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  1. #11
    Frank Antonson's Avatar
    Frank Antonson is offline Senior Member
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    "Is it necessary to keep linguistic gender?

    I. Let's see what an Aristotelian deduction would look like considering the already given information in the post:

    · Major Premise: Anything void of actual (sensible or cognitive) information is not contributive to perception and can be eliminated.
    · Minor Premise: Linguistic gender is void of actual information.
    · Logical Conclusion: Linguistic gender is not contributive to perception and can be eliminated."

    I guess that I don't completely accept either of your premises. Linguistic gender is certainly contributive within the personal pronouns in English. And in other languages the contribution that gender makes to agreement serves to clarify meanings. I think it is one of the reasons that word order is not so important in Latin.

    Could the decline of gender be related to the increased importance of word order?

    Is there some historical linguist out there who can contribute to solving this mystery?



  2. #12
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    Mind you, the rise of they as an non-gender specific pronoun suggests that things are afoot there.

  3. #13
    Frank Antonson's Avatar
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    Yes, Tidol.

    Isn't that interesting that gender is present in the singular but not the plural -- unlike Spanish or French etc. ?

    And within my lifetime I have noticed that "they" has begun to take the place of "he or she" when the gender is not known -- this as opposed to using the masculine singular. At the moment I can't think of an example, but I probably will.

    At a personal level, I would like to add that when I, a native English speaker, became fluent in Portuguese, I found the more prevalent occurrence of gender very satisfying.

    Another example of what I am trying to say about that satisfaction occurred when I found that in Portuguese there was a second person plural pronoun. I regard it as a flaw in English that there doesn't exist a word like we use here in Pennsylvania as part of what is deemed substandard English -- "you'uns" or "yuns" (spell it however you want) -- and in the South of the USA "yall" (presumably a contraction of "you all"), In standard English the plural has to be achieved periphrastically as in "you guys" or "all of you". There is even a second person plural possessive form -- "you'unziz"!

    I honestly wonder if English has not lost something with the decay of gender. I guess THAT is what I most would like to know. Does gender show the record of an older relationship with the world?

    Here I am just speculating, but surely there are some linguists who have made this kind of question their life's work.

  4. #14
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    chester_100 is offline Member
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    I guess that I don't completely accept either of your premises. Linguistic gender is certainly contributive within the personal pronouns in English. And in other languages the contribution that gender makes to agreement serves to clarify meanings.

    Now, let's make another subdivision:

    1. Gender for inanimate objects or abstract concepts:
    2. Gender for animate creatures including human beings and animals: my premises don't include this category.

    I was not talking about personal pronouns. This is a different feature. When I say 'ACTUAL INFORMATION' I'm not talking about grammar whatsoever. I mean something that can be true materially in the world.
    As you can see, I wrote 'contributive to perception'. As another example, consider 'schmerz'; you find out that it's masculine, but what does this piece of information give us about the experience of 'pain'? So 'masculine' is just a label. Ignoring its functions in grammar, such a label can be removed without any loss of information.
    It even imposes some unnecessary 'information load' on grammar.

    Policy makers of Modern English must have been keenly wise. They knew how to remove complex things to make the language universal, encouraging (or forcing) all people around the world to learn it!
    So my premises are still correct.

    I think it is one of the reasons that word order is not so important in Latin.

    Could the decline of gender be related to the increased importance of word order?

    You mean there's some directional relation? Maybe!
    Word order in Polish isn't as important as it is in English, and gender is going so strong in that language.
    We don't have gender in Persian and Modern English, and word order is an important syntactic factor in the two languages.
    But, what does connect these two linguistic aspects?
    Our sample (including 4 languages) isn't comprehensive enough. It may turn out to be just an accident. Yet it's a perfect subject for research.

    /********/

    And, yes, I meant Freud.

    About predicting the gender in another language there are some conventions is German too - nouns that end in -e, -ung... .
    Apparently, gender for inanimate things is used only (?) in spoken English. For example, one may use 'she' to refer to a 'twister' when he speaks, but not when he writes?



    .
    C

  5. #15
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    I honestly wonder if English has not lost something with the decay of gender.
    I don't think it has. Not much at least. We have grammatical genders in Polish and I don't think it gives us anything. "Wall" is feminine in Polish. Why? Probably several people can tell. To us a wall is no more feminine than a carpet. But a carpet is grammatically masculine. Do we get any information from this fact? No, I don't and probably nobody I know does. Probably some linguists do. The only thing it means to us is how we should inflect words around it.

  6. #16
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    It can probably help clarify meanings of some unclear phrases but only accidentally. Let's say two words sound similarly and we're not sure which one's been said. But we know one is masculine and the other is neuter. Then, when we hear a masculine verb after it, we can easily tell what the word was. But I think it's clear that such a situation doesn't in any way convince that the grammatical gender is essential to language.

  7. #17
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    I think it is one of the reasons that word order is not so important in Latin.

    Could the decline of gender be related to the increased importance of word order?
    I don't think the decline of gender specifically but the decline of inflexion in general. I would agree with it. I think that's where languages go. They make their rules less difficult to understand and remember by giving up some flexibility and maybe the small number of sounds needed to produce a sentence.

    PS: I'll post it here, although it doesn't have much to do with the rest of this post.
    There are words in Polish that have not a specified gender. "Rodzynka" and "rodzynek" both mean raisin and there's not a slightest difference in meaning or usage. Some people use feminine form "rodzynka" and some use the masculine "rodzynek". Some, like me, use both and which one we pick at the moment depends on nothing special. Just what comes out...
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 05-Sep-2010 at 01:07.

  8. #18
    Abstract Idea is offline Key Member
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    Nouns ending in "-a" in the Romance languages are usually feminine, as I am sure that you know. But then certain nouns like "mapa" or "dia" or "ideia" break that pattern.
    Yes, that is certainly true in Portuguese. "O Mapa" and "o dia" are indeed exceptions to the rule, but "a ideia" is feminine in Portuguese, following the standard rule.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    I believe that virtually ALL nouns ending with "-ion" are feminine in French (and probably "-cion" in Spanish and "-ção" in Portuguese.) regardless of what they mean.
    Again regarding Portuguese, I can't think of an exception right now:
    "a atenção", "a marcação", "a exploração", "a veneração", "a extração".


    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    Here I am just speculating, but surely there are some linguists who have made this kind of question their life's work.
    You are more than speculating Frank Antonson, you are giving us important material to think about.
    Your questions and comments are indeed deep and important - thank you.

  9. #19
    Frank Antonson's Avatar
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    Sorry about "a ideia". But "o idiota" would be another example.

    Very clearly words continue to carry their gender along with them when they become part of another language that uses gender. That might explain the difference between "carpet" and "wall" in Polish. I don't know.

    But HOW and WHY did it start? Simplifying rules may seem to be a good thing, but I suspect that back when language was developing in humans there were not a lot of frills, embellishments, and unnecessary aspects. Probably there was something critical about gender for it to have had the selective advantage to develop and survive in the first place.

    This morning I picked up a little kitten that we have and I spontaneously sniffed it and said "Cheirousa!" the way I we used to in Brazil all the time with babies etc. I realized that I had put an "-a" on the end of the word because it was a little female. I had not said that in any conscious way, but after I had said it, I realized that if I had said "Cheirouso" (I am not sure that I am spelling this right) something would have been out of joint. Now, granted that the kitten is an animate entity, but I am still left wondering if English isn't missing something in only having available "Ah, sweet-smelling" whether it be a little female or male.

    Girls can be "pretty" but not usually "handsome" in English, and vice versa for boys. I use that to try to explain gender agreement to my students. It is a vestige, I think.

    I assume that the languages of primitive people had much smaller vocabularies than English, but I still find myself wondering if their grammar may not have been richer. I believe all linguists grant that there is no such thing as a "primitive language" -- at least not extant.

  10. #20
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: the mystery of gender

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    I assume that the languages of primitive people had much smaller vocabularies than English, but I still find myself wondering if their grammar may not have been richer.
    What do you mean by richer? I think they were more complicated. When I read about the grammar of Old Polish (which is known only to some extent) I I get to wonder how those people could use such a difficult language.

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