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macaroniandcheese 
Suspended Member (Idle past 1902 days)
Posts: 4258
Joined: 05-24-2004


Message 1 of 41 (198925)
04-13-2005 10:07 AM


gendered language
this is a short-lived little topic regarding the origin of gender in languages. i know it's a pain to bring this old topic back up, but it's interesting.

i emailed a professor at oxford since the internet and my myriad books (restricted to french) proved useless in uncovering where gendered words came from.

his answer? gender was assigned to onjects in latin and this held over after its usefulness had passed. words in derivitive romance languages do not reflect any specific idea of gencer as related to objects (books are not male, cars are not female) and seem to not in latin either. in fact, the same word may take different genders depending on tense. here's the actual email.

Your question is an excellent one, and one that I have asked myself often. But there just isn't a really satisfying answer beyond the fact that it's a matter of historical inheritance from Latin. In remote linguistic history, before Latin existed, and in its ancestor language, there was a semantically-based distinction between animate and inanimate (or 'neuter'). Later on, 'animate' acquired a distinction between male and female, again originally motivated by the 'sex' of the referent. But this system rapidly became 'grammaticalized' or 'lexicalized' (in the sense that the gender of a word is largely a matter of convention). In Latin - a free word order language - gender agreement between nouns and adjectives or pronouns may have helped to 'keep track' of the relations between words even if they were not adjacent to each other. But the more rigid word order of Romance makes this less advantageous. Romance languages could do without gender, but it's a matter of historical inheritance. Some, indeed, behave very strangely in this respect: in Romanian for example thousands of words are masculine in the singular but feminine in the plural! In some languages (e.g., Italian) differences of gender are also correlated with such things as 'size' (where, surprisingly, feminines are larger than masculines), and so forth. I could go on ad nauseam, but if you want to know
more let me know.

This message has been edited by brennakimi, 04-13-2005 09:08 AM


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contracycle
Inactive Member


Message 2 of 41 (198934)
04-13-2005 10:55 AM


Sounds implausible to me, I'm afraid. I seemed to recall this was a feature of Indo-European languages.

Wikipedia provides:

quote:
Grammatical gender
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

In linguistics, grammatical genders, also called noun classes, are classes of nouns reflected in the behavior of associated words; every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be very few which belong to several classes at once (Hockett 1958: 231).

Some languages have only one noun class, and treat all nouns in the same way grammatically. Most Indo-European languages have one to three noun classes, which are traditionally called grammatical genders rather than noun classes. Some Caucasian languages have four to eight, and most Bantu languages have ten to twenty noun classes. If one agrees that classifiers such as measure words also express noun class, then some Sino-Tibetan languages have even more.

Common criteria for distinguishing noun classes include:

* animate vs. inanimate (e.g. Ojibwe)
* rational vs. non-rational (e.g. Tamil)
* human vs. non-human
* male vs. other
* male human vs. other
* masculine vs. feminine (e.g. French)
* masculine vs. feminine vs. neuter (e.g. Latin, German)
* strong vs. weak
* augmentative vs. diminutive

In general, the boundaries of noun classes are rather arbitrary, although there are rules of thumb in many languages. The Algonquian languages have animate and inanimate noun classes, for example, and most Indo-European languages distinguish feminine, masculine and sometimes neuter noun classes. In many other languages, however, masculine and feminine are subsumed in the category of person, either generally, or only in the plural, as in the North Caucasian languages and some Dravidian languages.


Maybe there's a role for us proles in the juries yet, eh?

This message has been edited by contracycle, 04-13-2005 09:57 AM


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Chiroptera
Member
Posts: 6531
From: Oklahoma
Joined: 09-28-2003
Member Rating: 3.6


Message 3 of 41 (198942)
04-13-2005 11:19 AM
Reply to: Message 2 by contracycle
04-13-2005 10:55 AM


I was used to thinking that "genders" in the Indo-European languages really had to have something to do with social gender roles. When I learned Swahili, I realized that its 7 noun classes were functionally exactly the same as "gender" but were completely divorced from social gender roles. That sort of led to some insight into my own language.
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jar
Member
Posts: 30934
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 1.3


Message 4 of 41 (198978)
04-13-2005 2:12 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Chiroptera
04-13-2005 11:19 AM


Why in Latin the terms Cat house and House cat are interchangeable. ;)


Aslan is not a Tame Lion
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arachnophilia
Member
Posts: 9069
From: god's waiting room
Joined: 05-21-2004


Message 5 of 41 (199062)
04-13-2005 7:56 PM
Reply to: Message 2 by contracycle
04-13-2005 10:55 AM


Sounds implausible to me, I'm afraid. I seemed to recall this was a feature of Indo-European languages.

not to make an argument of authority, but you do realize you're debating the answer given by a oxford professor of french, right?

and citing wikipedia to refute it.


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Monk
Member (Idle past 1899 days)
Posts: 782
From: Kansas, USA
Joined: 02-25-2005


Message 6 of 41 (199065)
04-13-2005 8:15 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by macaroniandcheese
04-13-2005 10:07 AM


Re: gendered language
quote:
i know it's a pain to bring this old topic back up, but it's interesting.

It is interesting and is something I was only vaguely aware of because English is my first and only language. Thanks for bringing it up.


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arachnophilia
Member
Posts: 9069
From: god's waiting room
Joined: 05-21-2004


Message 7 of 41 (199071)
04-13-2005 8:29 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by Monk
04-13-2005 8:15 PM


Re: gendered language
it's only a pain because of the older topics, which both got closed, and got two members suspended... i'm sure it's bound to fire up again any second now.
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contracycle
Inactive Member


Message 8 of 41 (200063)
04-18-2005 9:13 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by arachnophilia
04-13-2005 7:56 PM


quote:

not to make an argument of authority, but you do realize you're debating the answer given by a oxford professor of french, right?

Sure. But in this case, the professor is wrong. It happens. Thats why appeals to authority are unreliable.


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arachnophilia
Member
Posts: 9069
From: god's waiting room
Joined: 05-21-2004


Message 9 of 41 (200202)
04-18-2005 6:29 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by contracycle
04-18-2005 9:13 AM


wikipedia, vs oxford professor.
This message is a reply to:
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contracycle
Inactive Member


Message 10 of 41 (200305)
04-19-2005 6:28 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by arachnophilia
04-18-2005 6:29 PM


quote:
wikipedia, vs oxford professor.

Embarrasing, isn't it?

Moral of the story: get out of the ivory tower. Facts count, sinecure does not.


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arachnophilia
Member
Posts: 9069
From: god's waiting room
Joined: 05-21-2004


Message 11 of 41 (200457)
04-19-2005 5:26 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by contracycle
04-19-2005 6:28 AM


tell me, how many of these deal specifically with french?

quote:
Charles F. Hockett, A Course in Modern Linguistics, Macmillan, 1958
Greville G. Corbett, Gender, Cambridge University Press, 1991 - A comprehensive study; looks at 200 languages.
Pinker, Steven, The Language Instinct, William Morrow and Company, 1994
Meissner, Antje & Anne Storch (eds.) (2000) Nominal classification in African languages, Institut fr Afrikanische Sprachwissenschaften, Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universitt, Frankfurt am Main. Kln: Rdiger Kppe Verlag. ISBN 3-89645-014-X.

is that... ? wow! none of them! now, do you think these sources are more or less credible regarding french than some who's made their career teaching and studying french specifically, at possibly THE most prestigous university in the world?

let's look at HOW stuff gets in wikipedia. this is a good thing to remember.

quote:
Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by people from all around the world. The site is a wiki, which means that anyone can edit articles, simply by clicking on the edit this page link. It runs on MediaWiki software

wanna watch me make the site say something different? how credible as a journal is something if anyone can make changes to it? how do i know you didn't do that just to prove your point above? i don't, and i can't.


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contracycle
Inactive Member


Message 12 of 41 (200635)
04-20-2005 5:02 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by arachnophilia
04-19-2005 5:26 PM


quote:

is that... ? wow! none of them! now, do you think these sources are more or less credible regarding french than some who's made their career teaching and studying french specifically, at possibly THE most prestigous university in the world?

the question was not about French - it was about the existance of gendered nouns.

Look, I don not understand what your issue is, nor why Shrafinataor frex is making snide remarks about Wikipedia. If you find it that much more convincing, I will call over to my freindly neighbourhood linguist*, Joe, with whom I shared a house for 4 years, and have him confirm to me again that Indo-European languages had gendered words that vastly preceeded the existance of Latin, let alone French.

Nobody has challenged the substance of the Wikipedia article, I note. Are you all speaking from ignorance or what? Sanskrit has gendered words - that is simply a fact. You could look it up yourself, you know.

The professor was mistaken. Deal with it, and quit the unqalified worship of Academia, as it appears that your opposition is purely based upon the fact that I relied on my own knowledge and was not intimidated by the letters behind the name of Brenna's friend.

* Also Oxford trained, for your information.

This message has been edited by contracycle, 04-20-2005 04:05 AM


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Chiroptera
Member
Posts: 6531
From: Oklahoma
Joined: 09-28-2003
Member Rating: 3.6


Message 13 of 41 (200683)
04-20-2005 11:29 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by arachnophilia
04-19-2005 5:26 PM


All of the Indo-European languages either have gendered nouns or are descended from earlier, attested languages that have gendered nouns. This includes languages that not only were not descended from Latin, but had no contact with Latin during their early formation. Sorry, but it is a fact that gendered nouns go way, way back in the history of the Indo-European languages -- probably all the way back to Proto-Indo-European itself.

Edited to add:
I just reread the OP. It appears that the question is why there are genders in the French language specifically. In that case, the reply that they serve no real purpose, but are holdovers in the ancestral Latin language is correct and appropriate. In fact, the professor of French does point out that gender arose before Latin.

My apologies.

Now, back to the regularly schedule off-topic: the relative merits of an Oxford professor vs. Wikipedia.

This message has been edited by Chiroptera, 04-20-2005 10:48 AM


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arachnophilia
Member
Posts: 9069
From: god's waiting room
Joined: 05-21-2004


Message 14 of 41 (200748)
04-20-2005 6:55 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by contracycle
04-20-2005 5:02 AM


the question was not about French - it was about the existance of gendered nouns.

actually, the question that spawned this thread was regarding french in specific, and above it was generalized to romance languages. the question was where gendered nouns came from in french, and the answer was that it was a holdover from latin, and not applied in a way that makes a statement about the social gender-role of the object.

the wikipedia article does not refute that.

If you find it that much more convincing, I will call over to my freindly neighbourhood linguist*, Joe, with whom I shared a house for 4 years, and have him confirm to me again that Indo-European languages had gendered words that vastly preceeded the existance of Latin, let alone French.

* Also Oxford trained, for your information.

hi, welcome to the thread. that was point, and the gist of the above quote. can we drop this now?

Nobody has challenged the substance of the Wikipedia article, I note. Are you all speaking from ignorance or what? Sanskrit has gendered words - that is simply a fact. You could look it up yourself, you know.

yes, and we were asking about romance languages in particular, as an example. if you want, we'll talk about sanskrit. i know A LOT of languages have gendered nouns. some even have gendered verbs. heck, thai even has gendered DIALECTS. women and men speak slightly differently. the question was "why?" not "does it happen?"

The professor was mistaken.

*cough* evidence, please.

Deal with it, and quit the unqalified worship of Academia, as it appears that your opposition is purely based upon the fact that I relied on my own knowledge and was not intimidated by the letters behind the name of Brenna's friend.

oh, the irony.


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arachnophilia
Member
Posts: 9069
From: god's waiting room
Joined: 05-21-2004


Message 15 of 41 (200750)
04-20-2005 6:56 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Chiroptera
04-20-2005 11:29 AM


I just reread the OP. It appears that the question is why there are genders in the French language specifically. In that case, the reply that they serve no real purpose, but are holdovers in the ancestral Latin language is correct and appropriate. In fact, the professor of French does point out that gender arose before Latin.

EXACTLY. i don't know what the big deal is here.


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