IE languages: Gendering of abstract nouns

Scholiast

Senior Member
Greetings!

This query arises from a discussion in another WR forum. A questioner had asked about the proportions of masc., fem. and neuter nouns in Latin. I was unable to answer this, but it set me thinking.

In the languages known to me - Latin (and its Romance derivatives), Greek, German - abstract nouns tend to be feminine in grammatical gender:

Lat. iustitia, libertas, pulchritudo
Greek: δικαιοσύνη, ἐλευθερία
German: Gerechtigkeit, Freiheit

There are of course numerous exceptions in all three of these languages.

But all IE languages are derived originally from Sanskrit, in which the three genders are given.

My question then (sorry to take so long): in Sanskrit (or Hindi) is there a similar tendency for abstract nouns/concepts to be grammatically feminine?
 
  • Frank78

    Senior Member
    German
    I don't have exact percentages but there are loads of masculine abstract nouns in German: der Glaube, der Krieg, der Frieden, der Hass, der Fleiß, der Hunger, der Widerstand.

    Neuter nouns indeed seem to be rare, "das Glück" comes to my mind.

    Just a vague idea (since I don't know what was first): Is it possible that the word took its grammatical gender from the natural gender of the related Graeco-Roman god respectively goddess? Mars=der Krieg, Venus=die Liebe, iustitia= die Gerechtigkeit
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Sorry, Berndf (#3), that was not quite the point of my question. Perhaps I failed to phrase it sufficiently clearly.

    Of course in German there are as well as Der Glaube, Das Schöne, Die Wahrheit. In Greek too, τὸ κἀλλος, and Latin has several -mentum words which are abstract in sense.

    And of course the morphemes (in German, -heit, -ung, -keit) invariably distinguish a grammatically feminine theme, as -tudo or *-ta(t)s (libertas, paupertas, ubertas) does in Latin.

    The burden of my question was: is there a general pattern in Indo-Germanistic word-formation which leads tendentially to the feminine gender for abstracts?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    But all IE languages are derived originally from Sanskrit, in which the three genders are given.
    Even the oldest attested versions of Vedic Sanskrit developed long after the separation of Indo-Iranian languages from European sub-families of the IE family. Its significance lies in the fact that it is one of the oldest attested IE languages. The oldest attestations of Minoan and Mycenaean Greek are about as old, if not older. The oldest attested IE language is Hittite which is believed to be the language giving us the best clues with respect to the development of the IE gender system.

    We had a lengthy discussion about the origin of gender systems here before. Especially the hypothesis of the origin of the IE feminine as a plural neuter quoted in this post might interest you.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Sorry, Berndf (#3), that was not quite the point of my question. Perhaps I failed to phrase it sufficiently clearly.
    I understand. I just wanted to quickly "correct" Frank's statement which I perceive as misleading before going in medias res.:) Sorry for the distraction.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    But all IE languages are derived originally from Sanskrit,
    I'm sorry that I'm deviating from the main subject of this thread, but I'm wondering if the content of the quote is correct. Thanks.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Especially the hypothesis of the origin of the IE feminine as a plural neuter quoted in this post might interest you.
    Have a look at this document. If I understand the guy correctly, he proposes that an original active/inactive distinction was not only associated with animate/inanimate but also with concrete/abstract and the abstract nouns then further classified as abstract countable/abstract not countable and the new class abstract countable was reinterpreted as male/female female active or concrete nouns moved to the newly created female class once the class was reinterpreted.

    This, in his view, also explains why in German der Sitz is masculine (concrete) die Sitzung is feminine (abstract countable) while das Sitzen is neuter (abstract not countable).

    Interesting approach.
     
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