Personification and Gender

Hulalessar

Senior Member
English - England
Is there anything in the suggestion that languages in which masculine and feminine gender can be ascribed to things lacking natural gender will, when personifying an object or idea, make it male if its gender is masculine and female if its gender is feminine?
 
  • berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    You have a few heuristics, like active:masculine/passive:feminine/neuter, concrete:masculine/abstract:feminine/neuter. But they don't always work and sometimes the meaning of words has changed over time and the gender heuristic corresponds to a lost meaning. And sometimes random gender changes occur. Are you aware of this and this discussion?
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings!

    It may be worth pointing out (though with apologies for not being able to cite chapter-and-verse right now) that although masc./fem./neuter distinctions are prevalent in IE languages, there are languages elsewhere in which the gendering of nouns is not restricted to male/female/inanimate patterns or distinctions. Some native American languages, for example, have grammatical genders relating to size, distance or edibility. "Gender", as I understand it, is a grammatical term and concept, not a biological.
     

    artion

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Is there anything in the suggestion that languages in which masculine and feminine gender can be ascribed to things lacking natural gender will, when personifying an object or idea, make it male if its gender is masculine and female if its gender is feminine?
    If I understand well, the question is if a male object or idea is personified as a male person and a female object/idea as a female person. In Greek seems that this happens in most cases, although I can think of some objects/ideas that have more than one gender but are personified as one. e.g. η οικία/ο οίκος (home, house), personified as goddess Hestia. Ο έρως/η αγάπη (love) personified as a male boy, cupid.
    In this discussion http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2213786 someone mentioned the association with the Grecolatin gods but I'm not sure if the god gave his/her gender to the object or the other way around.
    Of course Freud would answer positively your question.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    χαῖρετε!

    A little footnote to Artion's remark (#4): oikia/oikos may indeed be personified by the goddess Hestia (the hearth), but (at least in classical Greek) there is a subtle difference: oikia is the building (timber, bricks-and-mortar, material "stuff"), whereas oikos is the household, including the people who inhabit it. And surely there are huge distinctions between eros, agape and philia? Eros is, literally erotic, i.e. sexual; agape is more like "affectionate fellowship", and philia is the bond that unites close family and intimate friends.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I was aware of the two threads, thank you.

    My question is not so much how a particular gender came to be assigned to a thing or concept, but whether, once assigned, there is at some level a feeling among native speakers of the language that things or concepts with masculine gender have something male about them and those with feminine gender something female about them.

    As a native speaker of a language without grammatical gender I can assert that I do not think of objects or concepts and certainly not everyday objects, as being imbued with maleness or femaleness. I had always assumed this was the case for native speakers of languages with masculine and feminine genders. When an English speaker learns French he soon gets used to the idea of gender, but it is on the basis that that is the way things are and, naturally, he continues with the idea that things cannot be male or female. Indeed, when taught French it was stressed that even though you have to use "he" when referring to a knife and "she" when referring to a fork it did not mean anything other than than French does not have a word equivalent to "it".

    I ask the question because I have been reading Eco's Saying Almost the Same Thing. Eco draws attention to the fact that the German text of the story The Sun invited the Moon to Dine in Struwwelpeter is accompanied by an illustration showing the sun to be female and the moon male. He suggests that is because in German the sun is feminine and the moon masculine and that representing the sun as female and the moon as male would seem odd to a native speaker of a Romance language in which sun is masculine and moon is feminine. He goes on to discuss the matter further, but the number of examples is not enough to make a convincing case.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    χαῖρετε!

    A little footnote to Artion's remark (#4): oikia/oikos may indeed be personified by the goddess Hestia (the hearth), but (at least in classical Greek) there is a subtle difference: oikia is the building (timber, bricks-and-mortar, material "stuff"), whereas oikos is the household, including the people who inhabit it. And surely there are huge distinctions between eros, agape and philia? Eros is, literally erotic, i.e. sexual; agape is more like "affectionate fellowship", and philia is the bond that unites close family and intimate friends.
    Oἰκία is a derivation from οἶκος with the formative feminine abstract suffix -ία. It seems, in Attic legal use the roles (concrete/abstract) are exactly reversed. This is what I meant when I said that development of meaning has obscured the original heuristic (concrete=masculine/abstract=feminine or neuter).
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I was aware of the two threads, thank you.

    My question is not so much how a particular gender came to be assigned to a thing or concept, but whether, once assigned, there is at some level a feeling among native speakers of the language that things or concepts with masculine gender have something male about them and those with feminine gender something female about them.

    As a native speaker of a language without grammatical gender I can assert that I do not think of objects or concepts and certainly not everyday objects, as being imbued with maleness or femaleness. I had always assumed this was the case for native speakers of languages with masculine and feminine genders. When an English speaker learns French he soon gets used to the idea of gender, but it is on the basis that that is the way things are and, naturally, he continues with the idea that things cannot be male or female. Indeed, when taught French it was stressed that even though you have to use "he" when referring to a knife and "she" when referring to a fork it did not mean anything other than than French does not have a word equivalent to "it".

    I ask the question because I have been reading Eco's Saying Almost the Same Thing. Eco draws attention to the fact that the German text of the story The Sun invited the Moon to Dine in Struwwelpeter is accompanied by an illustration showing the sun to be female and the moon male. He suggests that is because in German the sun is feminine and the moon masculine and that representing the sun as female and the moon as male would seem odd to a native speaker of a Romance language in which sun is masculine and moon is feminine. He goes on to discuss the matter further, but the number of examples is not enough to make a convincing case.
    The second thread I quoted contains a lengthy discussion (starting at #61) about exactly that where I argued that in societies with an animistic view of the world it is natural to associate grammatical gender and sex (=personification). It has been argued that the different genders of sun and moon in different IE languages is everything but incidental: In cold countries, the warming sun is seen as soft and feminine and the cold night where the noon in visible as hard and masculine. In hot countries it is the other way round.

    As to association of natural gender attributes with inanimate objects based on grammatical gender in modern, non-animist societies, there are studies suggesting that that is at least some influence, see here and here. As a German living in a French speaking country, I can confirm this from introspection: It is d* hard for me use the feminine article la for beer and cars.:D
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Interesting.

    Does the fact that the English abandoned grammatical gender say anything about them? :)

    Getting a bit into Sapir-Whorf territory, do the speakers of languages without grammatical gender and those with it have at some level a different way of looking at inanimate objects and abstract concepts?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in is most radical form stating that only thing that can be expressed in a language can also be thought is certainly untenable but that there is some influence of language and grammar upon cognitive concepts is certainly true. The abstract of the article I quoted where English and Spanish speaking children were compared suggest some influence of grammatic gender but not an overriding one.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I ask the question because I have been reading Eco's Saying Almost the Same Thing. Eco draws attention to the fact that the German text of the story The Sun invited the Moon to Dine in Struwwelpeter is accompanied by an illustration showing the sun to be female and the moon male. He suggests that is because in German the sun is feminine and the moon masculine and that representing the sun as female and the moon as male would seem odd to a native speaker of a Romance language in which sun is masculine and moon is feminine.
    I would agree, but the explanation seems plain to me: it's the path of least resistance. If you've been referring to something as "he" all the time, or using words of the same gender as "he", then your audience will naturally imagine a male figure, assuming they felt at all inclined to personify it. If at some point you chose to call that figure "Maria", you will take your audience a little by susprise, and there is a possibility your narrative might confuse them in some points... Which is not to say that if you insist on calling the sun "Maria" in a Romance text people will reject your choice. If you make it clear that you've decided to personify the sun as female, for whatever reason, I'm sure most Romance speakers will accept your choice without argument, though they may find it eccentric and occasionally a bit confusing.

    Children's stories, where personification of inanimate beings and animals is frequent, would be a good place to study this issue.
     
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    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Interesting.

    Does the fact that the English abandoned grammatical gender say anything about them? :)

    Getting a bit into Sapir-Whorf territory, do the speakers of languages without grammatical gender and those with it have at some level a different way of looking at inanimate objects and abstract concepts?

    I don't think so, but neither is Sapir-Whorf given much credibility anymore, is it?

    I think that speakers of languages with grammatical gender learn that there are some categories of nouns and acquire the categories before they equate the categories with "male/masculine" and "female/feminine" because there are so many more inanimate and non-sex/non-gender words in those categories. In other words, you learn to agree "la camisa fea" and "el carro feo" before you learn that "male" and "female" also map to each of those categories. And by that point you don't think of the shirt as being intrinsically "feminine" per se, all you know is that its pronoun is ella and most of its adjectives end in -a. Similarly in English I know that some plurals form by adding -s and others don't, and so there are two basic categories. We could call the first category "easy" plurals and the second "hard" plurals, but honestly as a native speaker one's not easier or more difficult than the other.

    However, would a speaker of PIE conceive of inanimate objects as possessing "male" "female" or "neuter" qualities? Maybe, depending on their culture and religion, etc. But I don't think that there's a substantially "genderized" worldview in IE languages with grammatical gender, and definitely not moreso than their counterparts that lack it.

    That said, we may associate certain abstract things or feminine things with one sex or another, but I don't think that will neatly map on to their grammatical gender in languages that have it. We, sociologically, probably associate "delicacy" with femininity and "stubbornness" with masculinity, for example, though we lack any grammatical gender in English. So obviously lacking the grammatical gender doesn't make us less prone to see masculine and feminine qualities in the world.
     
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    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Haha!

    Foolish me (re berndf's contribution #7): I should have remembered that (ϝ)οικ- (≈ Lat. vic-[us]) is the stem - but does that not then mean that the masc. -ος and the fem. -ία morpheme-terminations are of equal taxonomical status?

    Not that this displaces your point about the state of affairs in legal Attic.

    And Hulalessar (#9): the loss of genders in English just means that thanks to our miscegenated Celtic/Pictish/Saxon/Viking/Norman-French (/American??!!) background, we Brits. are a bunch of mixed-up kids with no sense of linguistic order or propriety. That's why we are so good at vandalising languages generally, including our own :).
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I should have remembered that (ϝ)οικ- (≈ Lat. vic-[us]) is the stem
    ;)
    ...the masc. -ος and the fem. -ία morpheme-terminations are of equal taxonomical status?
    I'd still see a difference: -ος is a purely declensional (masculine nominative) suffix while -ία is a derivational and declensional suffix (abstract derivation and feminine nominative).
    And Hulalessar (#9): the loss of genders in English just means that thanks to our miscegenated Celtic/Pictish/Saxon/Viking/Norman-French (/American??!!) background, we Brits. are a bunch of mixed-up kids with no sense of linguistic order or propriety. That's why we are so good at vandalising languages generally, including our own
    smile.png
    .
    I can't see the loss of grammatic gender a sign of linguistic poverty. English is a beautiful and as rich in what you can express with it than any other language.
     
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    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    On the contrary berndf (#14) - did you miss my smilie?

    I love languages, all those I know, and am keen to extend my range. But English is, yes - especially in poetry or rhetoric - the richest there is, precisely because of its miscellaneous ancestry. The loss of the Gmc. A-S genders through the mediaeval mill of ethnic and cultural miscegenation (oh dear, that pompous word again) leaves us, and the world, with Shakespeare, the Authorised Version of the Bible (which has been as influential, though folk do not nowadays realise it, on modern idiom as the Lutherbibel has been in German) - and with cryptic crossword-puzzles. But that, surely, is for another thread.:):)
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    And Hulalessar (#9): the loss of genders in English just means that thanks to our miscegenated Celtic/Pictish/Saxon/Viking/Norman-French (/American??!!) background, we Brits. are a bunch of mixed-up kids with no sense of linguistic order or propriety. That's why we are so good at vandalising languages generally, including our own :).
    I don't think that romantic view is quite accurate. It seems more likely that the loss of gender in English came as a natural progression within the Germanic languages. Some of them have also lost gender (Afrikaans), others merged the masculine with the feminine though keeping the neuter separate (Dutch, Nordic languages), and others like modern German still have three genders, but have lost most gender markers (i.e. gender is nearly unpredictable from the form of a noun, and must simply be memorized most of the time).
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I think that speakers of languages with grammatical gender learn that there are some categories of nouns and acquire the categories before they equate the categories with "male/masculine" and "female/feminine" because there are so many more inanimate and non-sex/non-gender words in those categories.
    That's what a language teacher would say because intuitive interpretation of grammatical gender gives too many false clues and foreign language teachers have to get existing associations out of student's minds.

    But that's not the whole story of what's happening in real life. Of course, children at some point recognize how arbitrary grammatical gender in modern languages is but children are aware of the association with gender qualities with grammatical gender and the studies I quoted above do suggest that grammatic gender has repercussions on the qualities we associate with objects independently of semantically motivated associations like the ones you mentioned:
    We, sociologically, probably associate "delicacy" with femininity and "stubbornness" with masculinity...

    Yesterday, I meant to post a link to a very interesting article about interactions of language traits and cognitive patterns. Gender is but one of the topics there. Being back at my own computer today, I found the link: voilà.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I can't say that I was very impressed by that NYT article. And as far as grammatical gender is concerned, I vehemently disagree with it:

    Languages that treat an inanimate object as a he or a she force their speakers to talk about such an object as if it were a man or a woman. And as anyone whose mother tongue has a gender system will tell you, once the habit has taken hold, it is all but impossible to shake off. When I speak English, I may say about a bed that “it” is too soft, but as a native Hebrew speaker, I actually feel “she” is too soft. “She” stays feminine all the way from the lungs up to the glottis and is neutered only when she reaches the tip of the tongue.
    Well, my native language is Portuguese, which also has grammatical genders, and I never had a problem with switching to "it" for inanimates when I speak English. Easy as pie!

    Conversely, in Portuguese I get the genders of inanimates mixed up all the time when I'm distracted! When I'm mumbling to myself or doing house chores, or looking for some object, I routinely call it a "he" when it's feminine or vice-versa.
     

    terredepomme

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Honestly, I think associating the grammatical gender with the biological gender can be only found in literary practice, and it could even be classified as a sort of word play. Sometimes in French novels I see the death(la mort) personified as a woman. And there is a famous song of Camille called "Your Pain(Ta douleur)" where the pain(la douleur) is somewhat ambiguously depicted as a nasty little sister(sale chipie de petite soeur). Sometimes this personification happens within a single sentence: "La solitude est ma seule amie.(The lonelyness is my ownly (woman) friend.) And it is also common to associate adjectives that are biologically dependent with inanimate objects(such as langue soeur: sister language)Although this allows novelists and poets to exploit the grammatical traits of their language for a literary purpose, I don't think it would have any affect in real life, unless one would be so poetic and affectionate towards inanimate objects as to give them names and treat them as living things.Also one should keep in mind that in French, it is equally common to call things "ceci" or "cela," especially when the word of the object has not been yet said.
     

    e2-e4 X

    Senior Member
    Русский
    Hi,

    Just like berndf, artion and clevermizo, I am a native speaker of a language, that has noun genders, and I will answer the question from the practical view:
    My question is not so much how a particular gender came to be assigned to a thing or concept, but whether, once assigned, there is at some level a feeling among native speakers of the language that things or concepts with masculine gender have something male about them and those with feminine gender something female about them.
    In everyday life — no. Not at all.

    Or, more exactly: not until you have to think of it for some reason or another. When, for example, a door is mentioned without a verb or an adjective that needs to agree with the door in gender, then there is no cause to think of the door's gender at all. And even when such agreement is present, then still there is no point attributing a social gender to a cup, when we use it, because this would only obscure the really important matters, which we have to think of in order to further take decisions. So we do not, usually.

    The other case is when we play with words, or just start to ponder on words. Then, our usually passive knowledge that certain grammatical patterns are linked with the ideas of masculinity, femininity and "genderlessness" (taught partly in school, partly from own linguistic practice) becomes active and acts upon our mind, in various unpredictable ways. Different crazy associations come into the play, part of them are related to words, part of them — with things...

    For example, "солнце" could have no gender at all, like in Mayakovky's poem (personification doesn't necessarily lead to genderization) because of the word's being neuter, or it could be feminine, because of the thing's being warm (I remember that for a long time I was not able to remember the genders of the words "il sole" and "le soleil"). "Луна" and "месяц" are very much the same thing (the moon, the second word being literary), but the first could be "feminine", and the second would be "masculine" (for me the thing of moon tends to be vaguely associated with masculinity, so in literary language I could in some contexts prefer the word "месяц" partly for this very reason; but in everyday language or in scientific language all these considerations are not important at all, just nobody remembers them, they remain in passive knowledge). "Луна", as a nickname, would be associated with something feminine, when used to call a girl, and with something masculine, when used to call a boy,

    By the way, I read in the thread that berndf has linked to about the neuter gender being called "childish" by young Germans, wondering about their language. Quite interesting, because in Russian such wild assumption would be impossible... Maybe because we have no neuter word for any child older than 3?
    As to association of natural gender attributes with inanimate objects based on grammatical gender in modern, non-animist societies, ...
    By the way, we do know that our societies are non-animistic (to some degree, of course, — we are not fully non-animistic), but nobody knows what will think future generations, who will live after 10000 years in Mars after a Great War, having killed most of the people and rendered the Earth to be impossible for life. I think, there will be enough evidence to believe that our societies were in fact overly animistic (first of all, poetry and mythology, and also some double meanings of words, like "law" for both juridical and natural laws — we know that there is no connection in our mind between the two terms, and the homonimy is here simply for convenience, but they won't know; also, the strange people, that managed to continue to be surviving in the Earth during the last 1500 years, make some rites, allegedly believed to be made for the sake of "the spirit of Theater" and of "Christ the Sealord", with no due reason though), and especially if those remnants of people will project their internally animistic views (all humans happen to be childs for some time!) to the "childhood of ... ahem... civilization". :)
     
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    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    Hi, I don't really think anyone will ever live on Mars, not human beings at least, but going back to the subject. I personally associate certain things, especially animals with the grammatical gender. In Lithuanian and Polish a mouse is feminine. For me, a mouse is a feminine animal -- so Even Mickey Mouse, for me, was a woman, when I was a child. There is no real word for a male mouse in some languages, so some people even tend do think, although it is really silly, that rat is a male mouse, because, especially in such languages as Polish, it is masculine. I am not sure, if I would ascribe any such features to inanimate objects - I doubt it, but it is definitely true about animals. For me, a fly will always be female, and I was really surprised when a monolingual English-speaking friend was referring to a fly as he. "Get him." I was not sure whom. There were no thieves and no males in the room. I would never think she was referring to a fly.
     

    e2-e4 X

    Senior Member
    Русский
    Hi, I don't really think anyone will ever live on Mars, not human beings at least, but going back to the subject. I personally associate certain things, especially animals with the grammatical gender. In Lithuanian and Polish a mouse is feminine. For me, a mouse is a feminine animal -- so Even Mickey Mouse, for me, was a woman, when I was a child. There is no real word for a male mouse in some languages, so some people even tend do think, although it is really silly, that rat is a male mouse, because, especially in such languages as Polish, it is masculine.
    Well, maybe we talk of different things, but for me a mouse as an entity in most cases is effectively genderless (while the word is of course called feminine by gender, as we all have been taught in school). And only when wishing to humanify it (not only personify, but also humanify), I would distinguish the words "мышь" and "мыш" (that look different in spelling and have different declinations, and the second of which is almost never used). As for Micky Mouse, he has always been a man for me, with no problems, maybe because the word "Маус" is masculine in Russian, unlike "мышь" (just because of its ending). Let's remember also nicknames: someone could be called "Рыба" or "Мышь" regardless whether it is he or she.
    I am not sure, if I would ascribe any such features to inanimate objects - I doubt it, but it is definitely true about animals. For me, a fly will always be female, and I was really surprised when a monolingual English-speaking friend was referring to a fly as he. "Get him." I was not sure whom. There were no thieves and no males in the room. I would never think she was referring to a fly.
    Good point. But are you sure it's not related first to language interference, and only then to ideas about masculinity?
    By the way, a similar phenomenon, that catches me all along the way, is that I always happen to first understand the words like "friend", "teacher" and like as referring to males (and only afterwards I may see my mistake, if it's happened) — only because in Russian male/female teachers/friends have different words, and dictionary entries deal with default forms, that is, with masculine ones.
     
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    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    I think we are talking about the same thing -- just a different experience of the word. In Lithuanian and Polish mouse is definitely feminine, the way the word is used in casual conversations. There are terms for the male mouse, of course, but not in everyday speech. It is different in Russian. There is even "myshonok" -- neuter gender, which is quite popular. For me really a mouse is a female animal, even if it defies any logic. I would always refer to a mouse as she, even in English. A cat, on the other hand is masculine -- because it is masculine in Lithuanian and Polish. In Russian it is different. If I knew specifically that a certain cat was a female cat I would refer to that particular cat as she, otherwise it is always he. With mice -- they are always females.
     

    e2-e4 X

    Senior Member
    Русский
    I think we are talking about the same thing -- just a different experience of the word. In Lithuanian and Polish mouse is definitely feminine, the way the word is used in casual conversations. There are terms for the male mouse, of course, but not in everyday speech. It is different in Russian.
    Maybe. Or, possibly, we are just different people. :) I can certainly imagine an affectionate Russian lady, who would be ready to humanify just every... er... everything. :)
    There is even "myshonok" -- neuter gender, which is quite popular.
    "Мышёнок" in Russian is a masculine-gender word. By the way, an interesting feature of Russian is that plural entities have no grammatical gender... And thus, what to think of, say, "мышата"?.. :cool:
     
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    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    In Lithuanian there is no neuter gender -- you have to refer to animals as either females or males, also they would not be considered inanimate. Who and what are the same.

    "Мышёнок" is really masculine gender? It looked neuter to me, maybe because it means a junior mouse. "Mышата" -- wouldn't it be neuter plural?
     
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    e2-e4 X

    Senior Member
    Русский
    "Мышёнок" is really masculine gender? It looked neuter to me, maybe because it means a junior mouse. "Mышата" -- wouldn't it be neuter plural?
    Really. The gender here is determined by the ending of the word. :) And any plural nouns do not have gender at all. For example, "часы" don't. (For the others: "часы" means "clock", but it is plural in Russian, it goes like "hours")
     
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    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    Hi. I don't know all the details about Russian grammar - I learned Russian the natural way. Some things I know very well -- meaning how to define certain linguistic phenomena in Russian -- others I don't know how to describe. This was my impression. I would use correct declensions, of course, but I may not know how to describe them -- as 1 st feminine, and so on. So is "rybyonok" masculine too? Is it always the case that the plural does not have any gender in Russian? I am sorry but I specialized in Germanic languages, so I know much more about English grammar, or English historical grammar, than Russian, or Polish.
     
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    e2-e4 X

    Senior Member
    Русский
    So is "rybyonok" masculine too?Is it always the case that the plural does not have any gender in Russian?
    Exactly. By the way, I think that your confusion is an evidence for my position: I guess, you use adjectives correctly ("серенький мышонок", "маленький рыбёнок" — though the word "рыбёнок" looks somewhat "made-up" for me :) ), but still, you defined the "social gender" of the word "мышонок" in a way, influenced by your general worldview, not by the grammar of the language
     
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    e2-e4 X

    Senior Member
    Русский
    Whilst the endings of adjectives and the like and past tense verbs have identical endings for plural nouns of all genders that surely does not mean that plural nouns have no gender, does it?
    Why? :confused:
    Nothing in the modern Russian grammar is able to hint at the gender of a noun, while it is in plural (and some Russian nouns are in plural forever, for example "часы" ("clock"), "деньги" (money), "ножницы" ("scissors"), "штаны" ("trousers"), "дрова" ("firewood"); also some have different connotations in singular and in plural, for example "тучи" ("storm clouds") is far not the same thing as "туча" ("a storm cloud"); "небеса" and "небо" (sky) mean just the same thing, but with different connotations as well, "чудеса" and "чудо" ("miracle", "wonder") appear in different situations and also are felt differently).

    Of course, in most cases (not always) a Russian is able to get or to imagine a singular noun, that corresponds or would correspond to the plural one, but this mental move is pointless, it does not give anything, not even in poetry (because making such moves is a dull thing). For example, "ребёнок" (the word is masculine in gender, the "thing" is a child, either a little girl or a little boy) is the singular for "дети" (children), but nobody will go into such digressions while saying "дети". The same for "люди" (people) and "человек" (person).

    The social gender is a different thing and has different rules, though; so it is a different talk, that has only a little to do with grammar and gender of nouns (what and why — we've been discussing it in this thread).
     
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    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    I agree with Hullalesar. I believe that a noun which is feminine in the singular, stays feminine in the plural, even if its gender is hidden. I think the plural might just have a unified gender, which does not mean there is no gender. It is different in Russian than in Polish, for example, because Polish has definite gender in the plural.

    Do you really believe that you could name a boy -- give him a nickname Luna? I would not think that were possible, but my language is influenced by Lithuanian and Polish. I don't think it is possible in those languages, unless for some special reasons -- I don't mean the word Luna here because it has a different gender in other languages -- masculine in Litthuanian and Polish. You could not call a woman Moon in those languages. I don't know how you would translate "sister Moon" into Lithuanian. Probably "sister Sun" or "brother Moon", which would really be ridiculous, sort of.
     

    e2-e4 X

    Senior Member
    Русский
    I agree with Hullalesar. I believe that a noun which is feminine in the singular, stays feminine in the plural, even if its gender is hidden. I think the plural might just have a unified gender, which does not mean there is no gender. It is different in Russian than in Polish, for example, because Polish has definite gender in the plural.
    I think, this is a question of how you'd like to look at the things... That is, when actively thinking of those matters and searching for associations. When just living and communicating, we do not pay attention to it... Apart from the fact that not in every case there is something to save, I mean grammatical gender.

    Besides, this is a matter of how we'd like to name things. Of course, social gender and grammatical gender may correlate, but they are to be called differently, because those are different things with different nature.
    Do you really believe that you could name a boy -- give him a nickname Luna?
    The example was there for a reason. I observed the case. :) Not in real life, it was in a light reading book, but still, in the book this looked very naturally. Another example — a man can be called a "губка", a sponge, if he is very sensitive...
     
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