LINGUIST List 14.3515

Thu Dec 18 2003

Disc: Re: Grammatical Gender

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Karen Davis, Grammatical Gender

Message 1: Grammatical Gender

Date: Mon, 15 Dec 2003 17:13:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Karen Davis <>
Subject: Grammatical Gender

As a note to the recent discussion about grammatical gender, I submit
the following, which was published in the Ukrainian magazine ''Viys'ko
Ukrayini'' in the 1-2 1998 issue. The article was about a visit some
mothers of Ukrainian peacekeepers were allowed to make to Kosovo for
Christmas. After quoting one mother's concerns for her child, the
author continued: During this short interview, the ''child'', who was
taller by a head than his mother -- private Maksym Nosov, a sniper,
shifted from foot to foot and said soothingly, ''Now, don't worry so,
Mom, they don't shoot at us here, everything's fine.''

The interesting thing about this is that, although the ''child'' is
clearly male, and a masculine verb is used for ''said soothingly'', in
the previous clause the relative pronoun, verb, and adjective (who was
taller] are all feminine, to agree in gender with the noun ''child'',
which is feminine in Ukrainian.

Obviously, if the author can not only use feminine forms to refer to a
male person, but switch within a single sentence, for him (and likely
his readers) the device of grammatical gender is precisely that, and
not a reflection of the natural world at all.

-Karen Davis
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