Gender in languages - why?

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  • daoxunchang

    Senior Member
    Chinese China
    Vespasian said:
    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.
    I think in the process of learning a language, either one's mother tongue or a foreign one, one can never learn the best part until he knows and can use the grammar of that language perfectly well.

    But as far as everyday communication is concerned, pidgins may be enough.
     

    asm

    Senior Member
    Mexico, Spanish
    However, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind
    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? :)
     

    roxcyn

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English [AmE]
    I was reading an English Grammar book---and something was very interesting that struck me: Old English had gender (words had gender just as in Romance language today), and there was even different verb conjugations for each subject. But it disappeared. I thought that was very interesting to read.
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    Spanish: most of the masculine words with feminine endings in Spanish are also masculine words with feminine endings in French. So chances are the discrepancy arose from Vulgar Latin and not some weird Spanish mutation.


    Chinese: Cantonese also does not distinguish between he/she/it. The word for these is "koei" (pronounced like French "cueil" as in "accueil").

    I believe Mandarin has a T-V distinction, "nin" is used for formal and "ni" is used for regular/informal. Cantonese, like English, does not have a T-V distinction (it uses "lei" for both formal and informal).

    Chinese languages do not have gender, though nouns have "measure words" attached to them. The difference between measure words and gender are that measure words are usually predictable, they correspond to different types, shapes, sizes, etc of objects.
     

    urizon9

    Senior Member
    English
    Hi!I have never understood why nouns must have a gender. In Italian mastering the use of the article is the greatest difficulty for me.For example there are masc.nouns with fem.ending in singular and nouns which become fem. in plural-total mess!There are many languages which do fine without any kind of gender, but it does not make them necessarily more easy to learn of cource.Con saluti, urizon9
     

    Honour

    Senior Member
    Türkçe, Türkiye
    i also wonder why some languages use gender when naming objects. I think it is acceptable for animal kind but it makes no sense to me for the objects. How could a table be female? (la table, la mesa) In turkish it is called only masa, no gender, no article! (the latter is another subject). There isn't a single point that makes sense to me about objects being fe/male.
     

    Fernando

    Senior Member
    Spain, Spanish
    Turk, objects are not male or female, they are assigned (by history and use) a grammatical gender. As an example, the penis is feminine for many Spanish translations and the vagina is masculine for many Spanish translations.
     

    Honour

    Senior Member
    Türkçe, Türkiye
    Fernando, thanks for your explanation but that's the point i don't get. Why they are assigned so? Why there isn't a single gender? I wonder because belonging to a specific gender does't alter their meanings.It seems so useless to me.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    When you get confused, think that grammatical gender is just a way to divide nouns into classes. Don't think of masculine and feminine, think of colours:

    - In Turkish and English, all nouns have the same colour.
    - In Spanish, some nouns are blue, and others red.
    - In Latin and German, some words are blue, others red, and others green.

    Now, most nouns that refer to females are red and most words that refer to males are blue, and green words normally refer to sexless notions. That's why we label the three classes of nouns as "feminine", "masculine" and "neuter".

    But it is only a label. You should not think that being blue is the same as being a male, being red is the same as being a female, and being green is the same as being neither.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    roxcyn said:
    I was reading an English Grammar book---and something was very interesting that struck me: Old English had gender (words had gender just as in Romance language today), and there was even different verb conjugations for each subject. But it disappeared. I thought that was very interesting to read.
    Here's a link for you. :)
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    Turk said:
    Fernando, thanks for your explanation but that's the point i don't get. Why they are assigned so? Why there isn't a single gender? I wonder because belonging to a specific gender does't alter their meanings.It seems so useless to me.
    Well, in practice, gender is useful. It just seems like a lot of work for people learning a foreign language for the reward it provides.

    Let me make up a hypothetical language called Bla. In bla, the word foo means fern. What's a fern? I know what it means but everybody doesn't. If I said "it's a fern plant" that would be clearer.

    Fortunately, in Bla, people say foo-pla. (pla is an ending that means "plant") After a while everybody started added -pla at the end of all words that described a plant. By extension, to all words that described wood, and finally everything thing that was made out of wood. So a boat in Bla is a triri-pla.

    That how you get a class of words. In this case, it started so that people who didn't know what a foo was to be able to guess and then it just because a class that looking from the outside is rather arbitrary. Why should a spoon in Bla be called a rek-pla? Well, because spoons in Blaland were first made out of wood. And that's how some language get classes that over time become arbitrary. There is an Austrialian language that has a "vegetable class" and airplanes are in that class because of this kind of extension.

    Moreover, in Spanish and French, gender separates homonyms.

    Spanish
    el cura = the priest
    la cura = the cure

    French
    le livre = the book
    la livre = the pound

    ---

    Of course, you don't need it. But apparently, we have a tendency to put things into categories. If you think about it, we just need the word person. But we all have child/adult, male/female...etc.
     

    luis masci

    Banned
    Argentina-español
    Fernando said:
    Spanish speakers commit some mistakes with extrange combinations (el agua/esta agua), but minor ones.
    As a matter of fact I couldn’t say it’s properly a mistake. The word “agua” is one of some few words that use the article “el” for cacophony reason but nevertheless remain its feminine condition with all other articles.
    Examples:
    El agua/las aguas/esta agua/esa agua /aquella agua...
    El aula/las aulas/esta aula/esa aula/ aquella aula...
    El arma/las armas/esta arma/aquella arma/esa arma...
    El águila/las águilas/esta águila/aquella águila/esa águila...
    El alma/las almas/esta alma/aquella alma/esa alma...
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    luis masci said:
    As a matter of fact I couldn’t say it’s properly a mistake. The word “agua” is one of some few words that use the article “el” for cacophony reason but nevertheless remain its feminine condition with all other articles.
    Examples:
    El agua/las aguas/esta agua/esa agua /aquella agua...
    El aula/las aulas/esta aula/esa aula/ aquella aula...
    El arma/las armas/esta arma/aquella arma/esa arma...
    El águila/las águilas/esta águila/aquella águila/esa águila...
    El alma/las almas/esta alma/aquella alma/esa alma...
    And there are a handful of words that are both masculine and feminine, depending on the region and sometimes the gender changes through time:

    Sauna, internet, sazón (seasoning)and sartén (frying pan) seem to vary from region to region as well. And if you back far enough you will find la puente (bridge) la fin, and la análisis.

    So I don't know if "nunca digas de este agua no beberé" is so much an «error» as it is a variant the dictionaries don't pick up on. Just a personal opinion.
     

    luis masci

    Banned
    Argentina-español
    Residente Calle 13 said:
    So I don't know if "nunca digas de este agua no beberé" is so much an «error» as it is a variant the dictionaries don't pick up on. Just a personal opinion.
    It’s possible you are right Residente, but as I always have heard it here is: “nunca digas de esta agua no he de beber”

    Gender in languages - why?
    No problem with me, I’m willing to change whole articles of all Romance languages if you change in English,by the way each same sound always matches with the same written letter.
    (now you just have to ask to other 700 millions Romance speakers if they are agree too)
     

    Pivra

    Senior Member
    ...
    Fernando said:
    Turk, objects are not male or female, they are assigned (by history and use) a grammatical gender. As an example, the penis is feminine for many Spanish translations and the vagina is masculine for many Spanish translations.
    OH YAH... I never noticed that... la polla and el coño...and el pecho too. Why is the male part female and female part male?
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    luis masci said:
    Gender in languages - why?
    No problem with me, I’m willing to change whole articles of all Romance languages if you change in English,by the way each same sound always matches with the same written letter.
    (now you just have to ask to other 700 millions Romance speakers if they are agree too)
    I don't know how serious you are and I'm not very good a picking out tongue-in-cheek statements but there are problems with doing either one.

    In English, we have rhotic and non-rhotic accents, for one, so one sound can never correpsond to one letter unless we all speak the exact same way. Even in the US you have speakers for who "cot" and "caught" sound the same. Should we spell them the same way? --I don't say them the same way.So we can never do it as long as we speak differently. You can't do it in Spanish either unless the people who say casa and caza differently cut it out our we (Latin Americans and Southern Spaniards) start saying casa and catha.

    English had genders but they disappeared slowly over time. The English didn't have a meeting to decide to drop them and it's unlikely that they conceivably could have. Centuries of school teachers and grammarians saying that double negatives are "bad English" hasn't stopped people from saying "I don't know nothing."

    I also find it very interesting that the DRAE lists "sauna" as feminine. I don't think people who say "el sauna" change to "la sauna" once they find out that's what the dictionary says. And I don't think you can get us to agree to change it and you can't change the people who say "la sauna".

    People are both messy and stubborn in their speech. Isn't it fun?
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    Pivra said:
    OH YAH... I never noticed that... la polla and el coño...and el pecho too. Why is the male part female and female part male?
    It's not in all dialects. In mine, the main words are both masculine. In the Ecuadorian dialect, they are both feminine.
     

    Pivra

    Senior Member
    ...
    Residente Calle 13 said:
    It's not in all dialects. In mine, the main words are both masculine. In the Ecuadorian dialect, they are both feminine.
    What is your dialect? In Ecuadorian Spanish how do they say those words? La verga and la concha (sorry I don't mean to be rude)?
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    Pivra said:
    What is your dialect? In Ecuadorian Spanish how do they say those words? La verga and la concha (sorry I don't mean to be rude)?
    :warn:
    My dialect is Dominican. The words are toto and guebo. The Ecuadorian words are verga and chucha. Concha is just something you make ceviche out of. Perfectly innocent.

    I think too much is made of the gender of things. It's really arbitrary. Puerto Ricans have chocha while in parts of Southern Spain it's chocho. It's obviously a case of words whose gender change through space and time. I wouldn't doubt it if the Ecuadorian and Dominican words for vulva come from that same source. Toto, chocho, chocha, chucha...they are just so similar. The fact that they are taboo allows them to be pronounced so differently (and even change genders) more so than if it was a word one said out in the open.

    Anyway, that's gender for you.
     

    Bienvenidos

    Senior Member
    USA
    Afghanistan/USA
    Well, the Ancient Latin word for manliness, bravery, and courage is virtus, and it is feminine! Why? As languages are spoken, they change. The Romans must have thought that virtus sounded better as a feminine noun, so they made it feminine.

    Let me catch up on this Spanish dialect thing (mine is Venezuelan) and I'll get back to you.

    Bien
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    Bienvenidos said:
    Well, the Ancient Latin word for manliness, bravery, and courage is virtus, and it is feminine! Why? As languages are spoken, they change. The Romans must have thought that virtus sounded better as a feminine noun, so they made it feminine.

    Let me catch up on this Spanish dialect thing (mine is Venezuelan) and I'll get back to you.

    Bien
    It's arbitrary. By the time of the Ancient Romans, gender no longer made sense for inanimates. Even for some animates, it was already kind of goofy. A sailor was nauta (feminine). This is because it came from Greek but anyway...it's no surprise that in Spanish we say el problema and la mano. But the theory is that the language Latin came from had a gender system that was more rational. There were more than three genders and each noun fell into, more a less, a logical class.

    Fula, a language spoken in West Africa, has sixteen genders! And they are today arbitrary!

    The problem, I think people find is not that some languages have boxes but that words from one box jump out and fall into another box over time to the point that the whole thing is a mess unless you learn the gender by heart.
     

    Bienvenidos

    Senior Member
    USA
    Afghanistan/USA
    Exactly, Latin definately shaped the gender system for other languages. Great example, by the way :)

    Latin: Manus - hand, feminine
    Spanish: Mano - hand, feminine

    Bien
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In the Indo-European languages at least, the purpose of gender is to make it possible to use pronouns, which avoid having to repeat nouns endlessly. Without gender, it would never be clear to what antecedent a pronoun referred. Dividing nouns into classes, and using pronouns peculiar to each class makes pronouns possible.
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    se16teddy said:
    In the Indo-European languages at least, the purpose of gender is to make it possible to use pronouns, which avoid having to repeat nouns endlessly. Without gender, it would never be clear to what antecedent a pronoun referred. Dividing nouns into classes, and using pronouns peculiar to each class makes pronouns possible.
    Well, I guess the question is, then, how today's English makes do with gendered pronouns but other languages "need" to assign genders to every single noun?
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I should have written:

    In the Indo-European languages at least, the purpose of gender is to make it possible to use pronouns, which avoid having to repeat nouns endlessly. Without gender, it would never be clear to what antecedent a pronoun referred. Dividing nouns into classes (OR, PARTICULARLY IN ENGLISH, DIVIDING THINGS, ANIMALS, PERSONS AND OTHER CONCEPTS INTO CLASSES), and using pronouns peculiar to each class makes pronouns possible.

    One theory I heard about the development of gender in Indo-European is that the gender of a pronoun simply indicated the declension class of the antecedent. A few animals and persons of recognizable gender living around the home were allocated a declension class according to their gender. This principle largely survived into Latin, and largely survives today in Russian. For example, in Russian nouns that end in -a in the nominative singular, -u in the accusative singular etc are typically feminine; in Latin nouns that end in -a in the nominative singular and -am in the accusative are typically feminine

    As the declensions of nouns became simpler, for example in the Romance languages, this distinction became less apparent; and moreover in English the link between the noun and the gender completely disappeared. In English the gender belongs to thing / animal / person / concept.

    On a separate point: in English gender is not entirely determined by sex (and the absence of it). Ships are usually feminine, and many speakers apply the same principle to other beloved pieces of machinery, e.g. their car.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    se16teddy said:
    I should have written:

    In the Indo-European languages at least, the purpose of gender is to make it possible to use pronouns, which avoid having to repeat nouns endlessly. Without gender, it would never be clear to what antecedent a pronoun referred. Dividing nouns into classes (OR, PARTICULARLY IN ENGLISH, DIVIDING THINGS, ANIMALS, PERSONS AND OTHER CONCEPTS INTO CLASSES), and using pronouns peculiar to each class makes pronouns possible.
    But languages without grammatical genders also use pronouns. For example, Finnish does. I don't doubt that splitting nouns into two or more genders allows more flexibility in the use of pronouns, but I'm not sure that it's such an important thing. Even in Spanish (or English!) you can still get pronouns with ambiguous referents.

    se16teddy said:
    One theory I heard about the development of gender in Indo-European is that the gender of a pronoun simply indicated the declension class of the antecedent. A few animals and persons of recognizable gender living around the home were allocated a declension class according to their gender. This principle largely survived into Latin, and largely survives today in Russian. For example, in Russian nouns that end in -a in the nominative singular, -u in the accusative singular etc are typically feminine; in Latin nouns that end in -a in the nominative singular and -am in the accusative are typically feminine

    As the declensions of nouns became simpler, for example in the Romance languages, this distinction became less apparent [...]
    Well, Romance languages don't usually have declensions, but gender distinctions are very apparent in them. In Spanish, for example, the feminine is characterized by the ending -a, and the masculine by the ending -o.

    An interesting theory about the origins of gender in Indo-European (which I may have already mentioned in this thread) is here.
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    Chinese languages dont' have grammatical gender, yet they still have pronouns. But they do not distinguish between grammatical case either, so I = me, he = him, she = her, we = us, they = them

    Cantonese: me = ngo, you = nei, she/he = koei, us = ngodei, you (pl.) = neidei, they = koeidei

    Mandarin: me = wo, you (informal) = ni, you (formal) = nin, she/he = ta, us
    = women, you (pl.) = nimen, them = tamen


    So you can have pronouns with neither grammatical gender nor case.
     

    daoxunchang

    Senior Member
    Chinese China
    I am Chinese. I think that we do not distinguish between the three pronouns he, she and it (他,她,它)may be because that we do not need the distinguishing. When you are talking about someone, it is just natural to state clearly whom you are talking about at the very beginning, and thus it is clear as the gender is concerned. I believe this is another abundance of languages that have this distinguishing. As to how we refer to people elder than us or higher than us in social position, we use titles when talking about them. For example, we rarely use "he" throughout the conversation about our fathers even if we know whom we are talking about. Even if we use "he", we will say "papa he"(爸爸他) or "my papa he"(我爸爸他). But there is an exception, that is, when we are angry of them we may call them by he/she. But in my case, I would not feel comfortable even if in this mood.
    On second thought, I think we call people with lower social status also with their titles or names.
     

    daoxunchang

    Senior Member
    Chinese China
    When we talk to people face to face, we often call them by their names or titles too. For example, we say "那爸爸你(papa ni---papa you)怎么想的?" or "李明你(Li Ming ni)怎么想的?"
     

    Blackleaf

    Banned
    English/Britain
    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".

    .
    That's not entirely true.

    English has natural gender, but it doesn't actually refer to all creatures according to their sex. If it did, then all female snails would be "she" and all male snails would be "he." But in English, that's not the case. In English, ALL snails are usually referred to as "it", whether it's masculine or feminine.

    In English, the natural gender does not make the gender of the noun equate with the gender of the thing that it's describing. Instead, the natural gender is related to the CLASS of the thing that it's describing. So, in English, most animals are referred to as "it", even if the animal is female.

    So it's not true that in English everything is reflected int he sex of the creature, although it's true that English doesn't have grammatical gender.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    Blackleaf said:
    English has natural gender, but it doesn't actually refer to all creatures according to their sex. If it did, then all female snails would be "she" and all male snails would be "he." But in English, that's not the case. In English, ALL snails are usually referred to as "it", whether it's masculine or feminine.
    How would the average person determine the sex of a snail? Hell, I had difficulty determining the sex of my son's rabbit some years back.


    In English, the natural gender does not make the gender of the noun equate with the gender of the thing that it's describing. Instead, the natural gender is related to the CLASS of the thing that it's describing. So, in English, most animals are referred to as "it", even if the animal is female.
    Domestic pets, domesticated animals and many birds are 'he' and 'she' are they not?
     

    Blackleaf

    Banned
    English/Britain
    diegodbs said:
    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.
    Surely having NO grammatical gender is sexist.

    In English, we have a few problems with having no grammatical gender.

    Think of this - What if you were on a train and you discovered that someone had left their hat on a seat? Now, you don't know who the hat belongs to. So, when telling the person next to you that someone has forgotten their hat, how would you tell them? Sometimes we say: "Someone has left HIS hat on the train." But the person who left the hat could be a woman! Other times, we might say: "Someone left HER hat on the train." But the person who left the hat could be a man. Mostly, though, we use "their" to avoid having to use "he" or "she". So we say: "Someone has left THEIR hat on the train." But even using "their" is wrong because it should be a plural word. What we need in English is a word that means the same as "his", "her" and "their" but doesn't refer to a female person or a male person or a group of people. In French or Spanish, this problem doesn't exist.

    See what I mean? That's one of the problems we have in English because we don't have grammatical gender. Languages that DON'T have grammatical gender are probably the "sexist" ones.
     

    Blackleaf

    Banned
    English/Britain
    roxcyn said:
    I was reading an English Grammar book---and something was very interesting that struck me: Old English had gender (words had gender just as in Romance language today), and there was even different verb conjugations for each subject. But it disappeared. I thought that was very interesting to read.
    Old English -

    se cwic cyning - the living king

    seo cwicu cwen - the living queen.
    ------------------------------------------

    There are a number of theories as to why English lost its gender.

    I'll have to post the whole article as I can't post the link -




    From Grammatical to Natural Gender

    by Jesse Archibald-Barber

    copyright 2001


    Gender can be a complicated category of language, and language change. To help clarify the issue, it is important to distinguish two types of gender systems, one according to grammatical conventions, the other according to natural conventions. The traditional theory holds that at one time English had a grammatical gender system, but made the transition to a natural gender system “in the East Midlands of England by the early twelfth century” (Smith 130). However, recent scholarship by Hans Platzer critiques the traditional theory, revealing that the issue is much more complex.

    Moderator Edit: Please see WR Rules regarding copyright rules. No more than four sentences allowed in any post. This is in keeping with "fair use" regulations of US copyright law.
     

    Blackleaf

    Banned
    English/Britain
    maxiogee said:
    How would the average person determine the sex of a snail? Hell, I had difficulty determining the sex of my son's rabbit some years back.
    Isn't that one reason why, like I said, most animals in English are referred to as "it" and not their sex?

    People don't call snails "he" if it's a male snail or "she" if it's a female snail. Snails are just called "it." The natural gender of English, contrary to believe, doesn't doesn't label all male things as "he" and all female things as "she".





    Domestic pets, domesticated animals and many birds are 'he' and 'she' are they not?
    I said most animals, not all animals. But domestic animals can also be called "it."
     

    Blackleaf

    Banned
    English/Britain
    ireney said:
    Well, this is a very interesting discussion! All I can say is that

    a) It's even more fun if you have 3 genders, 4 declensions, and a different ending for each person of a verb and 3 verb moods (modern Greek that is)
    Not to English-speakers, it isn't.

    We're lucky. We can go through adolescence whether worrying whether a certain words is masculine, feminine or neuter.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Blackleaf, I think what you wrote about the gender of animals is arguable. It makes sense if you assume that the classification scheme is supposed to be male/female/other, but what if it is male person / female person / other?

    Then snails should be referred to as "it", since they are not normally treated as people...

    Although, as a matter of trivia, snails are hermaphrodite. ;)

    Blackleaf said:
    From Grammatical to Natural Gender

    by Jesse Archibald-Barber

    copyright 2001
    That article was mentioned earlier in the thread.
     

    karuna

    Senior Member
    Latvian, Latvia
    I think that the grammatical gender is rooted deeply in mythology. In ancient times when people viewed all things as representations of gods and goddesses, it made sense to identify the sex of each phenomena. Nowadays in many cases it may be just an archaic attribute, still it is very useful in the language system. It is like as if language is describing interaction between masculine and feminine powers.

    Modern Latvian is largely an artificial construct of about 100 years ago when language reformers invented hundreds of new words to make possible for Latvian language to be fully used in science, art, administration etc; instead of borrowing such words from other languages. Their work was very successful and nowadays each linguist considers his or her duty to invent at least one word in the name of enriching Latvian language. Unfortunately talents are rare and attempts to introduce neologisms by administrative means are very much oppossed by people.

    The famous example is hotly debated "euro". Linguists tried to introduce eira that is declinable noun, however, most people chose to say and write eiro. The reason was that this currency was already perceived as masculine. It was not a problem to change the spelling or pronunciation but gender change was too drastic to be accepted.
     

    estrella de mar

    Senior Member
    UK English
    natasha2000 said:
    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....
    That's one of the things I love about learning languages - the linguistic and cultural differences. I hate the subjunctive tense :confused: and it can sometimes be difficult to remember the gender of a word, but that's part of the interest for me, and the challenge of dominating the language.

    I can also see the point of view that some people may take about a "sexist" attitude, especially in many Spanish/Latinamerican/Italian-speaking countries where there it can be perceived that a sexist attitude may exist in society, because if one is uncertain of a noun's gender, or it is plural, it returns to the masculine. (Please don't think I necessarily agree with that, but I think that perception may exist.)
     

    Cnaeius

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    estrella de mar said:
    That's one of the things I love about learning languages - the linguistic and cultural differences. I hate the subjunctive tense :confused: and it can sometimes be difficult to remember the gender of a word, but that's part of the interest for me, and the challenge of dominating the language.

    I can also see the point of view that some people may take about a "sexist" attitude, especially in many Spanish/Latinamerican/Italian-speaking countries where there it can be perceived that a sexist attitude may exist in society, because if one is uncertain of a noun's gender, or it is plural, it returns to the masculine. (Please don't think I necessarily agree with that, but I think that perception may exist.)
    It is not sexism, there is a specific linguistic reason for that. In Latin the neuter signed also the words that were considered neither masculine nor feminine. The Latin neuter in romance languages has been resolved more or less into the masculin gender because it was morphologically nearer. E.g: bonus is morphologically nearer to bonum than to bona. So in italian, as example, buono--> bonus & bonum; buona --> bona.
    Ciao
     

    estrella de mar

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Cnaeius said:
    It is not sexism, there is a specific linguistic reason for that. In Latin the neuter signed also the words that were considered neither masculine nor feminine. The Latin neuter in romance languages has been resolved more or less into the masculin gender because it was morphologically nearer. E.g: bonus is morphologically nearer to bonum than to bona. So in italian, as example, buono--> bonus & bonum; buona --> bona.
    Ciao
    I didn't know that - that's interesting. I love knowing stuff like that about language!
     

    Blackleaf

    Banned
    English/Britain
    Outsider said:
    Then snails should be referred to as "it", since they are not normally treated as people...
    So are ants and beetles and butterflies and birds and most other animals. It matters not what its sex is. It's just "it" because it's an animal.
     

    unefemme1

    Senior Member
    English, New Zealand
    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.
    Exactly so! For Chinese, there are some things we don't have that we do in the English language. We do have male/female words for 'he/she', but as for plurals, its non-existent. In English we would say matches, fishes or tables, but in Chinese we just use the words in their singular form. I'm sure I've explained this already elsewhere...

    For nouns, in French only certain nouns require a capital letter, such as place names, names of people and other
    'important' nouns. Months of the year, days of the week don't require capital letters for some reason.
     

    Neva

    New Member
    Russia
    Hi, everybody. That is an interesting thread, and there is something I'd like to add to the discussion.
    For some reason I had to learn an enourmous lot of academic books on the subject, and I must say everything mentioned here about the "purpose" of assigning gender to inanimate objects is quite true. Yet, actually there are no exact theories explaining the origin of gender. But there is still one more point that is missing in this discussion thread. It is that at present the category of gender is something that kind of serves to keep the nation's culture through centuries.
    Some researchers have shown that due to the fact that each gender class is associated with certain meanings (e.g. masculine = strong, rude, hard, etc; feminine = weak, capricious, etc), grammatical gender helps fix, keep and "forward" each nation's view of the surrounding world. For instance, I once read polling data where speakers of Spanish (if I am not mistaken, I may have forgotten which language that was) were asked to explain the way they see a key (feminine in that language). They described their notion of the object as "golden, light, beautiful, small". Whereas for Russians, in whose language this object is of masculine gender, it is "heavy, metal, of hard material, etc".
    So this is one more fact we should bear in mind: gender also forms our vision of the outside world as predertermined by our native language. Doesn't it? :)
     

    Neva

    New Member
    Russia
    Hmm... There is also an idea come to my mind. Don't you think it would be interesting to create a separate thread relating to associations that speakers of different languages have with different objects? Like the pole I mentioned in the previous post.
    I guess it would be even more interesting if native speakers of English participated in the pole - sometimes (mostly in emotional contexts) English does show instances of assigning human gender to inanimate objects, which there are plenty examples of both in literature (a spoon being feminine in Tom Robbins's "Skinny Legs and All") and in everyday speech (for instance, a woodman calling a falling tree "she", etc).
    If anyone is interested in the suggestion it would be wonderful to know what ideas you have as to whether different threads should be created for speakers of different languages (for them not to be influenced by descriptions of objects introduced by speakers of other languages), or for speakers of one group of languages (like Romanis or Germanic, etc), or whether one polling thread should be created for speakers of all languages, and which objects it is interesting to put on the polling list. Would anyone here be interested in it?
     

    ceci '79

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    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??
    The river Danube is feminine in German (die Donau). This could be due to the fact that at first is was considered to be an animistic divinity (water). Later the Celtis might have identified the river (and water in general) with the Celtic goddess of fertility, Dana. This might explain the feminine gender. Not all rivers are feminine in German.

    Is the river Don feminine or masculine in Russian?
     

    estrella de mar

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Neva said:
    There are no exact theories explaining the origin of gender. But there is still one more point that is missing in this discussion thread. It is that at present the category of gender is something that kind of serves to keep the nation's culture through centuries.
    Some researchers have shown that due to the fact that each gender class is associated with certain meanings (e.g. masculine = strong, rude, hard, etc; feminine = weak, capricious, etc), grammatical gender helps fix, keep and "forward" each nation's view of the surrounding world. For instance, I once read polling data where speakers of Spanish (if I am not mistaken, I may have forgotten which language that was) were asked to explain the way they see a key (feminine in that language). They described their notion of the object as "golden, light, beautiful, small". Whereas for Russians, in whose language this object is of masculine gender, it is "heavy, metal, of hard material, etc".
    So this is one more fact we should bear in mind: gender also forms our vision of the outside world as predertermined by our native language. Doesn't it? :)
    Hi everyone. I think that the above is very true. As I mentioned above, I think that many people see cultures such as Italian and Spanish as having quite "macho" cultures. So the Spanish language's rule of reverting any undetermined plural to the masculine plural (i.e. hermano + hermana = hermanos) could perhaps be seen to be "sexist". I think that it is not so much a case of sexism, although it does perhaps indicate a culture which tends to see life from a masculine viewpoint.
     

    Neva

    New Member
    Russia
    2 ceci '79:
    both the Danube and the Don are masculine in Russian. But I know that names of rivers date back to very old times when they had some meaning which at that time had certain gender.
     
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