Neuter plural = feminine singular (IE languages)

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Triginta Septem, Jun 7, 2013.

  1. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    I just started learning Swedish and I noticed that the neuter plural forms of adjectives (I assume also nouns) usually have the same endings as the singular "common" (a merging of feminine and masculine) adjectives. In Latin, there's the same pattern with -a and -ae feminine endings and -um and -a neuter. In Greek, the same thing exists with feminine nouns and adjectives ending in -a (some others end in -i, though). Also, it basically seems that all neuter forms have a singular that looks like the masculine and a plural that is the same as the feminine singular. In PIE was there some similarity between the forms that made this happen? And where exactly did the neuter even come from? Was it just some sort of merge as it would appear to be?
  2. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Actually, this is a delusion. In ancient IE languages the feminine singular –ā stems end in long –ā (Greek ᾱ or η) in the nom. sg., the neuter plural nom./acc. ends in short –a. Vowel quantity is a distinctive feature in IE.
  3. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    Ah. Having learned the little Latin I know without the use of such diacritics, I didn't think of that possibility. I found it interesting that it occurred in Swedish, but I suppose that would be the effect of the same simplification that made most of the other forms identical, then...
  4. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    I think at least some Slavic languages feature this trait, not for all cases & not consistently, but they do. Not in the state of mind to provide examples right now, sorry.
  5. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    English (US)
    It's possible that I'm misunderstanding your claim, but what you write seems very misleading to me. There is no special "neuter plural form of adjectives" in Swedish - there is a single form used for all plural adjectives (which happens to be -a). And as for the singular, the adjective ending depends on the definiteness of the noun; for the definite case the ending is -a, but again for all genders (or -e in one case). For the indefinite case, there is no similarity to the plural in any gender.

    So I see no argument for "feminine singular = neuter plural" from Swedish.

    Why do you assume that nouns have the same ending??

    Again, sorry if I've misunderstood your intent (or if my non-thorough knowledge of Swedish has led to any errors).

    Russian: комнатa (typical fem. sing. nom. noun ending); окна (frequent neuter plural nom. noun ending).
  6. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    I mentioned that the endings were the same. I just thought that could have been a later development.

    I guess maybe I didn't mean to say that. I have the nouns with different endings written on a paper in front of me right now... ^^' Not sure what I was thinking.
  7. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Many scholars think differently. A very popular theory suggests that the PIE feminine gender developed out of an earlier PIE collective neuter. Pre-PIE presumably has only two genders, usually called animate and inanimate, as in Hittite. Only animate nouns could occur as actors in a sentence. The inanimate had, beside the usual dual and plural, a special collective number (occurrences of neuter plural subjects agreeing with singular verb forms in ancient Greek are regarded as a residue of this former collective number) which then developed into a separate gender, the feminine. The animate developed into the masculine and the regular inanimate into the neuter.

    For earlier discussions on this topic, see the references in this post.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2013
  8. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    Interesting. Thanks for sharing that. So PIE used to work a bit different, huh? That's very interesting.
  9. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)
    In Czech there is no morphological distinction between feminine singular and neuter plural.

    Fem. sing. Ta červená jahoda byla zralá. (the red strawberry was ripe)
    Fem. plur. Ty červené jahody byly zralé.

    Neuter sing. To červené jablko bylo zralé.
    Neuter. plur. Ta červená jablka byla zralá. (the red apples were ripe)
  10. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    ThanX, and the moje/má forms, in theory valid for both fem. sing. and neuter pl., but maybe in practical use there's a preference for some form with one meaning over another.
  11. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    It's not a delusion because it's a feature retained in Modern Greek, which has long lost the distinction between long and short vowels:

    «Η σταχτιά απόχρωση» [i stax'tça a'poxrosi] (the ash-grey hue) --> fem. sing.

    «Τα σταχτιά φύλλα» [ta stax'tça 'fila] (the ash-grey leaves) --> neut. pl.
  12. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    That argument is going in the wrong direction. What you are saying there would mean it actually were a delusion because it meant that modern Greek has just lost information that existed in modern Geek and therefore only gave the impression the forms meant the same.

    The phenomenon is not retained in modern Greek, it is produced in modern Greek.

    If you want to show it is not a delusion you have to show the distinguishable forms in Ancient Greek eventually come from the same source. That's what I tried in #7.
  13. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    Right. If it's a delusion, we commonly think that it's true because of modern forms, but according to fdb it's not true because the ancient forms are different. To disprove that statement, we'd need proof that the distinction is an invented feature of Greek and that the other languages retain the PIE forms (which is rather unlikely).
  14. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    I apologize I understood the exact opposite (somehow....)

    Yes you are absolutely right:

    «Ἡ ἀρχαί ...» (the ancient) --> fem. sing.

    «Τἀρχαῖ ...» (the ancient) --> neut. pl.
  15. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    No problem.:)
  16. asanga Member

    It certainly doesn't apply to Sanskrit, where the neuter nom/acc plural is quite different from feminine nom. singular in all declensions. Fem. nom. sing. is far more closely related to the masc. sing. than to neuter plural. Compare 1) neuter plural, 2) fem. sing., 3) masc. sing.

    -a stems:

    -i/-u stems:

    -ṛ stems:

    -consonant stems:

    Not only is the neuter plural personal ending quite distinct, the stem is also different. In Sanskrit, the sarvanāmasthāna cases (fem. & masc. nom. singular, dual, & plural, acc. singular & dual) are declined with a strong stem, the other cases with weak. So fem. and masc. are treated as a group, and always declined with strong stems in these cases, while neuters are not.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2013
  17. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)
    Old (Church) Slavonic is another example of a language, where the endings of the neuter plural and feminine singular forms are always (I believe) identical in nominative (applicable also for the pronouns that distinguish three genders).

    OCS and Literary Czech are similar in this respect. It's no wonder as modern Literary Czech is an artificial language created in the 19th century by philologists.

    However OCS is still too "young" language (documented in 9th c.) to make some conclusions concerning Proto-Indo-European.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2013
  18. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    Really? That's rather interesting.
  19. Christo Tamarin

    Christo Tamarin Senior Member

    First, we should not confine to adjectives. In Greek and Latin, and probably in PIE, the same schemes of declension were used for nouns and adjectives.

    Thus, we have to compare Nominative Singular of A-stem nouns (the ending supposed to be a long A vowel) and Nominative/Accusative Plural of O-stem Neuter nouns (the ending supposed to be a short A vowel).

    Greek and Gothic (ProtoGerman) contribute to the above hypothesis: long A - short A distinction.

    Proto-Slavic contributes to another hypothesis: the ending is a long A in both cases.

    On the one hand, if we accept the first hypotheses, we have to explain the change {short A => long A} in ProtoSlavic. It is easy: if ProtoSlavic had retained the short A in Nominative/Accusative Plural of O-stem Neuter nouns, then ProtoSlavic would not distinguish Singular and Plural forms of those nouns.

    On the other hand, if we accept the second hypothesis, we could explain the genesis of the Feminine gender in PIE. And, of course, we have to explain Greek and ProtoGerman. The latter could be just a spontaneous change of long A to short A in Nominative/Accusative Plural of O-stem Neuter nouns (in those dialects of PIE which later developed to Greek and ProtoGerman).

    Does anybody know if Latin contibutes to some of the above hypotheses?
  20. eamp Member

    German (Austria)
    Proto-Germanic had long ō (< PIE *ā) in both n. sg. of ā-stem nouns and n./a. pl. of neuter o-stem nouns, resulting in Gothic -a and Old English -u (after short syllable), so no length contrast here.
    From a modern laryngeal theory viewpoint both endings are reconstructed as -aH < -eh₂, as far as I know.
    It's possible the laryngeal could have been dropped in final position in some cases before lengthening the vowel. Of note here may be that in the neuter o-stems the -h₂ occurred only the the n./acc., so always finally, the other cases having the same endings as the masculine o-stems, while the ā-stems had -eh₂- throughout, being in final position only in the nominative and vocative.
    And indeed in the vocative we find -o < -a (short) in Slavic for example.
    So maybe we had variation of -a and -aH in late PIE in all cases deriving from final -eh₂ and different languages chose reflexes of one or the other? Long ā being favoured everywhere for the ā-stems since all cases with a suffix would have had the long vowel.
    On the other hand Greek short -a could also derive from simply -h₂, the normal ending for consonant stems. Either as a Greek innovation extending it to thematic nouns (why though?) or possibly representing a class of PIE "collectives" that had no thematic vowel before the ending, lost in other dialects.

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