LINGUIST List 7.590

Sat Apr 20 1996

Disc: Grammatical Gender

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <dizdartam2000.tamu.edu>


Directory

  1. Stefan Kaufmann, Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender
  2. Alexis Manaster Ramer, Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender
  3. F.Heberleinku-eichstaett.d400.de, Gender
  4. Waruno Mahdi, Disc: Gramatical gender (7.578)
  5. Dan Moonhawk Alford, Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender
  6. Waruno Mahdi, Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender

Message 1: Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 1996 11:02:28 EDT
From: Stefan Kaufmann <kaufmansgusun.acc.georgetown.edu>
Subject: Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender
> Hartmut's example of Person (fem.), like my own of Individuum
> (neuter), are not exceptions to anything I have said, since
> they do not denote a subclass of human beings. Any human
> being can be a Person or an Individuum, but not everybody
> is an Ingenieur, for example. Compounds of Kind do not count

Hartmut's message was the best contribution to this whole discussion.
What does AMR say about an example like "Geisel" 'hostage'? In fact,
there are numerous grammatically feminine nouns that are often used to
refer to men, some of them, interestingly, quite flattering (e.g.
Persoenlichkeit, Koryphaee, Figur ("~ des oeffentlichen Lebens"...)).

> I am not sure who suggetsed that gender is arbitrary, but
> that is plainly untrue. 

I don't think so. Gender _is_ arbitrary. If you disagree, please let us 
know how you account for the distribution of gender among the names of 
plants, animals, and inanimate objects. All you can possibly say is that 
when referring to things that have sex (please don't get me wrong), 
there is a _tendency_ to use a particular grammatical gender for a 
particular natural sex.

A general note: Something that seems to be implicit in the rhetoric of
many PC-advocates, but hasn't been expressed yet, is the prediction
that in German-speaking countries, woman _are_ actually more
"suppressed" than in English-speaking countries. This prediction would
necessarily follow from the assumption that the grammar has a direct
influence on social reality. (Otherwise, why would you want to change
the grammar?) I sugget that you ask German women about this. My guess
is you'll be surprised. But please don't post your results to this
list. This is a _Linguist_ list.

SK
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Message 2: Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 1996 09:29:36 EDT
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender
There is a very serious confusion I detect in this discussion: the
fact that ships may be referred to as she in English isnot at all the
same kind of fact as the fact in a language like Russian or German or
French some nouns are feminine as opposed to masc. or neuter. In
English, it is NOT the noun _ship_ which is relevant, it is the
concept SHIP. It does not matter, as far as I can tell, whether the
noun has even been mentioned or thought of, or whether some other
noun, e.g., aircraft carrier has been used instead, you can still say
'she'.
 
On the other hand, in a language like Russian, it does matter which
noun is the antecedent. _avianosec_ 'aircraft carrier' is masculine
and will require coreferring pronouns to be masc., whereas _sudo_
'vessel' is neuter and will require neuter pronouns.
 
I believe that Whorf argued somewhere that in English the word _baby_
has grammatical gender in the sense that Russian or German have
gender, and I think this may pehaps be right, but I do not think that
this would be at all right in the case of _ship_.
 
There are two quite different phenomena involved here.
 
Also,about Russian words for 'child', the standard view is that the
sg. is rebenok and the pl. deti, and that this is synchronically an
example of suppletion. The poetic or archaic sg. ditja is
historically the sg. of deti, but that is not synchronically relevant
(and one could even argue that when it was the sg. of deti, that that
too was suppletion). And the historical pl. of rebenok, namely,
rebjata has become a distinct word with a distinct lexical meaning.
As to the gender of deti, there is a simple test. The question is how
do you say 'one of the children'. If it is _odin (masc.) iz detej_,
than deti is masc (like rebenok). If you say _odno (neu.) iz detej_,
then deti is neuter, unlike rebenok, and then the theory that deti is
the plural of rebenok might have to be reexamined (though not
necessarily abandoned). I don't know for sure what the answer is, and
will wait to hear what those who know Russian better say. But it is
clear that this is the (or at least, a) way of formulating the
question in a linguistically precise (and easily answerable) way.
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Message 3: Gender

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 1996 20:35:50 +0200
From: F.Heberleinku-eichstaett.d400.de <F.Heberleinku-eichstaett.d400.de>
Subject: Gender
- sSSV2gtMQuu1FSwubFsLydPLSjoUDlVo

(See enclosed)

- sSSV2gtMQuu1FSwubFsLydPLSjoUDlVo

Re: 7-582 (Sean M. Witty) 
There are some infelicities in your german examples, which seem 
to invalidate some of your conclusions: 
 1. gender and "harmony" 
The correct forms are 
(a) das Buch / ein Buch 
 der Bruder / ein Bruder 
 die Frau eine Frau 
I don t see where there should be a principle of "harmony". 
(b) Das ist Maria / Apollonius / das Weibchen, not "sie", "er", 
"es". the anaphoric pronouns are applicable iff the anaphoric 
relation operates across sentence boundaries: Das Weib tanzt. 
Es ist betrunken. But you can also find: Das Weib tanzt. *Sie* 
ist betrunken. 
2. Diminutives: 
Der / das Junge and das Weib are not diminutives, not even 
referentially (cf. colloquial "das Mordsdrumweib" - a rather 
big (and fat) woman). All diminutives are neuter (children are 
told that "-chen und -lein machen alle Sachen klein"). 
3. Hebamme: 
from OHG hev- + ana, cf. Latin anus (old woman). Therefore, 
there cannot be a "Hebammer"; instead, there is a 
"Geburtshelfer". 
Greetings, 
Fritz Heberlein 
U Eichstaett / Bavaria 

- sSSV2gtMQuu1FSwubFsLydPLSjoUDlVo--
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Message 4: Disc: Gramatical gender (7.578)

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 1996 12:32:35 +0200
From: Waruno Mahdi <warunoparadox.rz-berlin.mpg.de>
Subject: Disc: Gramatical gender (7.578)
Re: Jurij Lotoshko's rejoinder (7-578)

Jurij, I'm terribly sorry to disappoint you again, but I lived 20
years in Russia, from 1957 till 1977, and during the last 7 of these
years I was alone in Voronezh, living and working among Russians,
speaking almost exclusively Russian from morning till night. All the
words I cited (bydlo, hamlo, ditja) I heard with my own ears:

1) bydlo: I remember two occasions, both in Voronezh in the
 mid 1970-s. In one case it was a person telling another
 to the face that he considered him to be a "bydlo".

2) hamlo: This word I read in a newspaper or magazine (perhaps
 in "Krokodil"?) during the 1970-s. I also heard it
 used several times, in Moscow, and in Voronezh. On one
 occasion it was a well dressed lady of around 36 - 40
 years standing in line at the entrance to a theatre,
 who used that word with reference to some young men
 who tried to push their way in from the side.

3) ditja: I read and heard this many times, but I have a problem
 with my memory here, because I seem to remember also
 often having heard it pronounced _ditjo_. But in the
 dictionaries I've only found _ditya_.

As for _bydlo_, it is also given in the dictionaries (I have a
relatively late edition of Ozhegin's dictionary at home).

It doesn't really matter, whether a word in a language is of Polish,
French, English, Latin, Greek or Chinese origin. It also doesn't matter
whether the word is stylistically neutral, bookish, colloquial, rare,
jargon, or whatever. What counts is that it is a feature of the language.
Language is there for everybody: the rich and the poor, the privileged
and the underprivileged, high society, and prison inmates, just everybody.
Besides, I never asserted that neuter nouns denoting persons were frequent,
typical, common, or even simply normal in Russian. I explicitly said
I only knew "very few". Do you still think I was in error?

Regards, Waruno

- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Waruno Mahdi tel: +49 30 8413 5408
Faradayweg 4-6 fax: +49 30 8413 3155
14195 Berlin email: warunoparadox.rz-berlin.mpg.de
Germany WWW: http://paradox.rz-berlin.mpg.de/
- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
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Message 5: Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender

Date: Fri, 19 Apr 1996 17:16:11 PDT
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <dalfords1.csuhayward.edu>
Subject: Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender
On Fri, 19 Apr 1996, Sean Witty wrote:

> 1. Prescription versus Description.
>
> I have not heard one argument in favor of Prescription that I did think
> had sound and rational foundations. In fact, in agreement with several
> people who have responded, I believe that there is no one more
> qualified than a linguist to make Prescriptive recommendations.
> However, this does not mean that we should do so.

Why is this even an either/or question? Prescriptivism is exactly right
in certain contexts (i.e., language learning) and exactly wrong in other
contexts (dialectology vs 'standard' in a culture').

> 2. The Nature of Gender (There's a concession here)
>
> "Such a system involves the overt morphological coding of a
> classification of NPs, although it need not be on the basis of sex.
> These morphological distinctions are carried by anaphoric elements;
> anaphoric elements of the same class can be interpreted as coreferent,
> while those of different classes cannot."
> 	- Functional Syntax & Universal Grammar, Foley & Van Valin jr.,
> p.322
>
This, of course, overlooks English as a prime example in which the
present (even for the textbook, especially for this LL context) language is
overlooked. Because of the historic morphological reduction we went
through about a millenium ago, English seems to be a prime example of a
situation where gender becomes almost EXCLUSIVELY sexual gender. Other
European languages have a quasi-sexual grammatical gender (sometimes you
can figure it out, sometimes you can't); but English has a distinctly
sexual gender in the main, so strong that we have trouble calling a baby,
cat or dog 'it' even tho we do it temporarily, awaiting the cultural or
linguistic clue which will let us out of our uncomfortableness.

The shadow of strictly sexual gender (as opposed to animate gender in
Native American languages, for instance) is to render automatically
inanimate any tree, bug, whale, etc. whose sexual gender we are either
not immediately cognizant of or don't care about. Guess which category
such beings fall into automatically in English -- 'it'. I do not
arbitrarily disconnect this from the rampages against nature that
English-speaking peoples are engaged in in the world (ie, deforestation
and other anti-life processes). Our language makes it way too easy to
discount other life forms because we are not cognizant of their sexual
gender, or don't care to know. This is what I might call the Inanimate
Pathetic Fallacy of the structure of English, which unlike European
languages bases its gender distinction on almost exclusively sexual
distinctions.

> Personally, I think this definition is accurate, but weighted down
> with too much technical terminology. Let's try and reason this out:
>
> * Objects are either Animate or Inanimate, but not both. There are
> some questions surrounding whether or not this includes animals, dead
> persons, or people whose sex is unknown. For the purposes of this
> text, I will use that which I am most comfortable with, understanding
> that there is NOT total agreement on this issue: ANY LIVING NOUN IS
> ANIMATE.

Ah -- this is exactly the source of misunderstandings. Your understanding
here is based exclusively (I would think) on Western languages, and most
especially on English grammatical (rather than animate) gender. For
instance, in most Native American languages (and possibly other
indigenous languages of the world which we have misclassified), 'animate'
does not necessarily refer to 'an object having the property of life' as
we have tended to mistranslate that term when projected on other cultural
language systems, but particularly in Native American languages, tends to
refer instead to the property of the relationship between subject and
object (i.e., a Hopi speaker talking about clouds as inanimate). The
property being referred to is not 'living', as we tend to think in
English, but closer to what we refer to as 'respect."

> * Animate Objects have Sex that agrees with Gender, Inanimate Objects
> do not. In Gender based languages, however, Inanimate Objects carry
> Gender. Therefore, since these objects have no Sex to agree with,
> there must be another property that governs Gender.

Exactly. Too much English involved here, even though it is supposed to
sound 'universal' or 'European'. This shows an absolute disregard for the
fact that gender can be animacy or anything-else based as well as
sex-based. I've already suggested another property that covers gender in
other languages, except that it's uncharacteristically (for linguistics)
about the relationship instead of a simple object.

> * All languages have Sex, but not all Languages (i.e. Korean, Chinese,
> and Vietnamese) have Gender. Genderless languages use a single
> Pronoun (some have none) for 3P while Gender-based ones tend to have a
> 3P for each Gender.

Woops. Before the invasion of the Americas 500 years ago, many language
families (most specifically Algonkian) had no Sex differentiations
whatsoever, according to my Native consultants. That is, no distinctions
like man/woman, boy/girl, whose distinction rested on Sex. I know this is
difficult to accept for many scholars, and yet the people who know insist
this is correct. Even the bastard English term 'squaw', said to have come
from Algonkian languages, was built on the verb 'entering', and not a
sexual gender distinction per se in Algonkian languages. The author here
is taking 'sexual gender' as a prime, whereas 'gender' is the real
morphological prime; it can take a object-sexual as one form, and
relationship-nonsexual as another form. Therefore, the phrase
'Genderless' makes little since if gender is always taken as a
necessarily shortened form of 'sexual gender' since languages other than
Western ones have a qualitatively different form of gender going on.

> So, as we can see, there is an Animation Consideration, a Sexual
> Consideration, and a Phonetic Consideration. All of which govern the
> assignment of Gender.

In any language? In Western languages? I'm just not sure when people are
talking quasi-universally or according to the languages they know!

> Of course, this is a general outline of the big picture, parts of
> which are beyond my limited capabilities. At least you can get the
> idea.

Vaguely and imprecisely, given the larger topic of World's Languages,
since it seems so biased by English considerations.

> 4. English.
>
> a). Ships as she.
> 	Actually, I just wanted to state my agreement with Waruno on
> this. Ships are referred to in the Feminine because of their
> importance to sailors, who were predominately men in the past. Those
> of us who are "trekkies", will note that Captain Kirk made reference
> to being married to the Enterprise on several occasions. It just goes
> to prove that some things in Language are due simply to the dumb luck
> of History.

All this can be seen for the English-language folk-etymology DRECK that it
really is by listening to sailors (i.e., people who have actual
experience on ships rather than n-tuple-removed theoretical knowledge),
who say that a ship is only animate-feminine when 'manned'; when the ship
is decomissioned and without human activity (in mothballs), the ship is
referred to as 'it' -- pointing to the actual ANIMACY conferred by he/she
rather than just sexual genitalia, as we normally do in English.

> c). Sheep/Ram/Ewe
> 	Well, I'm glad to see that some of us call these beasts 'it'.
> unfortunately, I don't. Actually, I do, but the occasion has little
> to do with Human/Non-Human but more to do with which one I feel like
> using at the particular moment of utterance. Fatigue sometimes plays
> a factor, as does location, but I dare not say that any of these are
> attributes of Grammatical Gender.

So you say. But I, on the other hand, dare say that you are conforming to
the unspoken sex-only gendering of English, male/female, rather than any
Human/Non-Human distinction. If you know the gender you say it, if you
don't you don't and use 'it'. Right? Is that what makes you 'feel like
using' one form or another 'at the particular moment of utterance'? My
claim is that the actual sex of a tree, animal, insect, or whatever is
based on actual knowledge of sexual gender in English, but on a more
pragmatic relationship (like 'caring') in other non-Western languages.

> 6. Non-Linguistic Issues
>
> a). Should-be's
> 	As was professed above (Hebamme), I wasn't stating a
> 'should-be' but using deductive reasoning for an obscure situation
> that my experiences couldn't account for. I don't engage in guess
> work, but, admittedly, have trained myself to take educated guesses
> and use them occasionally.

'Educated' is a fairly relative term, especially when one has not fully
considered how Native America actually uses these terms, as opposed to
how their using these terms looks like through an IE-based lens. What one
'sees' is far too often in linguistics a function of what one already
knows. Native American languages, too often 'understood' in terms of what
is already 'understood', can baffle our prime understandings when you
actually listen to its speakers with an open mind.

Moonhawk
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Message 6: Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender

Date: Sat, 20 Apr 1996 18:58:48 +0200
From: Waruno Mahdi <warunoparadox.rz-berlin.mpg.de>
Subject: Re: 7.582, Disc: Grammatical Gender
Alexis Ramer wrote:

> Hartmut's example of Person (fem.), like my own of Individuum
> (neuter), are not exceptions to anything I have said, since
> they do not denote a subclass of human beings. Any human
> being can be a Person or an Individuum, but not everybody
> is an Ingenieur, for example.

I agree with your general proposition, but just for sake of an exception
which, let's say, confirms the rule, how about the following for a neuter
denotation of a subclass of human beings: _Faktotum_ "factotum".

Sean Witty wrote:

> I have not heard one argument in favor of Prescription that I did think
> had sound and rational foundations. In fact, in agreement with several
> people who have responded, I believe that there is no one more
> qualified than a linguist to make Prescriptive recommendations.

Perhaps, the mistake most people make is to think that one has to choose
which is better, description or prescription. But beside the empirical
observation of language phenomena, for which there can be no alternative
to description, there are also problems of appied linguistics which are
just as legitimately linguistic as the others, where prescription is
inevitable. this is particularly true in the maintenance of a language
standard for the benefit of government, legislature, the judiciary,
instruction, information, etc. If they think they need a language
standard, and entrust us linguists with the task of maintaining one,
then it is not for us to tell them how to do their jobs in stating that
they don't want a language standard.

> Who is to say that today's PC prescription will still hold water 100
> years from now?

I don't think PC is a problem best addressed by linguistic means.
Language reflects reality, not the other way round. It is a civic and
ethical problem which needs to be handled as all other civic and ethical
problems are in civilized democratic society. Leave it to the lawyers and
the legislators, or, in sofar as features of language are involved, to
the speaking community to introduce changes the way it always does, so
as to fit its needs as it feels is best.

> das Buch eines Buch
> der Bruder einer Bruder
> die Frau eine Frau

the second column is not altogether correct, but I'll add what he
probably meant in a third colum:

 das Buch ein Buch ein kleines Buch
 der Bruder ein Bruder ein kleiner Bruder
 die Frau eine Frau eine kleine Frau

But what about:

 der Fluch ein Fluch ein kleiner Fluch
 die Mutter eine Mutter eine kleine Mutter
 das Tau ein Tau ein kleines Tau

Then further ...

> While it is true that 'das Maedchen', 'das Fraulein', 'das
> Junge', and 'das Weib' might all be considered Diminutive AND are all
> Neuter Nouns, this does mean that Diminutiveness is a quality of
> Neuter Animation OR that Neuterness is a quality of Dimintiveness.

It should be _der Junge_, and it is not a dimunitive, nor is _das Weib_,

> For if the latter were true, then all Diminutives must be Neuter, 'der
> Junge' certainly is not,

Wha-a? That A is B cannot mean that all are B because A is not B.
Whether you like it or not, and whether it should be or must be or not,
I'm afraid all dimunitives in German have been empirically found in
descriptive observation to be neuter.

> and all Neuter Animate Nouns must be Diminutive, 'das Pferd', 'das Ross',
> and 'das Weibchen' clearly are not.

Just because dimunitives are neuter does not mean that all neuter nouns
"must be" dimunitive.

> For a plausible foundation for 'das Ingenieur', which I think is
> cute but ugly, look at 'das Weibchen' (the female),

Grammar is something given, the result of countless ages of prior
language change and development. It is not obliged to be either logical
or plausible. As descritpive linguists we have to take it as it is.

> I believe that a midwife would be referred to in the Feminine
> in German, despite the individuals Sex (ala 'das Maedchen').

Well. only in sentences like:

 _Er ist eine ma"nnliche Hebamme_ "he is a male midwife".

The sentence has a somewhat humoristic flavour, and the use of
quotation marks around _Hebamme_ or _ma"nnliche Hebamme_ would not
be unusual.

> As was professed above (Hebamme), I wasn't stating a
> 'should-be' but using deductive reasoning for an obscure situation
> that my experiences couldn't account for.

You probably truly mean this, but "using deductive reasoning for an obscure
situation" is nothing else than "saying how it logically SHOULD BE".
The descriptivist way of seeing things is, that as long as you don't
know, i.e as long as you haven't actually observed or learned of it
having been so observed, then you just don't know. Deductions of that
sort, and all kinds of other guessing games belong in the realm of
speculation ...

> c). Sheep/Ram/Ewe
> Well, I'm glad to see that some of us call these beasts 'it'.
> unfortunately, I don't. Actually, I do, but the occasion has little
> to do with Human/Non-Human but more to do with which one I feel like

The way I learned it, they are normally referred to as _it_, except in
narratives in which they are personalized. The same holds for ``inanimates''
such as _tree_, _house_, _rock_ which may also be personalized in fairy
tales etc. Obviously, Donald Duck is _he_ whereas Daisy Duck is _she_,
and thus Duck is not always Duck. In my days, they didn't have sheep
comics :-)

> So, if you favor Prescription,

I never ever ...

> tell me why 'der Ingenieur' and 'die Hebamme'
> cannot be prescribed to have Universal Sex.

Even for prescription (see above), I think, there are reasonable limits.
The maintenance of a language standard cannot be arbitrary, but must
take into account what is actually happening in the language. It is
practically the decision about choosing which dialectal feature to
consider to be standard. Language is a complex organism which one can't
dictate to develope in this or another direction just to suit one's
momentary fancies.

> Can I at least get $100,000 of the prize money anyway?

What? much to much. What if they make me share it fifty-fifty with
Jurij? Uh-uh, no dice. How about say I treat you to a drink instead?
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