LINGUIST List 14.3341

Thu Dec 4 2003

Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Joseph F Foster, Re: 14.3280, Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Message 1: Re: 14.3280, Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2003 19:34:35 -0500
From: Joseph F Foster <>
Subject: Re: 14.3280, Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Folks, I think we're making this too hard. There's no publication here.
Gender is simply from Latin via middle French and is one form in the 
*gen -- series that means 'kind, birth, race/species/

It shows up in the e-grade ablaut series as Latin gen-us from which we
get genus, genera, generate, en-gender, .......

In the IE o-grade ablaut series we have, gon-ad, gonorrhea,

and in the zero grade, pre-gn- ant, co-gn-ate....

Since IE *g shows up as Germanic k, we find cognates as

e-grade kin, kind, .

Soooo, the absolute value / root and original meaning of gender had 
little or nothing to do with sex sui generis.

In many languages, gender has very little or nothing to do with sex.
In the Bantu languages there are on the order of a dozen genders and
none of em so far as I know are "masculine / feminine".

But in Latin, most nouns ending in -a are in the 1st declension and
that includes a lot of girls' names Anna, Dianna, Maria, ...... A
good many men's names ending in -us are o-stem nouns and in the second
declension. So it made a certain amount of sense that those came to
be though of as "feminine" and "masculine" classes of nouns,
respectively. The same, with details differeing, is largely true of
Russian and a number of other Indoeuropean groups. But the tying of
the word gender to sex is mostly a result of relatively modern
developments among people who didnt know much about language,
especially other languages with gender systems besides European.

So folks, there's no "there" there. This line of discussion does not
seem to me likely to turn up any great insights. And there's no
"bias" among real linguists -- gender doesnt refer to sex. Gender is
simply the division of nouns in a language into two or more groups
such that the choice of a noun from one or another of the groups, all
other variables held constant, effects an alternation in linguistic
form of something else in the sentence or nearby sentences.

I.e. if there aint no agreement of some kind or another exclusive of
things like case or number, there aint no gender.

Joseph F Foster
Assoc. Professor of Anthropology
U of Cincinnati, Ohio
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