneously understandable and usable

    Word positioning is quite free in this example thanks to gender.
    Ciao
    I would dare to say that what makes more flexible the sentence is not the gender but cases, which do not exist neither in English, nor in Roman languages, but they do exist in Slavic languages. It means that in English and in Roman languages the subject always goes in front of the verb and object after it. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't know about other Roman languages, but this is also possible in Spanish, thanks to the preposition "a".
    Example:
    Peter takes Mary to school.
    Where Peter is subject and Mary is object and in English sentence, if you interchange their places, then Peter will become the object and Mary the subject.
    In Spanish, you can say
    Pedro lleva a Maria a la escuela.
    A María la lleva Pedro a la escuela.

    In Serbian, which is Slavic language, we do not even need the prepositions.

    Petar vodi Mariju u skolu.
    Mariju vodi Petar u skolu.

    Where the nominative is Petar, and subject is always in nominative. Mariju is accusative of Marija, and direct object is always in accusative.

    I also can make a much longer sentence and put Subject and object very far from each other, and the sentence will still be very natural in Serbian.

    Peter takes Mary to school by car after lunch.

    Mariju ce posle rucka u skolu da odveze kolima Petar.

    Therefore, I think that gender is not there to make the word order more flaxible, but form some other reasons, which I never asked myself... I simply accept it, and the only difficulty I find is when the nouns in targeting language are of different gender than in my mother tongue...
    A long time ago, while I was studying German in school, I found especially illogical that a noun "girl" - Maiden which has its owh natural female gender, is, as a matter of fact NEUTRO!!! Das Maiden...
    But, this is how it is in German, and one who wants to learn it, much accept it.

    When learning a foreign language, it is always harder to learn something that does not exist in your mother tongue, so I guess this is why English speaking people complain about the gender and do not find the reason for its existance. I could say the same about articles, since articles do not exist in Serbian, and therefore, I really do not see the reason for them. I bet you will notice in all my posts, whether they are in Spanish or English, that the most of mistakes I make are precisely the articles.....:D
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Pivra said:
    I would like to know the reason of the existance of genders in languages. Especially in Romance and classical Indic languages. The Pali and Sanskrit's legacy of genders still exist in Thai but is very rare (for nouns and adjectives but not particles or pronouns). In English there is almost to verb or noun changing of genders. What is the whole purpose of having them anyway??
    What is the purpose of having tones? Prepositions? Declensions? Vowel harmony? Aspirated consonants? SVO syntax?...

    There's no purpose, it's just what makes language what they are.
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    Outsider said:
    What is the purpose of having tones? Prepositions? Declensions? Vowel harmony? Aspirated consonants? SVO syntax?...

    There's no purpose, it's just what makes language what they are.
    There is a a purpose for tone, prepositions and declesions.

    Tone makes up for word erosion, prepositions make up for the loss of declensions and declensions are what's there before heavy reliance and prepositions.

    Aspirated consonants are just some of the possible sounds, they are not needed anymore than nasal vowels. SVO syntax? It's an option, a parameter.

    But language is not as random as you think. There is a reason some language are tonal and some ARE not. There is a reason why Latin didn't need as many prepositions as French, Portuguese and Spanish.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    germinal said:
    But they don't `just do` - there must be a reason and that, as you say, is interesting, which is why the question has been asked.
    The reason is historical. Most Indo-European languages have genders because a long time ago our ancestors made Proto-Indo-European have genders.

    badgrammar said:
    FWIW, I don't think it's any use passing judgement, other than tongue-in-cheek, about why some languages have gender. They just do. And it's interesting. ANd if you learn to use it/understand it correctly, you will see it has its advantages. And disadvantages. Why the rush to judge it as good or bad?
    I suspect that the allergy of some English speakers to grammatical gender stems from two things: first, they don't understand it because it doesn't exist in their language, so they wish it would just go away; second, some of them think that grammatical gender is a sign of a sexist culture, so they wish it would just go away.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Residente Calle 13 said:
    But language is not as random as you think. There is a reason some language are tonal and some or not. There is a reason why Latin didn't need as many prepositions as French, Portuguese and Spanish.
    Then perhaps there is a reason for grammatical genders, too.
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    Outsider said:
    The reason is historical. Most Indo-European languages have genders because a long time ago our ancestors made Proto-Indo-European have genders.

    I suspect that the allergy of some English speakers to grammatical gender stems from two things: first, they don't understand it because it doesn't exist in their language, so they wish it would just go away; second, some of them think that grammatical gender is a sign of a sexist culture, so they wish it would just go away.
    Well your first point takes us back to just after the decision to adopt gender in language had been made. What we want are the factors leading up to that choice. My suspicion is that the old practice of assigning a god or goddess to inanimate objects may have played some part - but that is just my speculation and not, as far as I know, backed up by any research.

    Your last point is interesting - political correctness seems to barge its way into every aspect of our lives these days, but I must say I haven't met it in this connection - at least not in England.

    The second observation that the English are `allergic` to gender because it doesn't exist in our language and we wish it would just go away` is pretty harsh but, in my case at least, uncomfortably close to the truth.:D

    .
     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    natasha2000 said:
    I would dare to say that what makes more flexible the sentence is not the gender but cases, which do not exist neither in English, nor in Roman languages, but they do exist in Slavic languages. It means that in English and in Roman languages the subject always goes in front of the verb and object after it.
    ....
    Therefore, I think that gender is not there to make the word order more flaxible, but form some other reasons, which I never asked myself... I simply accept it, and the only difficulty I find is when the nouns in targeting language are of different gender than in my mother tongue...
    ...
    When learning a foreign language, it is always harder to learn something that does not exist in your mother tongue, so I guess this is why English speaking people complain about the gender and do not find the reason for its existance. I could say the same about articles, since articles do not exist in Serbian, and therefore, I really do not see the reason for them. I bet you will notice in all my posts, whether they are in Spanish or English, that the most of mistakes I make are precisely the articles.....:D

    Hi Natasha,
    Perhaps you have not caught the point, maybe because you do not know Italian, but if you think at Spanish you can understand because it is quite the same as Italian.
    You have translated into English the sentences in Italian but you have changed some words. All the sentences I wrote in Italian have all the same words. With "all" I mean the same nouns, the same articles, the same verbs the same pronouns etc.. Only the order is different
    Try to translate using always the same words in English, changing word order. In English some sentences are not understandable, while in italian they are all undersandable. Why? Because in Italian there is gender and gender agreement.
    Of course, if we have also noun cases (as Latin, as I said before) the ability of changing word order is increased, especially if we have nouns with the same number and gender but different case.

    Anyway these are not “purposes”, they are only facts
    Ciao :)
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    germinal said:
    The second observation that the English are `alergic` to gender because it doesn't exist in our language and we wish it would just go away` is pretty harsh but, in my case at least, uncomfortably close to the truth.:D
    Well, honestly speaking, its a tax on the memory. A language that has noun and pronoun classes transmit a great deal of information in a single word.

    She left is more succint than The female human left or Samantha Harrington left. There is something elegant about buying a cow. That's not grammatical gender but in Spanish you have el cura (the priest) and la cura (the cure) where gender tells you the meaning of the word.

    The "problem" is that alot of gender information is useless. English gets on with priest and cure and we don't generally seem to care if a chicken is a hen or a rooster these days.

    It might be that it's there for the same reason why design bridges to support 600 kph winds when the highest winds ever recorded have been 150 kph. It might be why addresses contain city and town as well as postal codes in the US. The letter will get their if I just put the postal code but if I mess up one of the numbers in the postal code and don't put the city and state then it will not.

    Linguistic overkill?
     

    natasha2000

    Senior Member
    Cnaeius said:
    Hi Natasha,
    Perhaps you have not caught the point, maybe because you do not know Italian, but if you think at Spanish you can understand because it is quite the same as Italian.
    You have translated into English the sentences in Italian but you have changed some words. All the sentences I wrote in Italian have all the same words. With "all" I mean the same nouns, the same articles, the same verbs the same pronouns etc.. Only the order is different
    Try to translate using always the same words in English, changing word order. In English some sentences are not understandable, while in italian they are all undersandable. Why? Because in Italian there is gender and gender agreement.
    Of course, if we have also noun cases (as Latin, as I said before) the ability of changing word order is increased, especially if we have nouns with the same number and gender but different case.

    Anyway these are not “purposes”, they are only facts
    Ciao :)
    I still don't see how gender can make difference... Really. Not in what you are referring. From my point of view, the only thing that really makes difference is CASE, not gender. Sorry.
     

    diegodbs

    Senior Member
    Spain-Spanish
    I suspect that the allergy of some English speakers to grammatical gender stems from two things: first, they don't understand it because it doesn't exist in their language, so they wish it would just go away; second, some of them think that grammatical gender is a sign of a sexist culture, so they wish it would just go away.
    You should never judge one language considering that what your own language has or hasn't is the truth.
    If I were to think that the use of phrasal verbs in English is something absurd or an "unnecessary complication", because the meaning those verb + preposition describe can be easily conveyed by a single verb, that idea would be considered absurd by English speakers.
    My language is as it is, and the rest of languages are as they are. I may find it difficult to learn so many phrasal verbs, but it is their language and not mine.
    If some people consider grammatical gender a sign of a sexist culture, it is their problem but not mine. We (and the rest of languages with grammatical gender) can easily understand the difference between sex and gender.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    It must be a pain for English speakers to learn languages with genders. But many of those of us who learn English as a second languaged develop similar allergies to phrasal verbs and articles. And collective nouns, oh my! ;) :D

    germinal said:
    Well your first point takes us back to just after the decision to adopt gender in language had been made. What we want are the factors leading up to that choice. My suspicion is that the old practice of assigning a god or goddess to inanimate objects may have played some part - but that is just my speculation and not, as far as I know, backed up by any research.
    There is a theory that Proto-Indo-European originally had only animate and inanimate gender. More here.
     

    natasha2000

    Senior Member
    diegodbs said:
    You should never judge one language considering that what your own language has or hasn't is the truth.
    If I were to think that the use of phrasal verbs in English is something absurd or an "unnecessary complication", because the meaning those verb + preposition describe can be easily conveyed by a single verb, that idea would be considered absurd by English speakers.
    My language is as it is, and the rest of languages are as they are. I may find it difficult to learn so many phrasal verbs, but it is their language and not mine.
    If some people consider grammatical gender a sign of a sexist culture, it is their problem but not mine. We (and the rest of languages with grammatical gender) can easily understand the difference between sex and gender.
    I think you did not understand what Outsider wanted to say. As I have already said before, and then it was repeated by Outsider, when there is something in target language that does not exist in your language, it is normal that is harder to understand and therefore to learn. For me, the hard thing are articles, since they do not exist in my language. But I don't judge if they should be there or not in English or Spanish, I just try to learn when and how to use them, even though I am passing a much harder time than someone whos mother tongue has them....
     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    natasha2000 said:
    I still don't see how gender can make difference... Really. Not in what you are referring. From my point of view, the only thing that really makes difference is CASE, not gender. Sorry.
    Try to do what I suggested, you will see that all will become clearer :) .
    In the examples above why all italian sentences are completely understandable and not all the English ones are (if you translate using always the same words)?
    I repeat: it is sure that case helps to free word order. Supposing singular number, think at latin:
    -two nouns at the same case can be differentiated if they have different genders
    -two nouns at the same gender can be differentiated if they have different cases

    Anyhow, all the inflectional properties of a language concur in freeing word order: case agreement is an inflectional property, as gender agreement.
    Ciao
     

    diegodbs

    Senior Member
    Spain-Spanish
    natasha2000 said:
    I think you did not understand what Outsider wanted to say. As I have already said before, and then it was repeated by Outsider, when there is something in target language that does not exist in your language, it is normal that is harder to understand and therefore to learn. For me, the hard thing are articles, since they do not exist in my language. But I don't judge if they should be there or not in English or Spanish, I just try to learn when and how to use them, even though I am passing a much harder time than someone whos mother tongue has them....
    Natasha, I was trying to say that I agreed with Outsider. Sorry if my English seemed to say that I didn't agree with him. Perhaps I should have written "one" instead of "you" in the first sentence (one should never judge....).
     

    natasha2000

    Senior Member
    Cnaeius said:
    Try to do what I suggested, you will see that all will become clearer :) .
    In the examples above why all italian sentences are completely understandable and not all the English ones are (if you translate using always the same words)?
    I repeat: it is sure that case helps to free word order. Supposing singular number, think at latin:
    -two nouns at the same case can be differentiated if they have different genders
    -two nouns at the same gender can be differentiated if they have different cases

    Anyhow, all the inflectional properties of a language concur in freeing word order: case agreement is an inflectional property, as gender agreement.
    Ciao
    I think that you cannot translate word for word, and if I translate your sentences I will always get nothing if I try to translate them word for word and trying to have always the same words in the sentence. I am sure that this sentence in Italian is correct in all its versions, and I am also sure that some native English speaker would also be able to find an example of the sentence where you can interchange the place of the words, always the same words, and not loosing the original meaning...

    I just don't see any conexion between gender and greater mobility of the words within a sentence...
    As you said, I do speak Spanish, and I don't see that Spanish gets more flexible sentence thanks to gender, but yes thanks to some kind of CASE which is preposition + noun, as I have alredy explained.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    germinal said:
    I agree that there can be confusion in English where two nouns are used in a sentence but doesn't this advantage in Italian disappear if the nouns are the same gender and number?
    With 2 genders and 2 numbers, there's only a 25% chance that two random nouns will be of the same gender and number.
     

    natasha2000

    Senior Member
    diegodbs said:
    Natasha, I was trying to say that I agreed with Outsider. Sorry if my English seemed to say that I didn't agree with him. Perhaps I should have written "one" instead of "you" in the first sentence (one should never judge....).
    Upps...:eek:
    Sorry. I should have read it more carefully. My apologies...
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Cnaeius, I agree with Natasha.

    - Marco prese la collana e non l’anello, in quanto donatagli dalla moglie.
    - Marco took the necklace and not the ring, because it had been offered [the necklace] by his wife.
    In English, the sentence is ambiguous with "it", because we don't know whether you're talking about the necklace or the ring. Gender allows you not to repeat the noun "necklace" without being ambiguous. But this has nothing to do with word order.

    Thanks to gender it is possible to express the same fact with exactly the same words putting different emphasis on different words, according to word positioning:

    Marco prese non l’anello ma la collana, in quanto donatagli dalla moglie
    Marco didn't take the ring, but did the necklace....
    La collana e non l’anello prese Marco, in quanto donatagli …
    The necklece and not the ring was what Marko took.....
    La collana prese Marco e non il cappello, in quanto donatagli…
    Marco took the necklace and not the ring....
    In quanto donatagli dalla moglie, Marco prese la collana e non l’anello..
    And so on..
    As the necklace was the wedding present, Marko took it, and not the ring...
    I would say the possibility of permuting the words in this sentence arises from semantic considerations. First, it's obvious that only Marco can take the ring, not the ring take Marco. As for "[Marco took] the ring and not the necklace", these are coordinate clauses, so they can be swapped.
     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    natasha2000 said:
    I think that you cannot translate word for word, and if I translate your sentences I will always get nothing if I try to translate them word for word and trying to have always the same words in the sentence. I am sure that this sentence in Italian is correct in all its versions, and I am also sure that some native English speaker would also be able to find an example of the sentence where you can interchange the place of the words, always the same words, and not loosing the original meaning...

    I just don't see any conexion between gender and greater mobility of the words within a sentence...
    As you said, I do speak Spanish, and I don't see that Spanish gets more flexible sentence thanks to gender, but yes thanks to some kind of CASE which is preposition + noun, as I have alredy explained.
    I never said of translating word by word from Italian to English. I only said of using the same words trying to convey the same meaning. I gave a translation of the first sentence and it was not word by word.
    I do not think that an English speaker can give a completely interchangable sentence using genders simply because English has not gender agreement. Perhaps it could be done for other grammatical rules (I’m skeptical about it but it could be) or using clear context, but it wouldn’t be the matter of discussion. Anyhow in the example I gave context could be useful neither for Italian nor for English

    I’m very sorry you do not understand. You can trust me or not but what I’ve said it is not my thought or other, it is only a notion of linguistics. I would suggest you read all the posts of all people in this discussion. And maybe some spanish speaker will give you some examples

    Anyway on the case-ageement we have similar ideas.
    ciao
     

    natasha2000

    Senior Member
    Cnaeius said:
    I never said of translating word by word from Italian to English. I only said of using the same words trying to convey the same meaning. I gave a translation of the first sentence and it was not word by word.

    But if I want to work with your example but in English, I have to translate it.

    I’m very sorry you do not understand. I did not say I don't understand. I said I don't see it like you do.
    You can trust me or not but what I’ve said it is not my thought or other, it is only a notion of linguistics. I consider myself the owner of enough "notion" of linguistics since languages are my profession and not my hobby...

    I would suggest you read all the posts of all people in this discussion. And maybe some spanish speaker will give you some examples. I know Spanish enough to know that gender does not anything to do with mobility of the words within the sentence. As I said, I don't see it the way you see it.

    Anyway on the case-ageement we have similar ideas.
    ciao
    Well... These are my answers...
     
    I am stumped to give you a French example, but you can ideed trust Cnaeius, gender , as I said before, allows you to do some linguistic acrobatics you could not do without gender, whether it be in word order, or in the syntax. You can be very specific about what or who you are refering to without repeating yourself. His example with the ring and necklace works perfectly in French:

    Marco a pris le collier mais pas la bague, car sa femme la lui avait offerte.

    But the sentences can get a lot more complex, like you frequently find in anything written in a journalistic or literary tone. When you translate it, you are obligated to refer back to the subject/object, and often to split sentences into different parts.
     

    Fernando

    Senior Member
    Spain, Spanish
    I understand Cnaeius' point. Romanic languages allow a bigger mobility of adjectives because of the concordance in gender and number between names and adjectives. But German (which have declension, gender-conditioned) does not take advantage of that.

    I would say the motivations are just historical (just the same as the silly English spelling). I would not say the origin is the recall of the pantheism. As a matter of fact, Vikings, Britons, Pictos and Anglosaxons were adoring Nature forces far after Romans had adopted Christianity.

    As a matter of fact, Romanic peoples could have got rid of gender when getting rid of Latin and (for some reason) they decided not to do it. They adopted the article (another not-so-evident-useful invention) and they held the gender.


    On a side note, should not your Latin name be Cneus?
     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    Outsider said:
    Cnaeius, I agree with Natasha.

    In English, the sentence is ambiguous with "it", because we don't know whether you're talking about the necklace or the ring. Gender allows you not to repeat the noun "necklace" without being ambiguous. But this has nothing to do with word order. It's pronoun use.

    I would say the possibility of permuting the words in this sentence arises from semantic considerations. First, it's obvious that only Marco can take the ring, not the ring take Marco. As for "[Marco took] the ring and not the necklace", these are coordinate clauses, so they can be swapped.
    Ok I agree with you for the first part.
    The second part: I didn't swap subject and/or subordinate clause to use the properties you mention but only to change the distancebetween “collana” e “donatagli”. Putting other words between two related words can make things confused, if the related words haven’t any sign that “joins” them. In my example that “sign” is gender (female a).
    The principle is the same of the declension cases: why in latin we can increase distance from related words? Because that words have signs: the case endings. And if the case is the same? But gender endings can be different.
    If it is all the same: Case, gender,number? we have necessarily to reduce distance between related words or use context
    I hope I have been clearer. I realize that for not-italians can be difficult to understand that.
    Ciao
     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    Fernando said:
    I understand Cnaeius' point. Romanic languages allow a bigger mobility of adjectives because of the concordance in gender and number between names and adjectives. But German (which have declension, gender-conditioned) does not take advantage of that.

    I would say the motivations are just historical (just the same as the silly English spelling). I would not say the origin is the recall of the pantheism. As a matter of fact, Vikings, Britons, Pictos and Anglosaxons were adoring Nature forces far after Romans had adopted Christianity.

    As a matter of fact, Romanic peoples could have got rid of gender when getting rid of Latin and (for some reason) they decided not to do it. They adopted the article (another not-so-evident-useful invention) and they held the gender.


    On a side note, should not your Latin name be Cneus?
    No it is Cnaeius :) !

    As native spanish speaker I realize you can understand better what I've said. I speak a bit of spanish but actually I do not know whether spanish likes to use gender agreement to make "acrobatic" sentences. Italian, that is a language that tends to use subordination instead of coordination, uses it, especially in writing
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    Outsider said:
    It must be a pain for English speakers to learn languages with genders. But many of those of us who learn English as a second languaged develop similar allergies to phrasal verbs and articles. And collective nouns, oh my! ;) :D

    There is a theory that Proto-Indo-European originally had only animate and inanimate gender. More here.

    Thanks for that Outsider - I have added it to my favourites - very interesting explanation!:thumbsup:
     

    Fernando

    Senior Member
    Spain, Spanish
    Yes, I think all Romanic speakers tend to abuse of accrobation. Too many subordinates! :D

    Off topic: I would say the most typical name for Cn. Pompeius is Cnaeus or Cneus, though it is true that Cnaeius is also used.
     
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