What are genders good for?

Penyafort

Senior Member
Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
I'm quite sure that the Sun would be seen as a Man and the Moon as a Woman by 99% of the speakers of the Romance languages. Whether this is due to the gender in grammar or to other cultural factors, I can't say.

In Spanish, the Sun is sometimes called Lorenzo (¡Cómo pica hoy el Lorenzo! - Lawrence is really burning today!) and the Moon is Catalina (Catherine), probably due to an old folk song from Asturias: El sol se llama Lorenzo y la luna, Catalina. Catalina anda de noche y Lorenzo anda de día. (The Sun's name is Lorenzo, the Moon's name is Catalina. Catalina walks at night. Lorenzo, during the day)
 
  • berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I'm quite sure that the Sun would be seen as a Man and the Moon as a Woman by 99% of the speakers of the Romance languages. Whether this is due to the gender in grammar or to other cultural factors, I can't say.
    Studies show that grammatical gender and gender specific properties attributed to an object do interact. How precisely probably depends on the word. The classical surmise why the sun is masculine is and the mood feminine in Romance and the other way round in Germanic is because of the climate in the regions where those languages are native. In the South, the stinging heat of the day is "hard" (i.e. masculine) and the refreshing cold of the night is "soft" (i.e. feminine). In the North the biting cold of the night is "hard" and the soothing warmth of the day is "soft".
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    In the South, the stinging heat of the day is "hard" (i.e. masculine) and the refreshing cold of the night is "soft" (i.e. feminine). In the North the biting cold of the night is "hard" and the soothing warmth of the day is "soft".
    In Tiwi (Northern Australia, two sex based genders) we have:
    moon = japarra · kurrani · wurlini (all masculine)
    sun = yiminga · warnarringa · pukwiyi · pukwiyi (all feminine)
    English - Tiwi

    In Northern Australia climate is very hot. :D
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    In Tiwi (Northern Australia, two sex based genders) we have:
    moon = japarra · kurrani · wurlini (all masculine)
    sun = yiminga · warnarringa · pukwiyi · pukwiyi (all feminine)
    English - Tiwi

    In Northern Australia climate is very hot. :D
    Tiwi assigns different properties to the genders, not hard and soft. Masculine is associated with thin, austere and small and feminine with with wide, opulent and large.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Studies show that grammatical gender and gender specific properties attributed to an object do interact. How precisely probably depends on the word. The classical surmise why the sun is masculine is and the mood feminine in Romance and the other way round in Germanic is because of the climate in the regions where those languages are native. In the South, the stinging heat of the day is "hard" (i.e. masculine) and the refreshing cold of the night is "soft" (i.e. feminine). In the North the biting cold of the night is "hard" and the soothing warmth of the day is "soft".
    I have a hard time believing this, but it's possible, I guess.
     

    iezik

    Senior Member
    Slovenian
    So, you can hear the following: "De koe staat in de weide. Hij is nog niet gemolken"
    Peter, is this also present in writing? Wikipedia writes about cows "Zij trekt het gras met de tong". I suppose that at least formal writing styles use zij for feminine nouns.
     

    Peterdg

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    So natural gender is applied only to people, isn't it? For example jongetje (n.) is hji while meisje (n.) is zij, isn't it?
    Yes.
    While for inanimated objects and animals grammatical genderis applied, is it right?
    I don't quite understand what you mean here.
    Peter, is this also present in writing? Wikipedia writes about cows "Zij trekt het gras met de tong". I suppose that at least formal writing styles use zij for feminine nouns.
    For obvious words like "koe" ("cow"), they will probably use it correctly in formal writing. For other words, like e.g. "tafel" (which is feminine) ("table" in English), it may vary: age and education level are important factors there.
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Studies show that grammatical gender and gender specific properties attributed to an object do interact ...
    Well, this is not illogical, even somewhat probable in my opinion (perhaps due to the intrinsic indeterministic character of the Universe we live in ...), but only to a certain probabilistically determined/limited degree.

    The Spanish masculine gender of sol and the feminine gender of luna can be simply explained by the fact that these words are inherited from Latin, including their gender. The "names" as Lorenzo and Catalina (post #151 of Penyafort) are rather consequences or independent attributes on the grammatical gender of these nouns. Of course, this does not explain why sol was masculine and luna feminine in Latin, however I have a strong feeling that the gender of these Latin words is rather the consequence of the evolution/grammaticalization of the IE word/noun endings than the result of some kind of "emotional" decision of the Latin speaking people ...

    P.S. A propos in the Slavic languages moon is typically masculine and sun is neuter ...
     
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    apmoy70

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Studies show that grammatical gender and gender specific properties attributed to an object do interact. How precisely probably depends on the word. The classical surmise why the sun is masculine is and the mood feminine in Romance and the other way round in Germanic is because of the climate in the regions where those languages are native. In the South, the stinging heat of the day is "hard" (i.e. masculine) and the refreshing cold of the night is "soft" (i.e. feminine). In the North the biting cold of the night is "hard" and the soothing warmth of the day is "soft".
    Indeed, in Greek the intense mediterranean summer heat is described by the masc. «καύσων» kaú̯sōn > MoGr masc. «καύσωνας» [ˈkafsonas] (< Classical v. «καίω» kaí̯ō --> to kindle, set on fire, burn possibly from PIE *keh₂u- to burn and with possible cognate the Lith. kūlës, firewood) while the night cooling breeze by the fem. «δροσία» drŏsíā > MoGr fem. «δροσιά» [ðroˈs͡ça] with synizesis (< Classical fem. «δρόσος» drósŏs --> dew probably of Pre-Greek substrate).
    Also the sun is masculine «ἥλιος» hḗliŏs > MoGr «ήλιος» [ˈiʎos] (masc.) while the moon is feminine «σελήνη» sĕlḗnē > MoGr «σελήνη» [seˈlini] (fem.).
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Wikilengua (in article Género gramatical) tells us that Spanish has strictly speaking two or three genders, but the denominations género común and género ambiguo are also used. It's also possible for Spanish to use just two or three genders.
    As you said in the other post, it depends on how you define gender. If it is a class of nouns and not anything else, then there can only be two genders in Spanish. Oddities like a very few words being both masculine and feminine do not change that as there are still only two classes. In that respect words like dentista do not really count anyway as you can argue that, just like abogado (m) and abogada (f), dentista (m) and dentista (f) are two different nouns - they just happen to have the same form because the masculine ends in "a". Similarly the fact that in Italian a few words change gender in the plural does not alter the fact that there are only two classes.
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    If we say that a language has grammatical gender if it has two or more classes of nouns which involve making changes in other words in the sentence associated with the noun, then Spanish only has two genders. Only nouns have gender. Adjectives do not have gender, they just (in some cases in Spanish) change their form according to the gender of the noun they qualify. Ello, eso and aquello do not refer to any noun in particular - they lack gender rather than being neuter gender. Lo when it can be translated by the is also best thought of as being neither masculine nor feminine rather than neuter. To say that Spanish has a neuter gender, even if you say it is vestigial or residual, is to describe it in terms of its history rather than as it now is.
    When speaking of common gender (in Swedish), which is a merger of masculine and feminine, the Latin term is "utrum" ("both") as opposed to "neutrum".
    "Neuter" etymologically means "none of the two", so "neuter" IS "neither feminine nor masculine". To put it plainly, what you are affirming is: "it is best thought of as being neuter rather than neuter".
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    When speaking of common gender (in Swedish), which is a merger of masculine and feminine, the Latin term is "utrum" ("both") as opposed to "neutrum".
    "Neuter" etymologically means "none of the two", so "neuter" IS "neither feminine nor masculine". To put it plainly, what you are affirming is: "it is best thought of as being neuter rather than neuter".
    Are you familiar with the term etymological fallacy?
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    The classical surmise why the sun is masculine is and the mood feminine in Romance and the other way round in Germanic is because of the climate in the regions where those languages are native. In the South, the stinging heat of the day is "hard" (i.e. masculine) and the refreshing cold of the night is "soft" (i.e. feminine). In the North the biting cold of the night is "hard" and the soothing warmth of the day is "soft".
    In Arabic (which has always be spoken in very hot countries) "sun" (shams) is feminine and "moon" (qamar) is masculine.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Don't see why this should apply to our case.
    You committed it here:
    To put it plainly, what you are affirming is: "it is best thought of as being neuter rather than neuter".
    The etymology of neuter is the etymology of neuter and the meaning of neuter is the meaning of neuter, different things.

    If a word being ungendered or being neuter are different things, independently of where the word neuter might come from.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings everyone

    Forgive me for going off at a tangent here. Clearly in a vast majority of languages nouns are classified as masculine, feminine and neuter, with the variation that some have no neuter, others classify masc. and fem. together as "common", as distinct from neuter.

    But I know I have read somewhere—I think in a bookshop, on the flyleaf of a book about linguistics which I now of course wish I had bought and read—that there are languages (African? Native American? Polynesian?) which as well as these have genders relating to attributes as edibility, distance or "friendliness", no doubt other qualities too. Can anyone here offer any more details, please?

    Σ
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Clearly in a vast majority of languages nouns are classified as masculine, feminine and neuter
    Most languages have no genders and in some languages they are not based on sex, but on different levels of animacy (humans, animals, plants, abstract concepts and so on).
    Two maps:
    WALS Online - Feature 30A: Number of Genders
    WALS Online - Feature 31A: Sex-based and Non-sex-based Gender Systems
    ...in most Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic languages....
    :thumbsup:
     

    Angelo di fuoco

    Senior Member
    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    You committed it here:

    The etymology of neuter is the etymology of neuter and the meaning of neuter is the meaning of neuter, different things.

    If a word being ungendered or being neuter are different things, independently of where the word neuter might come from.
    For all I see, "grammatical gender" here equals to "noun class". Neuter is called "sächlich" in your native German (everything that does not have masculine or feminine traits is considered a "thing") and "средний род" (middle gender) in my native Russian (neither masculine nor feminine, just in-between). "Neuter" just means "none of the two". I don't perceive any difference between etymology and meaning in this case.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I don't perceive any difference between etymology and meaning in this case.
    Having no gender (=belonging to no noun class) and having neuter gender (=belonging to the noun class neuter) are different things. And that is completely independent of the etymology of the word neuter. And that is what @Hulalessar talked about and of which you, wrongly, said it meant the same with reference to the etymology of the word neuter.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    For all I see, "grammatical gender" here equals to "noun class".
    Agreed. The problem is the labelling. If masculine, feminine and neuter were referred to as classes I, II and III respectively, then instead of saying "Lo when it can be translated by the is also best thought of as being neither masculine nor feminine rather than neuter" I would have said "Lo when it can be translated by the is also best thought of as being neither class I nor class II rather than class III".
     

    eno2

    Senior Member
    Dutch-Flemish
    I'm quite sure that the Sun would be seen as a Man and the Moon as a Woman by 99% of the speakers of the Romance languages. Whether this is due to the gender in grammar or to other cultural factors, I can't say.

    In Spanish, the Sun is sometimes called Lorenzo (¡Cómo pica hoy el Lorenzo! - Lawrence is really burning today!) and the Moon is Catalina (Catherine), probably due to an old folk song from Asturias: El sol se llama Lorenzo y la luna, Catalina. Catalina anda de noche y Lorenzo anda de día. (The Sun's name is Lorenzo, the Moon's name is Catalina. Catalina walks at night. Lorenzo, during the day)
    Thank you for the explanation of 'La Catalina' which I knew from the habit of a friend of mine - in Canarias- using it, instead of 'moon'.
    De zon (el sol) en Dutch is masculine and feminine. I use it as feminine.
     

    Swatters

    Member
    French - Belgium, some Wallo-Picard
    I'm taking advantage of this thread being bumped to react to a page 2 post.

    Here is a story I heard recently which can show just how important gender can be for the people speaking a language with genders. The German Volkswagen car Der Wagen (m) was given the nickname Der Käfer (m) in German (literally Beetle) because of its shape but also this is gender appropriate for German because both of these nouns are masculine. It works. Beetle also works in English because there is no gender at all. However, there is a big problem when translating this into French. Car, La voiture, is feminine. In French all car brands and words describing cars, such as adjectives, must be feminine. So they say La Volkswagen. But beetle in French is masculine, Le scarabée, so cannot be applied to cars. It just doesn't sound right in this language. Therefore, the problem was solved by taking the name of another insect, La Coccinelle, (Ladybug) which is indeed feminine and can be applied to a car to give the correct grammatical feel. The whole cultural image became different. When the French think of this car they think of ladybugs not beetles.
    This wouldn't have been the issue you imagine it would, car model names get f. agreement even if they're inspired by a masculine noun (or happen to be homophonous with one, like the VW Polo or Golf -la polo, la golf-) : une Jaguar, but un jaguar, une Enzo, une Berlingo (le berlingo), etc. If they had decided to name the Beetle "Scarabée", we'd have spoken of "la Scarabée" without a hitch.

    Where this story might have more legs, is that the commercial people of VW probably choose coccinelle over scarabée because of the positive associations of this type of beetle compared to scarabs. And that's obliquely related to gender since coccinelle et scarabée are part of a pattern where similar kinds of animals get separated into two vernacular categories, the smaller and cuter one with a f. name and the more imposing or uglier one with a m. one, like la grenouille and le crapaud, la souris and le rat, la corneille and le corbeau.
     
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