LINGUIST List 14.3513

Thu Dec 18 2003

Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Joseph F Foster, Re: 14.3450, Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Message 1: Re: 14.3450, Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Date: Fri, 12 Dec 2003 08:26:42 -0500
From: Joseph F Foster <Joseph.FosterUC.Edu>
Subject: Re: 14.3450, Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Morning you all,

Thanks to Professor Hellinger for the reference below. I for one
would have missed it otherwise and I will check it out.

However, I do have one difficulty. The work is entitled Gender across

But then it is subtitled: 
The linguistic representation of women and men

Sorry folks. Gender has nothing in principle, and often in practice,
to do with sex. In some languages that have gender, there is a partial
or even near total predictability of gender assignment on the basis of
sex. In some such languages this is unidirectional only -- French and
Welsh are two examples -- almost all nouns that refer clearly to males
are in one gender but there are many nouns in that gender that refer
to things that dont have sex. In some others it is almost completely
bidirectional -- English is a good example. Excepting ships and things
like that, all English nouns that refer to males get pronoun he, to
females pronoun she, and to asexual objects pronoun it.

But folks -- there are many languages that have gender in which sex is
simply not a relevant parameter. Some languages of the Caucasus have
on the order of 6 or 8 genders and only two of them are "masculine"
and "feminine". A number of Bantu languages have on the order of a
dozen genders, and as far as I am aware --none of them are
"masculine" or "feminine"

Gender is simply not about "the linguistic representation of women and
men". Or of men and women. It may envolve that in some languages, but
need not. They are analytically distinct. And of course there are many
languages that simply do not have gender. Turkish and Japanese come to
mind. And I speak both of them and I know that they have no trouble
"representing women and men".

Gender can certainly get envolved with "representation of women and
men" but it need not and that's not what gender is or is about.

Since the early 1990s, the standard work on Gender has been the
	Corbett, Greville. (1991) Gender. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press.

If you want to know about gender, start with that. It's not perfect
but then nothing manmade is. I would have been proud to have written
it. And if you want to see gender working in a language -- look at,
say Zulu, or Swahili, or the like.

But again, thanks for the reference, I'm sure there will be
interesting and insightful material there.

-Joe Foster

Associate Professor of Anthropology
U of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA 45221-0380
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