Gender in languages - why?

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estrella de mar

Senior Member
UK English
Regarding the genders of certain nouns, I love this explanation as to why a ship is known as "she"



Why is a ship called a She?
There is always a great deal of bustle around her
There is always a gang of men about
She has a waist and stays
It takes a lot of paint to keep her good looking
It is not the initial expense that breaks you - it is the upkeep!
She can be decked out
It takes an experienced man to handle her correctly
And, without a man at the helm, she is uncontrollable
She shows her topside but hides her bottom and
When coming into port, always heads for the buoys!
 
  • estrella de mar

    Senior Member
    UK English
    No, I wish I was that inventive and funny!:) I first saw it on a tea-towl my mother owned and so I looked it up on the internet for you all!

    Does anyone else have any explanations (funny or otherwise) for the genders of certain nouns?
     

    Layzie

    Member
    English, Spanish.
    The beauty of gender is what makes spanish flow. No way I'd get rid of it!

    La carreta roja

    Look how the words agree with each other! Rolls right off the tongue.
     

    estrella de mar

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Layzie said:
    The beauty of gender is what makes spanish flow. No way I'd get rid of it!

    La carreta roja

    Look how the words agree with each other! Rolls right off the tongue.
    I agree! I love the way Spanish sounds when spoken!
     

    karuna

    Senior Member
    Latvian, Latvia
    To those who say that the gender of words is hard to remember, just think about the last person who you were introduced in casual circumstances and whose name you no longer can remember. But you can remember the sex of that person, right? In the same way while learning other languages it may require some imagination to be applied but the gender is the easiest thing to remember when learning new words.
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    I can't even begin to undertand how you can compare those two situations in a meaningful way.

    Yesterday I learnt a word that was feminine, only I don't remember what it was. At least I know it was feminine though!
     

    karuna

    Senior Member
    Latvian, Latvia
    Benjy said:
    I can't even begin to undertand how you can compare those two situations in a meaningful way.

    Yesterday I learnt a word that was feminine, only I don't remember what it was. At least I know it was feminine though!
    I mean, you learn a new word in another language which takes some effort by itself. To use it properly or even to substitute this word with a pronoun you need to remember not only the nominative form but also the gender, in case it is not possible to infer this aspect from the ending alone. Even if you forgot the word but remember the gender you can ask the proper question: what was that? In Latvian: kas tas bija? (masculine noun) or kas bija? (feminine noun)
     

    ireney

    Modistra
    Greek Greece Mod of Greek, CC and CD
    Anyway, although it may sound cruel, no language was created with the the question of how easy it is for foreigners to learn it foremost in the people's minds and, for native speakers, gender is not a problem;

    However, I would appreciate it very much, thank you, if the French changed their nouns' gender to either coincide in all cases or be the opposite in all cases of their Greek counterparts (for those Greek words that are neuter could they kindly choose either the male or the female?) (You understand that it is simply unthinkable for us to make any changes) :D
     

    garypine

    New Member
    NYC
    English, USA
    Caio tutti,

    I am new to this forum. This is my first posting. I have been studying Italian for only four months. Is the first foreign language that I have tried to learn.

    My question is very basic: In Italian (and other languages), why do nouns have a gender? What is the informational value? What would be lost if, for example, "La tovola" had no gender and was not a female noun and was just another noun as in English?

    I am determined to learn Italian and, so far, I am throughly enjoying this wonderful langage.

    Thank you advance,

    garypine
     

    Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    I'm not an expert about languages origins, but I think that the fact that nouns have a gender is common to each Neo-latin language.
    What would be lost if English interrogative form had no need of auxilary verbs like Italian? i.e. "hai una caramella?"
    What is the informational value of auxiliary verbs?:)
     

    irene.acler

    Senior Member
    Italiano
    Ciao a tutti,

    I am new to this forum. This is my first posting. I have been studying Italian for only four months. Is the first foreign language that I have tried to learn.

    My question is very basic: In Italian (and other languages), why do nouns have a gender? What is the informational value? What would be lost if, for example, "La tavola" had no gender and was not a female noun and was just another noun as in English?
    Well, this is not such an easy question! It's a linguistic issue, indeed.
    You must know that there isn't a relationship between the noun itself and its gender. I'm talking about the signified and the signifier (De Saussure) (in Italian significato e significante): a sign is composed of the signifier and the signified, which are concepts that cannot be considered as separate entities.
    Moreover, we can say that the relationship between a sign and its extralinguistic denotative meaning is arbitrary, therefore there isn't a causal relationship between a word and the object it refers to. I'm saying this to stress the fact that there isn't a relationship between the word "tavola", just to give you an example, and the object "tavola" it refers to.
    In Italian, and in many other languages, we have the gender to refer to nouns, but we cannot predict the gender a priori, it's a theorical linguistic issue.
     

    Akire72

    Senior Member
    Italian - Italy
    I'm glad you chose Italian, if your problem is gender. Think of German, they have female, male AND neutral!!! and there is no rule, you have to remember it by heart when you learn a new word (in Italian normally -a ending is female and -o/-e ending is male)!!! Good luck, that's not the most difficult thing of my mothertongue after all! :)
     

    kap

    Senior Member
    english/italiano (bilingual)
    Why have gender?

    It adds spice to language!
    It adds colour to intonation, it shapes the words on a page, feeds the poet and creates intrigue for the novelist.
    It is one of the phenomena that make mankind an unfathomable beast.
    Why have gender? Why on Earth not?

    :D :D :D
     

    MünchnerFax

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    A turkish friend of mine (Turkish doesn't have genders like English) asked me once: «Well, what do Italians think is so womanly in water?» (as water is feminine in Italian: acqua). I'm sorry I don't have the answer to this; however, I've always been wondering why English does not have genders, if this may console you...
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Languages have gender in order to frustrate the living daylights out of any foreigner trying to learn them. This is one of the reasons English is such a lovely language to learn, with a much larger confidence factor for even the complete beginner.

    Some languages even have the most absurd of all genders, such as Danish: a common gender and a neutral gender - none of which are of any explanatory use whatsoever and completely and utterly arbitrary.

    It is wonderful that English happens to be the de-facto international language as it is exceedingly easy to learn compared to most other languages.
     

    garypine

    New Member
    NYC
    English, USA
    Grazie infinite to all who responded.

    Quello (or Che?) stato di far ridere (sorry for my crude Italian but I am just learning).

    What you all seem to be saying - and I embrace this to my heart - is this: To use colloquial English - and I would have no idea of how to translate this into Italain - This is Italian fella! This is the way it is. Chill out, suck it up and enjoy! Peace.

    garypine
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    I'm glad you chose Italian, if your problem is gender. Think of German, they have female, male AND neutral!!! and there is no rule, you have to remember it by heart when you learn a new word (in Italian normally -a ending is female and -o/-e ending is male)!!! Good luck, that's not the most difficult thing of my mothertongue after all! :)
    In German, rules are usually associated with the feminine. Nouns ending in E or "-schaft" or "-ung" are almost always feminine.

    Also, in German you have 16 different forms:

    Nominative: Masc, fem, neut, plur
    Accusative: Masc, fem, neut, plur
    Dative: Masc, fem, neut, plur
    Genitive: Masc, fem, neut, plur

    In Italian, it is much, much easier. In English, it is even easier. However, in Finnish, it is nearly impossible.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    I agree, German is a nightmare :( It's fairly logically constructed, so if you have an analytical approach to language (I don't), you can generally go by the tables, but while actually speaking it's difficult to analyze the sentences real-time and flip in the right inflections or conjungations or whatever it's called ;)

    I'm glad to hear Italian is easier since I'm just beginning.. it's my understanding that the temporals are hard in Italian though.
     

    MünchnerFax

    Senior Member
    Italian, Italy
    I agree, German is a nightmare :( It's fairly logically constructed, [...] but while actually speaking it's difficult to analyze the sentences real-time and flip in the right inflections or conjungations or whatever it's called ;)
    I can't agree completely... It's just a matter of practice, like every language. Of course it may be difficult at the beginning (and used to be for me, indeed); but when you have acquired a certain experience with the spoken language, you can manage to say the right case in real-time, with no need for pauses to choose the right article... And you may also dare guess a case in dubious constructions, with a relevant probability to get it right!
     

    Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    I'm glad you chose Italian, if your problem is gender. Think of German, they have female, male AND neutral!!! and there is no rule, you have to remember it by heart when you learn a new word (in Italian normally -a ending is female and -o/-e ending is male)!!! Good luck, that's not the most difficult thing of my mothertongue after all! :)
    Same in Russian, we too have three genders in our language, but in this sense it's a bit easier than German - there are certain rules and so on.
    As for the point of gender for words - I loved Kap's reply. :) Frankly, when I just started to learn English, it surprised my greatly that in this language words doesn't have gender. I still wonder why. :)
    By the way, don't think that it's easier to study Italian for me, a native speaker of Russian. A noun which is masculine in Russian may be feminine in Italian (for example, the Russian дом and the Italian 'casa'), and vice versa. That's really confusing!
     

    konungursvia

    Banned
    Canada (English)
    Gender originated in animism, but became purely grammatical, and survived because it allows very high-resolution and accurate constructions. It's not so different from differences in number (book/books, this/these); do you not find these helpful? What if a native of Chinese wrote and said there was no purpose to grammatical number, nor was there any need in English for verb tenses ("Yesterday I go" is clear enough by context). So gender survived as a multiplicity of noun categories, more useful for example than our "the former/ the latter" in specifying something already mentioned.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    I can't agree completely... It's just a matter of practice, like every language. Of course it may be difficult at the beginning (and used to be for me, indeed); but when you have acquired a certain experience with the spoken language, you can manage to say the right case in real-time, with no need for pauses to choose the right article... And you may also dare guess a case in dubious constructions, with a relevant probability to get it right!
    I did study German for quite a long time and got to a decent level, but it never came naturally. Of course, experience with certain sentence constructions mean you can hear when it sounds right, and you can often take a qualified guess. But it never felt easy or natural for me, unlike other languages.

    I'm sure if you live in Germany and speak it all the time you'll pick it up, I just found it to be a pain to learn, much more so than other languages I've toyed with.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Gender originated in animism, but became purely grammatical, and survived because it allows very high-resolution and accurate constructions. It's not so different from differences in number (book/books, this/these); do you not find these helpful? What if a native of Chinese wrote and said there was no purpose to grammatical number, nor was there any need in English for verb tenses ("Yesterday I go" is clear enough by context). So gender survived as a multiplicity of noun categories, more useful for example than our "the former/ the latter" in specifying something already mentioned.
    Please provide some examples of how it allows for more accurate constructions. I have grammatical genders in my native language and I don't see how they help anything in terms of accuracy compared to the grammatically gender-less English language.
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Hi Guys

    My view on the issue is that I see that people perceive things in the world through their senses, and experience feelings and emotions, and think thoughts which they would like to inform others about. In other words, they have a need to describe their perceptions, experiences and thoughts and communicate them to others. As others can't perceive their perceptions, feel their experiences, and think their thoughts, they try and find symbols (oral, written or otherwise) to describe these things using a medium (sound or print) to send these symbols through to their recipients who receive these symbols via hearing or sight, decode them and interpret them (based on their own case histories).

    In short and very simplistically put, language is a symbolic representation or description of reality (as experienced by sender and recipient). So in describing a certain state of affairs using linguistic symbols, the "founders" and "coiners" of these linguistic symbols have a choice as to how much detail and distinctions they would like to include in their description. Some languages, thus, opt to include distinctions of gender and their descriptions and others opt for gender free description. "Gender" is but one type of distinction, other types are "number" or "subject versus object" for which declension or case is used.

    In other words, languages have different ways of describing things. Language is a form of expression in the same way that art is a form of expression.

    Disclaimer: Now I am aware of the fact that each of my abovementioned points is contentious and has been debated in past or present academic discourses: philosophy of language, cultural theory, critical theory, communication theory, hermeneutics, semiotics, structuralism, feminist and gender studies, postmodernism, poststructuralsim (esp. the latter three) and so on.

    To give you an idea of just how contentious this particular view is. Consider Wittgenstein's opening statement in his famous "Tractatus". "The world is all that is the case. The world is the totality of facts", and later on he says: "a proposition (i.e. a sentence in the logical sense) is a picture of reality". Later on in life he dismissed all of these ideas in his famous "Philosophically Investigations" which, I think, was posthumously published.

    Nevertheless, to view sentences as pictures depicting and describing reality still holds merit in my view, and might be closer to the more common-sense view of language.

    So to bring the discussion back to the original question, I would say that all languages are pictures of reality (or a certain perceived reality) except that they differ in the amount of detail that they express. Including in this detail is gender distinction, and the different ways in which it is depicted.

    I hope all of this makes sense.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Abu, I agree - my objection is simply that in most cases the added detail of gender does not lead to added clarity or depth in the language. It mainly tends to add complexity without contributing much (except for a perceived beauty, which will of course be subjective).
     

    sarcie

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Please provide some examples of how it allows for more accurate constructions. I have grammatical genders in my native language and I don't see how they help anything in terms of accuracy compared to the grammatically gender-less English language.
    I think in this case, konungursvia meant the relative "vagueness" of English constructions using "it" to refer to an object.
    In German, the different forms of the articles according to both gender and function in a sentence allow you to deconstruct the sentence to pick out a very specific meaning, even in extremely convoluted constructions (which are plentiful in German!). I find that English speakers refer a lot more on context to know what an "it" refers to.

    Probably a little off-topic, so apologies in advance, but just as a pick-me-up for all those German-learners out there: my German colleagues have about 5-10 "heated discussions" ;) a day on whether a particular word is "der, die or das" (masc/fem/neut)...
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    A problem with the picture theory of language that I presented in my previous post is that in certain languages like Arabic, gender extends beyond that which can biologically be classified as male and female. In fact, most nouns in Arabic (if not all), are classified as either masculine or feminine, and these nouns would included objects that cannot be described in terms of gender like inanimate objects for example. To signify inanimate or gender neutral objects in German, I think, a third category was coined called "neuter" to signify these objects. But even in German, I believe, these distinctions are not always consistent.

    Here I think it comes down to the "founders" of the particular and their preference for two classes of nouns to signify all objects, three classes or no classes. So while Arabic only two classes (masculine and feminine) have been selected by the "founders" they were thus "forced" to use these two classes for objects which would otherwise be classified as neuter. But then again (to use my overstimulated imagination again) could it be possible that the original "founders" of Arabic somehow associated neutral objects which they classified as masculine with something from the male world, and neutral objects which they classified as feminine with something from the female world. A typical example is "earth" in Arabic as is the case in English is feminine because of nurturing and providing and caring for those who live on it as mothers would. This is only speculative of course and one will have to try and explain each noun denoting a neuter object in that fashion. Whist interesting, it is nevertheless, speculative unless clear correlations can be found between two objects, the one neutral and the other gender-specific.

    Moreover, the situation in Arabic is complicated by the existence of feminine signs which by their mere addition to a noun make it feminine. This applies even in cases where the referent is a male. So while something can be feminine in form it can be masculine in meaning. By the way, classical Arabic scholars have written major works attempting to explain the "why's" of Arabic, while some of these explanations are really intersting some are clearly very speculative and sometimes even far-fetched. I have one such book, and I'll see what explanation it gives for gender distinctions and masculine and feminine names in Arabic.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    sarcie, I agree on the function part (kasus), which does allow for some very complex sentences that are still very precise. I just don't see how gender really helps, because it's completely random what genders the words in a given sentence happen to have anyway. For instance, if we have a sentence with two nouns of two different genders, then it's helpful because the article will 'double specify' them and therefore we don't need context when we refer to them like we would in English. However, that's just a coincidence, because the nouns may as well have the same gender, in which case there's no clarity to be gained.

    I'm surprised that your German (native I assume?) colleagues have that many issues with figuring out which gender is correct.. I think that only happens a few times per year for me in Danish (although we only have two genders).
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Abu,

    In German (as well as other languages that use gender that I'm personally familiar with) the male/female/neutral forms have for the most part lost their relevance relative to the words they describe. For instance, in German as mentioned earlier most words that end with 'e' are feminine. In Italian, most words that end with 'a' are feminine. That doesn't really have anything to do with the meaning of the words at all. Girl in German (Mädchen) is neutral gender, while boy is masculine. In Danish there's a 'common' gender (for both masculine and feminine) and a neutral gender, but there's no relation whatsoever to the meaning of the words.

    What are the feminine signs you mentioned in Arabic? I don't really know anything about Arabic, but it sounds interesting..

    Edit - also, I don't think one can talk about 'founders' of a language, except for artificial ones like Esperanto. Languages evolve as a product of the people that use them, and although they can be guided to some degree, through most of history they probably haven't been.
     

    BlueWolf

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Genders exist mainly for historical reason.

    Now I don't want to sound unpolite, but some languages (like the "so easy English") has an impossible spelling of the words, which is based on historical origins of words. That's absolutely absurd and illogical, but it survives because people don't love to change.

    And changing the writing sistem is actually very easy, compared to changing the way the people talk.

    As already said the gender is something absolutely normal and easy for native speakers (at least, in Romance languages), so why would they have felt the need to change it during the history? But the disappearance of neutral gender in Romance languages is an interesting example of how the genders evolve.
    Neuter in Latin usually ended in the nominative singular in -um (while musculine in -us and feminine in -a) and in the nominative plural in -a (while masculine in -i and feminine in ). In almost all the Romance language the similarity between the ends -um (neuter) and -us (masculine) brough the natives to be used to consider neuter names as masculine ones. On the other hand, few neuter nouns used mainly in plural be felt instead as feminine (-a was both the neuter plural and the femine singular). The Romance languages which still preserve "neuter" nouns (that are Romanian and few Italian nouns), they are considered masculine nouns in the singular and feminine ones in the plural.

    At the end, I have to say I feel uneasy when I start a chat with a new person in English, because I can never understand if they are a he or a she. In Italian on the other hand, I usually understand it fastly and without asking it, seeing how they decline the adjectives refered to themself.*

    *This isn't defence to the use of genders. :D But it's quite usefull in writing.
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    I admit that a diachronic study as opposed to a synchronic study of language is by made no means straight forward. You would have noticed that I have placed the word "founders" in inverted commas so as to suggest a generic rather than a specific group of people who introduce new words into a language (whether borrowed from other langages or coined) and which through convention and tacit approval and agreement get used in that language.

    Take Arabic for example, where the modern standard form differs from the more classical form mostly from the point of view of vocabulary. Everyday you find new words being coined or old words being recoined for new meanings that have found their way into the Arab culture and world. These words with their respective meanings are foreign to the classical Arabs. These words include terms and expressions used in the natural, social, human sciences as well as technology, sport, entertainment, and so on. How did these words and expressions come to be used in Arabic. Of course mostly though translations where the translator or writer has to coin there and then a word for a particular meaning, and which through conventional use become accepted into Arabic. Take the word Arabic word "fabrakah" which I once heard an Arab friend of mine use to mean "fabrication", and also the now Arabic word "cansalah" to mean "to cancel". How did they make their way into Arabic. Did they just simply evolve or did others introduce them into Arabic and people accepted their use, and that is how they came to be accepted. I suppose media popularization of a word has a lot to do with it, and also the more influential the source the quicker the word might come to be accepted. Obviously, I'm putting forward some kind of hypothesis which can either be verified or falsified through research into peoples languages.

    Anyhow, I admit, that it's a little more difficult to explain the language system (or "langue" in the Sausserian sense) in this way (which includes gender distinctions), and there might be no way of actually proving how certain things in language came about, and can therefore only be speculative and hypothetical. Nevertheless, my main point was only to show how gender distinction can be explained by using the "language as picture of reality" model.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    BlueWolf, could you give an example in Italian of the declination of adjectives revealing the gender when talking about oneself?

    Abu, how about the feminine sign you mentioned earlier, what is that?

    I just realized this thread has been merged with an older one and much of this discussion has already taken place in the previous pages..
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Abu, how about the feminine sign you mentioned earlier, what is that?
    There are three feminine signs in Arabic and they are all suffixes ("-ah", "aa", and "aa'") the last two are long "a" vowels with the second of them ending in a glotal stop.

    E.g.

    sayyaarah (car), zawjah (wife), jameelah (fem. for beautiful), khaleefah (male caliph), Hamzah (name of man)

    hamraa' (fem. for red), 'amyaa' (fem. for blind), Zakariyyaa' (Zacarias)

    These are only two sets of examples as you can see, indicating feminine signs.

    There is no such such thing as a masculine sign but rather the absence of the feminine sign is an indication that the word is masculine. In other words, the masculine is the unmarked form and feminine the marked form, since it that which has to be marked to distinguish it from the masculine such that masculine remains unmarked.

    On another point (more along the lines of Bluewolf), I think that when two English speakers of opposite genders converse over the phone, a third party is not able to pick out the gender of the person on the otherside of the line unless a distinctly feminine name is used or some other contextual factor. Whereas in Arabic you just have to wait for the pronouns or adjectives or nouns that are being used to address the person on the other side. So you would never ask the question: Were you speaking to a male or female? providing that you know Arabic of course.:)
     

    BlueWolf

    Senior Member
    Italian
    BlueWolf, could you give an example in Italian of the declination of adjectives revealing the gender when talking about oneself?
    Well, for example:
    Sono stato a Roma una volta. = I've been in Rome once. (A "he" is speaking)
    Sono stata a Roma una volta. = I've been in Rome once. (A "she" is speaking)

    As you see, this information isn't given in the English translation.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Abu, but aren't those just normal grammatical genders? I must be missing something..

    BlueWolf, thank you, I haven't gotten that far yet and didn't know if you did it like that :)
     

    BlueWolf

    Senior Member
    Italian
    BlueWolf, thank you, I haven't gotten that far yet and didn't know if you did it like that :)
    No problem, duckie. :)

    However, as Abu made notice, genders cause more problems in English than in language with grammatical genders, since in English you have no clue about the sex of a third person, and when you have to choose between "he" and "she" you're just in troubles. :D
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Abu, but aren't those just normal grammatical genders? I must be missing something..
    Okay, let me put it like this:

    Masculine : jameel , kareem, shareef

    Feminine : jameelah, kareemah, shareefah

    The suffix in red is called a feminine sign because it distinguishes the feminine from the masculine. Notice that there is no masculine sign but rather the lack of a feminine sign is a the masculine sign. If this is something that you are already familiar with, then I don't know what is that you thought I meant by "feminine signs".
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    BlueWolf,

    Well, I'm used to the English version because it's similar in Danish and it has never been a problem for me (to any real extent anyway). I do, however, agree that this is something that adds precision to language. It's just not necessary to give nouns gender to do this, one could simply limit it to people since they're the only ones that require a gender.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Abu, ok, I think I see what you're saying now. So you use both the 'female sign' for indicating if a noun is male or female as well as whether a name is.. but not all female names have a female sign at the end, do they? Mariam, for instance..
     

    BlueWolf

    Senior Member
    Italian
    BlueWolf,

    Well, I'm used to the English version because it's similar in Danish and it has never been a problem for me (to any real extent anyway). I do, however, agree that this is something that adds precision to language. It's just not necessary to give nouns gender to do this, one could simply limit it to people since they're the only ones that require a gender.
    In spoken language maybe, but in the forum often some members choose a name that you can't understand which is their gender. So I have to write the full name instead of he or she when I speak about them, because I don't know which using. :D
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    That's true :)

    Something that's annoying me a bit with Italian so far is that it's impossible to tell who you're talking about if you say something like 'ha un professore Francese?' 'Ha un libro italiano?' It could mean do you (thou) or he or she have a French teacher/italian book, but it's not specified what is meant because you skip the marker. I suppose it's not a problem in actual use, but I don't understand why it's done this way when it makes things more confusing..
     

    BlueWolf

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Well, I actually never have this problem. Italians always make the sentence clear. For example, if I'm talking of a third feminine person with someone I adress with "Lei", and if saying "Ha un libro?" you can't understand if the subject is "lei" or "Lei", I'd say "[name of the person] ha un libro?" for the former and "Lei ha un libro?" for the latter.
    The informal second person singular exist in many languages (even in English once), so it means it's often felt as a necessary.
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Abu, ok, I think I see what you're saying now. So you use both the 'female sign' for indicating if a noun is male or female as well as whether a name is.. but not all female names have a female sign at the end, do they? Mariam, for instance..
    Well, the feminine sign is used for females in the vast majority of cases, their use for males is very minimal. The feminine sign is almost always a sign indicating femininity and is therefore called as such. Moreover, in Arabic there are two references to femininity: in form and in meaning. A noun can be feminine in both form and meaning as seen in "Aishah" (a name of a female), or in form only but not in meaning which is not very common as seen in "Hamzah" (a name of a male), or in meaning only but not in form as seen in "Maryam" or "Mariam". So there you go. Nouns referring to males do not normally have the feminine sign suffixed to them, and where that is the case its incidence is really very minimal.
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    BlueWolf, I'm not sure what you refer to in your last sentence.. when using informal 'you' (second person) there's no problem. But if you have to put in the name to specify the person it becomes less elegant (in my opinion) than if you can simply say his or her and so on.. If I understand it correctly you only do that when you very specifically want to state if it's one or the other?

    Example: Peter and Anna have each their own books. His books are blue. Her books are red. Would you say 'Peter's books' or use 'lei' in Italian to specify that it's his books?
     

    Thomas F. O'Gara

    Senior Member
    English USA
    I've always been intrigued by the fact that the only two language families I know of that have gender are the Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic (i.e, Semitic, for the most part). Ural-Altaic languages (Hungarian, Turkish, Finnish) do not have gender, nor do Chinese, Japanese or Thai. While these languages sometimes have pronouns that are gender specific, that is not quite the same thing as nouns having gender. The Native American languages I've worked with (Maya, Navaho, Lakota, Aymara, Quechua) have no gender either.

    The paper that one writer submitted gave some theories about the origin of gender. Allow me to express an educated guess by describing a phenomenon in Bantu languages, such as Swahili. These languages group nouns together into a variey of classes - one class may be for diminuitive things, one for people, one for abstract things, etc., - the number of classificatory groups vary from language to language, and some have obviously coalesced. These nouns require their verbs to agree with them in classification.

    Something like this may be the origin of gender in languages. There may have at one time in the distant past been a variety of noun classes in Indo-European languages, but as time went on they coalesced into just the three genders that we are familiar with. This may also explain why Latin retained five declensions of nouns, whereas Classical Greek dropped to only three, which were based more or less on phonetic requirements.
     

    BlueWolf

    Senior Member
    Italian
    BlueWolf, I'm not sure what you refer to in your last sentence.. when using informal 'you' (second person) there's no problem. But if you have to put in the name to specify the person it becomes less elegant (in my opinion) than if you can simply say his or her and so on.. If I understand it correctly you only do that when you very specifically want to state if it's one or the other?

    Example: Peter and Anna have each their own books. His books are blue. Her books are red. Would you say 'Peter's books' or use 'lei' in Italian to specify that it's his books?
    No, you're missing my point. I was talking about that. Look at these sentences:
    Do you have a book? (formal) = Ha un libro?
    Does she have a book? = Ha un libro?
    In order to make them clearer (if it's needed), you can use a subject which let you understand if I'm talking about "you" or "she".

    You example is about an other thing. It's about possessives.
    There the problem is an other. We usually use the possessives like in English, so "his/her book". But in Italian the possissive doesn't show the gender of the owner, but of the thing owned! So in that case you have to think like if you were talking about two boys. You can't distinguish them using "his/her" because they're both males, so you'll use "Peter's book" if confusion is possible.


    The informal second person singular exist in many languages (even in English once), so it means it's often felt as a necessary.
    Here I meant the informal one, sorry. :eek:
     

    duckie

    Senior Member
    Denmark
    Blue, I don't see what point I missed? We're talking about the same thing as far as I'm concerned.. It just seems to me that the Italian way is a little confusing (at least out of context), exactly because it's omitting information.

    Btw, the formal third person 'thou' exists in Danish as well, though it's not used as often as in Italian.
     
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