Swedish: en man vs. ett barn

Moorland

Member
English - England
Grammar never having been my strong point I'm wondering why "a man" should be "en man" yet a child is "ett barn" as this doesn't happen in English. Are there any more similar examples ?
 
  • myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Are you talking about grammatical gender perhaps?

    Every noun in languages with grammatical gender belongs to a noun class which dictates the shape of surrounding words such as articles and adjectives. In Swedish there are two grammatical genders, common gender and neuter gender.

    "My man" - min man - the form min goes with nouns that are common gender.
    "My child" - mitt barn - the form mitt goes with nouns that are neuter gender.

    That is also what you see in the alternation between en/ett. The grammatical gender of a given noun is unfortunately something you have to memorise.
     

    Moorland

    Member
    English - England
    Never heard of common, neuter and gender before. What are the English equivalents the only recognisable word being gender - male or female so presumably this could apply to anything say a tree ? :) Although you can say "The car's been playing up a bit lately so she probably needs a good service".
     

    Moorland

    Member
    English - England
    Interesting what was the original reason for having two genders as it sounds as though the word gender means something completely different in Swedish ? For the same reason was it difficult to understand English....?

    Either way it sounds like a hell of lot of guesswork for non Swedish speakers :)
     

    Svenke

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    The gender system originates in Proto-Indo-European, several thousand years ago. Most European languages stem from that language (except for Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish, Basque and a few others).
    The old system had three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. All nouns belonged to one of them: words for males were mostly masculine (but so were many others), words for females were mostly feminine (but so were many others), and the rest were neuter.
    English is one of very few modern Indo-European languages that have merged all three genders into one (and therefore has no gender system left).
    In Swedish and Danish, masculine and feminine have merged into common gender, so there are two: common and neuter.
    Icelandic and most varieties of Norwegian have kept all three genders, and so has German.
    French and Spanish, for instance, have masculine and feminine, but no neuter anymore.

    Yes, learning languages with gender takes some effort. But it's not in principle very different from having to learn that, in English, most verbs have -ed in the past (ruled, asked, hinted), but then there are a good deal that don't: dig-dug, write-wrote, keep-kept, catch-caught, bring-brought, go-went and so on.
     

    Moorland

    Member
    English - England
    Very interesting never knew any of this before. I used to speak French which might help so could you give an example or two thanks ?
     

    Moorland

    Member
    English - England
    Only speaking it when on annual holiday over the years and as grammar's never been my strong point and English doesn't have gender anyway....
     

    Moorland

    Member
    English - England
    Thanks. But really weird why anyone would ever need or want to do it in the first place ? Like saying a male man, a female woman, a male horse and a female cow and a male point and a female car....:confused:
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Thanks. But really weird why anyone would ever need or want to do it in the first place ? Like saying a male man, a female woman, a male horse and a female cow and a male point and a female car....:confused:
    How can anybody know why? There are languages where this exist, there are those where it doesn't. There are languages that do have grammatical genders but the articles are still only determined phonetically and say nothing about the gender. I am not even going to tell you why I believe that three grammatical genderds existed in all Germanic languages or why one or two of them went down the drain. That wouldn't change the end result - that they still exist.
     

    Moorland

    Member
    English - England
    I don't doubt it for one minute but it explains things a hell of a sight better from an English point of view.
     

    myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    There are languages that do have grammatical genders but the articles are still only determined phonetically and say nothing about the gender.
    What do you mean by "determined phonetically"? And which languages did you have in mind?
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    What do you mean by "determined phonetically"? And which languages did you have in mind?
    One example is Maltese

    ir-ragel - the man
    il-mara - the woman
    it-tifla - the girl
    it-tifel - the boy/child

    As you see, the article has nothing to do with the gender - it just has to work phonetically with the noun. However, when you add adjectives or use third person verbs you'll see that the gender still is of importance. It wouldn't surprise me if it were similar in other Semitic languages. And there are so many languages in this world so there are probably other ways to handle it than I could imagine.
     

    myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    One example is Maltese

    ir-ragel - the man
    il-mara - the woman
    it-tifla - the girl
    it-tifel - the boy/child

    As you see, the article has nothing to do with the gender - it just has to work phonetically with the noun. However, when you add adjectives or use third person verbs you'll see that the gender still is of importance. It wouldn't surprise me if it were similar in other Semitic languages. And there are so many languages in this world so there are probably other ways to handle it than I could imagine.
    I don't like to be nitpicking but this is perhaps best described as phonological and not phonetic. That being said, given that morphemes expressing definiteness are highly likely to cliticise to the noun*, they easily lose their syntactic independency and are thus not good diagnostics for grammatical gender. In other words, articles don't have to say anything about grammatical gender a priori. They are not even found in every language.


    *Based on my rough count of languages located in Europe where this has happened.
     
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