Non-distinction between women and men

sakvaka

Senior Member
This may have been discussed before, but I hope some new views will be opened.

Introductory question: In what languages do people NOT distinct between women and men eg. in personal pronouns? In what language it's theoretically possible to make a feminine form out of a word, but it isn't used or is rare?

Introductory text: There are two or three genders (and personal pronouns for the 3rd sing.) in most of the European languages. But in Finno-Ugrian languages and Turkish (?) only one pronoun is used for both men and women (hän, tema, ő, o). Our words don't have direct grammatical genders, but on the other hand we have a suffix that makes a word more feminine:
With the suffix -tAr- women appellations are made. The derivations signify the position of a woman, a woman habitant of some region, or a carrier of some property (usually poetical, mythological female figures). The use of the suffix is rare nowadays, since especially in profession titles we don't consider it important anymore to point out, which gender the professional has (eg. opettaja [=teacher] can be both man and woman). (Finn Lectura online grammar, © Erkki Savolainen, 2001)
This is true: back in the olden days we separated clearly opettaja's and opettajatar's, but today it doesn't matter. The same word is used for the both. The same goes for hoitaja and hoitajatar (nurse), too.

Languages and people change, so it is possible that in some cultures this kind of non-distinction is also spreading in spoken or colloquial language. Have you noticed anything like that?

So far I have been talking mainly about linguistic points, but probably these relations affect the whole culture and people's behaviour. That's why this was originally posted in the Culture section.
 
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  • sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Hittite only had Genus commune = utrum (for both male and female) versus Genus neutrum.

    I think that all other IE languages (ancient and modern) have retained at least some gender distinction (be it a grammatical distinction like in most cases or a natural gender distinction like in English); Hittite is supposed to represent a stage of development of IE languages when there wasn't yet a gender distinction but only a distinction between "living" and "non-living", which later developed into gender.

    Hittite of course died out millennia ago.
     

    TimLA

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I've recently learned that in Tagolog there is no "he" or "she".
    I asked the question in another forum when I had heard for years
    native Tagolog speakers say "he" for a person named "Jane" and "she" for a person named "Jim".
    I don't know if this extends to the other dialects of the Philippines.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I suppose the most interesting part of the observation is that gender indication seems to be avoided nowadays. 'Dokteres' is quite uncommon nowadays in Flandres, 'apothekeres' is a little less uncommon, but still: the longer the less. No woman will call herself 'manageress'. But creating a female equivalent is becoming obsolete, somehow.

    How do you distinguish between men and women then in Finnish? Must the context help ?
     
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    sakvaka

    Senior Member
    How do you distinguish between men and women then in Finnish? Must the context help ?

    Either the context must help or we don't just need that information :). If the same words are used, why should we make such a distinction?

    But when the sex matters, we can just ask additional questions that would never need be used in other languages.

    - Meillä on uusi opettaja. Hän on tosi mukava.
    We have a new teacher. ** is very nice.
    - Onko hän mies vai nainen? Is ** a man or a woman?

    It's funny: in English you can't avoid revealing the gender of a person! - I'm going to meet my friend. SHE is at the library. Don't they have any secrets? ;)

    EDIT: And what do you say when you don't know the gender? I heard a story about this person. S/he...
     
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    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It's funny: in English you can't avoid revealing the gender of a person!
    English is still sparing in this aspect. :) In Russian it would be revealed much more quickly (adjectives, participles and past singular forms of verbs have gender indicators), and in Arabic - so quick as it is just possible; all forms of all verbs (except 1st person), all possessive suffixes and all pronouns (except 1st person again) - all they have gender markers; even when you say "I love you", it becomes clear who is that "you". I personally was most impressed with gender forms in plural: who the hell needs them at all?.. :) (P.S.: Well, but on the other hand, Russian has rudiments of numerals for men - although we don't use them a lot... :))
     
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    sakvaka

    Senior Member
    English is still sparing in this aspect. :) In Russian it would be revealed much more quickly (adjectives, participles and past singular forms of verbs have gender indicators), and in Arabic - so quick as it is just possible; all forms of all verbs (except 1st person), all possessive suffixes and all pronouns (except 1st person again) - all they have gender markers; even when you say "I love you", it becomes clear who is that "you". I personally was most impressed with gender forms in plural: who the hell needs them at all?.. :) (P.S.: Well, but on the other hand, Russian has rudiments of numerals for men - although we don't use them a lot... :))

    Interesting, especially when we consider that Arabic is an old language and the "extra" gender markers haven't disappeared!
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    EDIT: And what do you say when you don't know the gender? I heard a story about this person. S/he...

    You'll get a lot of purists saying I am wrong but I am not, generally, we use 'they', even if referring to to a singular person (see 'Singular 'they''), like in your example I would quite happily say "I heard a story about this person in Canada, they can set houses on fire just by looking at them", or something else.

    There have been many efforts to try and come up with a pronoun that covers this usage, like a mixture betwen the both of them but as what happens with conscious efforts to create forms in languages, it's nearly always rejected.

    For a while we used 'he' and this usage has been condemned as being sexist by a large movement over people over the last 40 years or so, so that has helped shift it away, but then I think it highlighted the 3rd person plural like I use all the time.

    Some of the invented pronouns are mainly contractions like 'e for he/she, people use (s)he, but this only works in writing, can't use it in speech. Some others are, for he/she, him/her respectively, zhe / zher. Like I said, unnatural developments are generally rejected by native speaking populations..

    Also I know that Welsh doesn't have a distinction between its posessive pronoun (ei), but the distinction follows in the word after so I'm not sure if that counts.
    His / Her = ei
    Cat = cath

    His cat = pronounced 'ei gath'
    Her cat = pronounced 'ei chath'.
     

    Maroseika

    Moderator
    Russian
    In Russian the difference between musc. and fem. forms of 'they' has dissapeared in writing only about 90 years ago. These forms were они/оне (an'i/an'e). But in the speech the difference has dissappered much earlier, and this was the reason to abolish the feminine form "officially".
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Mod note:

    I am sorry but this is not a thread about political correctness terms. :) I'd ask you to please return to the topic of this thread, which is:

    Languages where there is no grammatical distinction between women and men

    Thank you :)
    Cheers
    sokol
     

    sakvaka

    Senior Member
    Mod note:

    I am sorry but this is not a thread about political correctness terms. :) I'd ask you to please return to the topic of this thread, which is:

    Languages where there is no grammatical distinction between women and men

    Thank you :)
    Cheers
    sokol

    To be precise, it's Languages that have no grammatical distinction between women and men or have mostly lost such a system. :)

    ... since Maroseika's answer about Russian is the first that points out the disappearance of such a distinction.

    Thank you all so far!

     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    ... since Maroseika's answer about Russian is the first that points out the disappearance of such a distinction.
    Thanks for the specification of the topic, and yes, the part about disappearance of this distinction in Russian of course was on topic. :)
    (Of course there exist plenty of other gender markers in Russian but the disappearance of this particular one indeed is interesting.)
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Hittite only had Genus commune = utrum (for both male and female) versus Genus neutrum.

    I think that all other IE languages (ancient and modern) have retained at least some gender distinction (be it a grammatical distinction like in most cases or a natural gender distinction like in English); Hittite is supposed to represent a stage of development of IE languages when there wasn't yet a gender distinction but only a distinction between "living" and "non-living", which later developed into gender.

    Hittite of course died out millennia ago.

    Actually Modern Persian/Farsi has no pronoun gender distinction, nor other grammatical gender distinctions (though gender distinction is present in Old Persian. I'm unsure about Middle Persian.)

    Interesting, especially when we consider that Arabic is an old language and the "extra" gender markers haven't disappeared!

    In modern colloquial Arabic dialects, gender is often neutralized in the plural, although some plural human nouns can receive a masculine or feminine plural in some dialects. There are even dialects that have also removed the gender distinction in the second person, reducing the set of pronouns to that typical of IE languages.

    Modern Mandarin is another language without gender pronoun distinction. Technically, ([tʰa1]) is distinguished in writing for "he" (他), "she" (她)and "it" (它)but there is no such distinction in spoken language. Chinese is an isolating language, so it has no "inflection" per se. There are certain morphemes that can give gender. For example, the word rén [ɻən2] means "person" 人, and "man" is made by adding the morpheme nán [nan2] 男 and "woman" by adding the morpheme nü [ny3] 女: 男人, 女人.
     
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    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    In Russian the difference between musc. and fem. forms of 'they' has dissapeared in writing only about 90 years ago. These forms were они/оне (an'i/an'e).
    Yes - but neither verbs nor adjectives and participles had no gender forms in plural even 90 years ago. Aslo I have no idea, how "оне" should be declined or, for instance, transformed into possessive pronoun. Probably it was just a rudimental difference, disappearing already during declension?
     

    Maroseika

    Moderator
    Russian
    Yes - but neither verbs nor adjectives and participles had no gender forms in plural even 90 years ago.
    But some numerals had, namely одни/одне (alone) and оба/обе (both). Одне has dissappeared together with оне, but unlike оне its declention differed from the musc. form (однех, однем, однеми); обе has survived but still tends nowadays to be substituted in the declentions with the musculine form in the colloquial speech (обоих instead of обеих and so forth).

    Aslo I have no idea, how "оне" should be declined or, for instance, transformed into possessive pronoun.
    Same way as the musc. form они, because since the Ancient-Russian epoch paradigm of the 3rd Person of Personal Pronouns consisted of 2 different words, one for the Nominative case and another one for all others.
     

    Faylasoof

    Senior Member
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Actually Modern Persian/Farsi has no pronoun gender distinction, nor other grammatical gender distinctions (though gender distinction is present in Old Persian. I'm unsure about Middle Persian.)

    Middle Persian simplified the grammar considerably. It got rid of both pronoun gender as well as the dual form and many other aspects of grammar. This is what we see in its descendent, Modern Persian. Old Persian, on the other hand, was highly complex and gender distinction was one aspect of this.
     

    Erick404

    Senior Member
    Portuguese - Brazil
    As a speaker of a romance language, I always found it a little strange that so many other languages I came upon didn't distinguish gender in plural (that is, if they distinguished it in singular, to start with)! Like if when it comes to plural, gender is not so important anymore.

    Recently, I've seen people using a weird way to avoid expliciting gender (both in singular and in plural) in Portuguese. Since the gender is indicated in articles, adjectives and some nouns by o for masculine and a for feminine, they merge both in a @. But of course, this only works in written language.
    So you'd have:
    Sejam bem-vind@s, nov@s alun@s!
    for: Welcome, new students!

    I find this quite ugly though.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    As a speaker of a romance language, I always found it a little strange that so many other languages I came upon didn't distinguish gender in plural
    Well, but for me the reason is obvious. Imagine a small group of people - 2 men and 2 women. And what gender I theoretically could use in pronoun "they"? Masculine, feminine, or - oh my God - neuter? ) In any case, the reason would be logically unclear... The most of gender forms in plural could be useful only until one speaks about some homogeneous groups - but otherwise they create problems, as you have just brilliantly shown.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    As a speaker of a romance language, I always found it a little strange that so many other languages I came upon didn't distinguish gender in plural (that is, if they distinguished it in singular, to start with)! Like if when it comes to plural, gender is not so important anymore.

    I do not know about Portuguese, but in French and Spanish you have to use the masculine when you are referring to a group that includes both males and females. That means that whilst the feminine pronoun refers only to women, the masculine can refer to both. Further, in French it is only in the subject pronouns that there is a distinction. And of course when referring to possession no distinction is made to show the sex of the possessor, unlike in English.
     

    phosphore

    Senior Member
    Serbian
    In Serbian the gender distinction is pretty much alive in both singular and plural, but what I realised not so long ago is that we make no distinction in gender when addressing someone politely, even though the distinction exists with the same pronoun used with the meaning of plural.

    Compared with French, we have:

    Vous êtes beau. = Vi ste lepi.
    Vous êtes belle. = Vi ste lepi.

    but:

    Vous êtes beaux. = Vi ste lepi.
    Vous êtes belles. = Vi ste lepe.
     

    Abu Rashid

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    sakvaka,

    It's funny: in English you can't avoid revealing the gender of a person! - I'm going to meet my friend. SHE is at the library. Don't they have any secrets?

    Actually in English you can hide it, just by using the pronoun they. "I'm going to meet a friend and they are at the library".

    Interesting, especially when we consider that Arabic is an old language and the "extra" gender markers haven't disappeared!

    Because Arabic is diglossic, the classical form has remained virtually untouched for at least 1400 years, and so features like this could never disappear. But in modern colloquial dialects, some features have disappeared from usage, like the plural first person pronoun. Although I think plural forms of nouns also have lost gender.
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Yes - but neither verbs nor adjectives and participles had no gender forms in plural even 90 years ago. Aslo I have no idea, how "оне" should be declined or, for instance, transformed into possessive pronoun. Probably it was just a rudimental difference, disappearing already during declension?

    It's not completely true that there was no gender difference for adjectives in plural, at least in the nominative: "красивые" (masc.) vs. "красивыя" (fem. + neutr.), and, very probably, when not surely, adjectival participles followed that scheme. I've seen such forms written and even heard them in opera recordings made in the thirties and forties (sung by old-school singers), and even in some recordings from the eighties and nineties (for stylistical purposes - to give an archaic sound to the speech of the characters).
    The problem with они / оне is that there seems to be a nominative forms stem (он, она, оно, они, оне - and, possibly, in very old Russian, also она for neutral plural - this is possible in Czech; these pronouns are related to the old-fashioned demonstrative pronoun оный with its respective forms) and a stem for all the other cases - его, ему, его, им, (о) нём; её (ея), ей, её (ей), ей/ею, (о) ней; их, им, их, ими, (о) них.
    The possessive pronouns in Russian are identical to the genitive form of the personal pronouns (его, её, их) and as such not subject to declension.
     

    Rallino

    Moderatoúrkos
    Turkish
    In Turkish there is no he/she/it distinction.

    We have the pronoun: O . It covers all three of them.

    The personal pronouns go like:
    Ben (I)
    Sen (You)
    O (He/she/it)
    Biz (We)
    Siz (You/You all)
    Onlar (They)

    We simply don't care if it's a man or woman :p

    We only care if the subject is a human being or not. When conjugating the verbs: if the subject is a human being: the 3rd person plural Onlar, receives an additional plural marker -ler, If it is an animal or an inanimate subject then we leave it without the marker.

    Ex:

    Köpekler yürüdü = The dogs walked.
    Çocuklar yürüdüler = The kids walked.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    In Turkish there is no he/she/it distinction
    As far as I know, it is so in all Altaic languages, and the Turkish language isn't an exception. )
    The possessive pronouns in Russian are identical to the genitive form of the personal pronouns (его, её, их) and as such not subject to declension.
    1. They're identical only for 3rd person (compare "мой", "твой", "наш" and "меня", "тебя", "нас").
    2. Possessive pronouns are indeclinable only for the 3rd person as well, aren't they? ("Мой", "моего", "моему" etc.)
    Of course, I didn't mean the declension of possessive pronoun for 3rd person plural masculine, only its formation (and declension of the respective personal pronoun only). The answer of Maroseika was useful. )

    As for "красивые"/"красивыя", it was an obvious archaism, since here the difference really should be kept during declension (unlike in the case of pronouns) - but it wasn't.
     
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    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    You are right, I did not consider the other persons, but the question was for the gender distinction between они/оне and their possessive pronouns, so my answer was correct in this aspect.
    It was similar to the gender distinction in Latin in the case of the us (masculine) & um (neutre) nouns: they also were distinguished only in the nominative case (and, if it comes to it, also in the vocative). This feature grew obsolete one time in the spoken (Vulgar) Latin together with the cases, but was and is mantained in Classical Latin, which has to some degree been preserved as a lingua Franca in Western and Central Europe during the Middle Ages, was abolished as the official language of Hungary only as late as 1844 (some years earlier or later) and is still used as official language of the Vatican State, besides being taught at school in many countries.
    I think this gender distinction in plural adjectives in Russian could have been preserved if it had not been abolished officially.
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    Till Institutuionsstyrelsen vid IPD For non-distinction, I think that at least Hittite, Chinese, Modern Persian, Turkish/Altaic and possibly some modern Arabic languages have been mentioned so far. I suppose Finnish is a good candidate. The personal pronoun hän covers all genders. What about Estonian? And two months into beginner’s Japanese, I haven’t found gender distinctions other than that men and women sometimes use slightly different vocabularies.

    On personal pronouns, Hindi has one only, but makes extensive gender distinctions in adjectives and verbs.
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Hungarian has only one third-person personal pronoun, I suppose it should be the same in the other related languages. Finnish, as for all I know, has a suffix to differentiate male and female variants of a profession (or similar concepts). Estonish is very closely related, so it should be more or less the same.
     

    palomnik

    Senior Member
    English
    Modern Mandarin is another language without gender pronoun distinction. Technically, ([tʰa1]) is distinguished in writing for "he" (他), "she" (她)and "it" (它)but there is no such distinction in spoken language. Chinese is an isolating language, so it has no "inflection" per se. There are certain morphemes that can give gender. For example, the word rén [ɻən2] means "person" 人, and "man" is made by adding the morpheme nán [nan2] 男 and "woman" by adding the morpheme nü [ny3] 女: 男人, 女人.

    Actually, I'm surprised that mizo is the only person to bring up East Asian languages in this thread; in general, the distinction doesn't exist in any of the ones I've studied (Mandarin, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese). Vietnamese comes close in that it tends to use kinship terms as pronouns, which usually reflect the gender; Thai does this too, but kinship terms frequently don't indicate gender in Thai. Some Japanese pronouns express gender, but this is inextricably tied in with expression of social status and can get pretty complicated, and in any case they are usually omitted.

    Actually, though, bringing East Asian languages into the discussion raises the question of what constitutes a "grammatical" expression of gender. Arguably, the examples clevermizo cites (男人, 女人) are not "grammatical" at all, although they do consist of uniting two morphemes to create a concept. Whether or not expressions like this are made up of one "word" or two is an ongoing argument among Sinologists.

    People who know only European languages have a hard time getting their arms around the idea that there exist languages where the pronouns are frequently dispensed with, and in fact tend to change from one morpheme to another over the history of the language.
     
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    ManPaisa

    Banned
    AmE (New England) / español (Colombia)
    Spanish is currently going in the opposite direction, with an increasing emphasis on gender differences, especially in nouns that refer to crafts, professions and posts that formerly were occupied almost exclusively by men.

    Thus the feminine form presidenta is currently being advocated by the followers of certain female heads of state, in the (incorrect) belief that the traditional form presidente is masculine.

    The problem here is the confusion between sexual gender and grammatical gender. They're not necessarily the same.
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Actually, I'm surprised that mizo is the only person to bring up East Asian languages in this thread; in general, the distinction doesn't exist in any of the ones I've studied (Mandarin, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese). Vietnamese comes close in that it tends to use kinship terms as pronouns, which usually reflect the gender; Thai does this too, but kinship terms frequently don't indicate gender in Thai. Some Japanese pronouns express gender, but this is inextricably tied in with expression of social status and can get pretty complicated, and in any case they are usually omitted.

    Actually, though, bringing East Asian languages into the discussion raises the question of what constitutes a "grammatical" expression of gender. Arguably, the examples clevermizo cites (男人, 女人) are not "grammatical" at all, although they do consist of uniting two morphemes to create a concept. Whether or not expressions like this are made up of one "word" or two is an ongoing argument among Sinologists.

    People who know only European languages have a hard time getting their arms around the idea that there exist languages where the pronouns are frequently dispensed with, and in fact tend to change from one morpheme to another over the history of the language.

    The Romance languages (French excluded) very frequently omit the personal pronouns, and when it comes to changing them one has to consider Italian, where the tonic (and indirect) forms lui/lei/loro have replaced the classical subject forms egli/ella (singular animated), esso/essa (singular inanimated) and essi/esse (plural) in colloquial speech, and don't forget archaic plural forms like eglino and special demonstrative and relative pronoun forms like colui, colei, coloro and costui, costei, costoro and the quite extravagant cotesto/codesto, cotale.
    Then I've seen something like desso/dessa (note the similarity to esso/essa and parallels of these pairs to ove/dove, onde/donde) in nineteenth-century texts.
    Please note that the usage of egli/ella was different in other times: "egli è un libro" where "egli" is used like a demonstrative pronoun (etymological use, corresponding to the use of Latin "ille") isn't possible in spoken language nowadays.

    Tuscan also has the confusion between tonic me te and classical io, tu.

    Another thing I forgot: the formal/polite way to address a person has changed: "voi" is somewhat alive only in the South, and quite curious is the fact that the other two possibilities are Lei (standard) and Ella (very high register, sometimes used in mocking or despective sense): both are etymologically feminine pronouns which stand for (historical) titles that, for some ways, were mostly feminine in their grammatical gender: eccellenza, maestà and so on.
     

    Orion7

    Member
    Latvian
    Modern Mandarin is another language without gender pronoun distinction. Technically, ([tʰa1]) is distinguished in writing for "he" (他), "she" (她)and "it" (它)but there is no such distinction in spoken language.
    Interesting, in Latvian is also 'it, she' and tas is 'it, he, that'. Seems that Mandarin is borrowed from Indo-Iranian 'it, she', tas 'it, he' and tat 'it, that', which merged into spoken Mandarin , while retaining different written forms, formerly pronounced as in Indo-Iranian.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Interesting, in Latvian is also 'it, she' and tas is 'it, he, that'. Seems that Mandarin is borrowed from Indo-Iranian 'it, she', tas 'it, he' and tat 'it, that', which merged into spoken Mandarin , while retaining different written forms, formerly pronounced as in Indo-Iranian.
    Or mere coincidence. These languages are really to far away for such bold statements.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Interesting, in Latvian is also 'it, she' and tas is 'it, he, that'. Seems that Mandarin is borrowed from Indo-Iranian 'it, she', tas 'it, he' and tat 'it, that', which merged into spoken Mandarin , while retaining different written forms, formerly pronounced as in Indo-Iranian.

    I'm sorry, but that's absurd. The different forms of the written word are just by convention (and I believe it's a modern convention). The word 他 (tā) has a proper etymology going back to classical Chinese in which it was not even used as the third person pronoun (I think the original meaning was "other" or "another" but I'm not sure). I believe in Classical Chinese the third person pronoun was 之 (Modern pronunciation [zhī] (pinyin), [tʂɨ˥˥] (IPA)). You also I think misunderstand the macron over tā as meaning the same thing for the Indo-Iranian root. The macron in Pinyin romanization is a tone mark for the high-level tone of Mandarin (IPA ˥˥), not a long vowel.

    Unless there's better evidence (historical or otherwise), I'd say it's pure coincidence that the Indo-Iranian form and the Mandarin Chinese form have any resemblance (in Romanized transcription systems which barely even overlap anyway in sound correspondence).

    Actually, though, bringing East Asian languages into the discussion raises the question of what constitutes a "grammatical" expression of gender. Arguably, the examples clevermizo cites (男人, 女人) are not "grammatical" at all, although they do consist of uniting two morphemes to create a concept. Whether or not expressions like this are made up of one "word" or two is an ongoing argument among Sinologists.

    Yes I've heard different sides of that argument before. Personally I look at 男人 as one word so I do feel the 男 is grammatical, though it's definitely not "productive" I don't think. So still 男人 is lexical and not an example of grammatical gender at work. But the morphemes 男,女 are the closest thing I can see to marking gender in Mandarin.
     
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    Csaba

    Member
    Hungarian
    In Hungarian there is no grammatical gender at all. However, many nouns that denote occupations have two forms like
    igazgató (director) - igazgatónő (nő means woman)
    But nowadays I sense that in most official context it is preferred to use "igazgató" even for women, similar to the tendencies in English of switching from "stewardess" to "flight attendant" etc. The words for royal and noble ranks are formed with the same suffix -nő and they are always used (királynő=queen grófnő=countess), in contrast to political roles where constructs like "elnöknő" (woman president) sound odd.

    Either way, I think grammatical gender is nice because it conserves a form of vowel harmony between adjectives and nouns, but it's odd to me when Icelanders say "I ate fish yesterday. He tasted good" (fish is a masculine noun), i.e. a word that is not in the sentence influences the forms of pronouns for no good reason. Just my personal opinion..
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    This would be a nice separate thread, Csaba: is there or need there be any justification regarding gender of nouns referring to non-human beings (or something the like)?

    If you don't have that - and find it strange that - as in Dutch - a table is referred to as 'she', glasses ('bril') as 'he', etc. - , it may seem strange, but you have a similar phenomenon in French, Italian, ..., as appears from the determiners and pronouns used. That might be where the story starts. But start a separate thread, I suggest !
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    The word 他 (tā) has a proper etymology going back to classical Chinese in which it was not even used as the third person pronoun (I think the original meaning was "other" or "another" but I'm not sure).
    Perfect.:thumbsup:

    I believe in Classical Chinese the third person pronoun was 之 (Modern pronunciation [zhī] (pinyin), [tʂɨ˥˥] (IPA)).
    In ancient Chinese as in many ancient languages, there're no third-person pronouns; instead demonstratives are used. 之 is one of them, but only used as an object. For a subject, 彼 is usually used.

    Unless there's better evidence (historical or otherwise), I'd say it's pure coincidence that the Indo-Iranian form and the Mandarin Chinese form have any resemblance (in Romanized transcription systems which barely even overlap anyway in sound correspondence).
    Don't fret, man. That's actually the modus operandi of many "Sino-Tibetanians" (they won't waste time to learn Chinese or Tibetan of course). Since there're no morphologies for comparision to make a strong case of genetic relationship, what they do is look for look-alikes from different languages, which they take to be "cognates", and which are in turn used to prove that the languages in question are related. A lot of imagination is required for this kind of work, and they deserve some credit.;)
     

    mignons

    Member
    Indonesian, Javanese
    Indonesian don't distinguish gender. we just simply say:

    -dia - for "she,he,it"
    and
    -mereka- for "ils, elles"

    but sometimes we distinguish the gender in some nouns by using -a for masuline and -i for feminine in the end of the noun, example:

    siswa -> male student, siswi -> female student
    pramugara -> male flight attendant, pramugari -> female flight attendant
    putra -> son, putri -> daughter

    or by adding -wan (for masculine) and -wati (for feminine), example:
    wartawan -> male journalist, wartawati -> female journalist

    But those are just in limited cases, mostly we don't do that. Apparently this kind of gender distinction are only for words absorbed from Sanskrit or Arabic.
     

    ancalimon

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    I think there is no way to state gender in Turkic languages. For example, "O" is always used for single persons, animals, objects in Turkish. Won't go into why it's this way as you need to know depths of Turkic culture.
     

    rsvat

    New Member
    India - English & Kannada
    The South-Indian (Dravidian) language Telugu has an interesting gender system, in which women are classed with animals/objects/etc in the singular, and with men in the plural.

    More precisely, it has only two "genders": major (mahat) and minor (amahat) and two numbers (singular and plural).
    • The singular major is used for a man.
    • The singular minor is used for a woman (even a Goddess!), an animal, an inanimate object ("neuter gender"), etc.
    • The plural major is used for men or women.
    • The plural minor is used only for animals and objects.
    So men are always major, objects are always minor, while women are minor in the singular and major in the plural. (I omit the complication of the T-V distinction.)
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    in Arabic - so quick as it is just possible; all forms of all verbs (except 1st person), all possessive suffixes and all pronouns (except 1st person again) - all they have gender markers; even when you say "I love you", it becomes clear who is that "you". I personally was most impressed with gender forms in plural: who the hell needs them at all?.. :) (P.S.: Well, but on the other hand, Russian has rudiments of numerals for men - although we don't use them a lot... :))

    Right for M.S.A. I'll just add that dialectal forms of Arabic make the same gender distinction in the singular, but not in the plural where only masculine forms are used. As for adjectives agreeing with plural inanimates they surprisingly take the singular feminine ( no neuter in Arabic ).
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Right for M.S.A. I'll just add that dialectal forms of Arabic make the same gender distinction in the singular, but not in the plural where only masculine forms are used. As for adjectives agreeing with plural inanimates they surprisingly take the singular feminine ( no neuter in Arabic ).

    As this thread is about a lack of grammatical gender distinction, I'll just add as well that some Arabic dialects have lost gender in the second person singular (notably some dialects in North Africa and Maltese).

    It's also not that surprising that inanimates take singular feminine agreement:D. The singular feminine agreement seems to have to do with objects or even people considered as a whole or a collection (for example, العرب تقول, الناس تقول) rather than as individuals. In some dialects inanimates can take either plural or singular feminine agreement depending on whether they are considered individually or as part of a set.
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    Actually, I'm surprised that mizo is the only person to bring up East Asian languages in this thread; in general, the distinction doesn't exist in any of the ones I've studied (Mandarin, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese). Vietnamese comes close in that it tends to use kinship terms as pronouns, which usually reflect the gender; Thai does this too, but kinship terms frequently don't indicate gender in Thai. Some Japanese pronouns express gender, but this is inextricably tied in with expression of social status and can get pretty complicated, and in any case they are usually omitted.

    Burmese and Karen languages which belong to another family than Thai, Japanese or Vietnamese don't express either gender in the 3rd personal pronoun . In both languages a suffix marking the feminine can be added , only for emphasizing on the gender, but it is rarely used. The same suffix is also added to nouns referring to professions, only if it is useful for information, in the same way as in Finnish (#1) or in Hungarian (#35). Omitting suject pronouns or using kinship terms is also frequent. On the other hand the gender can be expressed in the 1st. and 2nd. person, as Burmese has also a wide range of such pronouns which take into account the social status , but also for some of them the speakers' sex. Karen languages which are closer to chinese languages on this point don't have this choice.
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    I think many languages belonging to various families don't express gender.
    Quechua does'nt mark gender at all neither in subject or object pronouns nor in verbal forms nor in adjectival agreements . If the gender is relevant, it is semantically expressed : the nouns 'man' or 'woman' for human beings and the nouns 'mal' or 'femal' are added to the head noun.
    Swahili does'nt distinct either genders that only refer to the animate/inanimate distinction through the noun class system specific to Bantu languages.
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    Further, in French it is only in the subject pronouns that there is a distinction. And of course when referring to possession no distinction is made to show the sex of the possessor, unlike in English.

    Don't forget that some of the French object pronouns also distinct gender as 'Je le / la vois' ( I see him/her ) or 'il vit avec lui / elle ( he lives with him / her ) and the plural form ' Il vit avec eux / elles ' ( he lives with them masc. / fem. ). But it's right that the Spanish plural pronouns ' los / las ' are not distinguished in French.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Don't forget that some of the French object pronouns also distinct gender as 'Je le / la vois' ( I see him/her ) or 'il vit avec lui / elle ( he lives with him / her ) and the plural form ' Il vit avec eux / elles ' ( he lives with them masc. / fem. ). But it's right that the Spanish plural pronouns ' los / las ' are not distinguished in French.

    I was alarmed to see what I had written until I went back to the post and realised I was talking about plural pronouns only.
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    Spanish is currently going in the opposite direction, with an increasing emphasis on gender differences, especially in nouns that refer to crafts, professions and posts that formerly were occupied almost exclusively by men.

    Thus the feminine form presidenta is currently being advocated by the followers of certain female heads of state, in the (incorrect) belief that the traditional form presidente is masculine.

    The problem here is the confusion between sexual gender and grammatical gender. They're not necessarily the same.

    Although these posts take the exact opposite of the topic, it seems interesting to point out Romance languages actually tend to mark more and more gender differences in the field you are mentioning.
    The same tendency has been standing out in French for about twenty years. Words as ' une/la ministre' ,' une/la juge' are currently used while previously the only masculine form was accepted for men and women. Of course such words easily shift gender as they are not altered by themselves and besides their ending turns to be a common feminine marker. It's different with ' écrivaine ' instead of ' écrivain' (writer) , a contoversial form, but more and more used. I've recently heard on TV ' PDGère or pédégère ( How to spell it ? ) for PDG (chief executive officer ).
    Sounds rather ugly to me !
    I agree with you for the reasons why such feminine terms are showing up : a matter for sociolinguistics ( political correctness ) , possibly favoured by the ability of several I.E languages to easily distinct genders with common grammatical tools.
     
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