LINGUIST List 7.661

Sun May 5 1996

Disc: Grammatical Gender

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Alexis Manaster Ramer, Re: 7.613, Disc: Grammatical Gender
  2. Dan Moonhawk Alford, Re: 7.613, Disc: Grammatical Gender
  3. "Jurij R. Lotoshko", Re:7-613, Dis:Grammatical Gender
  4. Rossinyol, Q: Grammatical Gender vs. Sex identity

Message 1: Re: 7.613, Disc: Grammatical Gender

Date: Wed, 24 Apr 1996 21:29:27 EDT
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: Re: 7.613, Disc: Grammatical Gender
(1) If a language has pronouns corresponding to Engl. he and she,
i.e., that distinguish the sex of the referent, that is NOT the same
thing as gender in the usual sense of the word, since gender involves
not the classification of referents but of nouns. We really need a
different term here.
(2) The noun Mitglied in German is not an exception to my
generalizations since (a) it is a compound with -Glied as its head,
and (b) it, like Individuum etc., is not a noun referring to some
particular set of human beings. It is not the case that we partition
the set of human being into Members and Non-Members. Everybody is a
member of something, e.g., the human race, the set of human beings,
(3) In addition to whatever may be said about Algonquian, Native
American languages of other families not only exhibit many examples of
sensitivity to sex distinctions but in fact represent some of the most
extreme examples of the same. Not only are there Native languages
which have/had gender but we also of course find several examples of
languages where different forms were used depending on the sex of the
speaker and/or the addressee, of which Yana is perhaps the most famous
example. While this, too, is not gender, nonetheless it indicates the
very opposite of what Moonhawk seems to want to claim was the
linguistic situation in the Americas before Columbus.
Alexis MR
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Message 2: Re: 7.613, Disc: Grammatical Gender

Date: Wed, 24 Apr 1996 20:14:09 PDT
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <>
Subject: Re: 7.613, Disc: Grammatical Gender

I'd like some space to reply to the false statements attributed to me
by my esteemed colleagues.

David Costa writes:
> There is absolutely no linguistic evidence to support the bizarre
> notion, which seems to be advocated here, that Algonquians' languages
> did not distinguish between women and men until white contact somehow
> forced it on them (I would like to hear an explanation of why contact
> with Europeans would do this).

You know, that really would be bizarre if I had said it! The claim
was simply that there were no binary noun-sets like man/woman,
boy/girl distinguished only by sex in regular use pre-contact in
Algonquian languages. Such sex distinction could, I'm sure, be implied
if necessary, but not with such nouns as mentioned. More below.

> For starters, there is a very large
> amount of completely reconstructible Proto-Algonquian vocabulary which
> explicitly makes reference to the distinction between female and
> male. A few such terms are *elenyiwa 'man', *e0kwe:wa 'woman' ('0' =
> theta), *metemwehsa 'old woman', *we?$i- 'to get married (of a
> woman)', *nekwihsa 'my son', *neta:n(ehs)a 'my daughter', *no:h0a 'my
> father', *nekya 'my mother', *-i:w- 'wife', and *-a:pe-
> 'maleness'. Several more could be added to this list. In addition, an
> entire kinship system of Proto-Algonquian can be reconstructed which
> makes constant reference to male versus female: terms that distinguish
> male siblings from female ones, terms which specifically indicate
> siblings or in-laws of the opposite sex of oneself, and different
> terms for 'grandmother' as opposed to 'grandfather' (and no term for
> 'grandparent'). Additionally, the loan into English 'squaw' has long
> been known to represent the completely phonologically regular
> development of the *e0kwe:wa 'woman' term in the Algonquian languages
> of southern New England, which predictably appears as /skwa:/ in
> languages such as Massachusett and Narragansett.

Yes, yes -- I've studied Algonquian languages since 1971 so I'm well
aware of the 'received opinion' here, and probably would not have
gotten involved in this discussion were I not. All I ask is the
possibility of two notions: (1) Since linguistics began and
is still basically a European enterprise, and since Europeans are
quite familiar with sexual gender and vocabulary terms based on sexual
distinctions, is it not at least possible that we have projected such
notions on languages we have found, much like we tried to squeeze
languages into Latin grammatical molds? That is, is it impossible that
some human beings have so ordered their language and culture to not
refer to sex differences directly? And (2) you're quoting NOUNS to me
and that's EXACTLY what I no longer trust in Algonquian research!
Algonqiuan speakers can talk all day long and never utter a single
noun -- so can someone tell me why these MADE-UP nouns, born of
contact with European languages but which Algonquian speakers tend not
to use even now unless pushed to it, are so all-fired important to the
argument? My sense is that better translations would be 'aunting',
'uncling', 'fathering', 'mothering,' etc. In fact I strongly claim
that there are verb-forms and basic roots underlying EACH of the terms
quoted at me above, and they have absolutely nothing to do with our
usual sex distinctions. Can anyone at all argue against that?

> These Proto-Algonquian etyma are found throughout the family, in forms
> regularly derivable through regular sound law, and as widely dispersed
> geographically as Arapaho and Cheyenne in the Great Plains, to Ojibwe
> and Cree in Subarctic Canada, to Delaware, Massachusett and Micmac on
> the Atlantic coast. If the Algonquian languages did not develop terms
> to distinguish men from women until white contact, there would
> obviously be no reason to expect such widespread agreement throughout
> the family on what the terms would be in terms of both phonological
> shape and semantics. In other words, the word for 'woman' found
> throughout the family would be essentially random if Proto-Algonquian
> had no word for the concept.

Sure, unless there was a verb underneath the concept! I'm sorry, we've
just been finding what we EXPECTED to find, given our own penchant for
being overt about sex distinctions.

> That said, it should also be reiterated that Algonquian does not
> encode the distinction of masculine versus feminine as a grammatical
> concept. Algonquian languages all have grammatical gender, but it is
> a distinction between animate versus inanimate, which pervades all
> aspects of both noun and verb morphology. However, in terms of being
> able to EXPRESS male versus female, Algonquian works the same as
> Hungarian, by having sex as a normal semantic concept yet not as a
> morphological category. I would think the burden of proof would be on
> anyone who claims that there are 'non-Western' languages which CANNOT
> distinguish between female and male.

We all agree, then, that Algonquian doesn't encode masc vs fem as a
grammatical concept. So the firestorm is really about the words
man/woman and boy/girl. Wow -- is this so impossible to accept? Is it
that DEEPLY ingrained in our psyche that there can't be others who
don't do it? Of course they KNOW the difference -- is it part of some
Universal Grammar that they have to SAY it too? Those are NOUN
distinctions, not VERB ones.

Next, Karl Teeter wrote:
> In the recent discussion about gender, there was a communication from
> Dan Moonhawk Alford on gender in Algonquian languages. The date was
> April 19, and I no longer can find the printout, so I apologize. But
> he did, as I recall, quote "his Algonkian friends" as saying sex
> distinctions were irrelevant to the language and that the word "squaw"
> came from a form meaning "entering", and, finally, that although it is
> true Algonquian gender divides animate and inanimate, the animate
> gender somehow represents something more mystical than the class of
> living things. Dan's friends are wrong all three times, unfortunately,
> and on this list we really should get our linguistic facts
> straight. So a few words on Algonquian gender.

Okay, let's take them one at a time.

> 	Speakers of Algonquian languages, which have a typical
> arbitrary grammatical gender class with animacy and not sex as
> primary, nevertheless have no problem at all in telling boys from
> girls, either linguistically or in real life. That is the first fact
> to get straight.

Is THAT what I said? That Algonquian speakers have some problem in
telling boys from girls linguistically? Really!! I will attribute this
to your having deleted my original message.

> Next, (2) The reconstructed proto-Algonquian word
> for "woman" is actually based on a verb "to be female": *ethkweewa
> (where th stands for theta). It shouldn't be too hard to see that
> this is the source of the word "squaw", which is a perfectly good word
> despite derogative use in English.

As Sean Witty pointed out to me, the Mikmaq word for 'woman' is not
from the same form as the one in use in other Algonquian languages,
but that is not the point here -- the point was specifically about
'squaw'. Maybe a note on how that came about would be illuminating.

It started when Linda Coleman wrote to me about an open letter to the
owner of the Redskins that appeared in the Washington Post by a
Cheyenne woman (backed by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell) asking for a
team name change. Somehow the word 'squaw' also came into it, in which
Ms. Harjo claimed that when she asked her clan grandmothers about what
it really meant, one pointed to her vagina. I immediately didn't trust
it -- not for the reasons you might think but because it was an
English noun equated with an Algonquian 'noun'. Just then, my good
friend Sakej Henderson (Director of the Native Law Centre of Canada
with a law degree from Harvard) called, so I told him that I had
something to ask him but didn't know exactly how to ask. So I started,
"What's the general word for 'woman' in Mikmaq?" To which he
disdainfully replied, "Haven't I taught you anything? What KIND of
relationship are you taking about -- mother, sister, aunt, grandmother
- what?" So I said, "Wait a minute, let me ask it a different way. Is
there a word in Mikmaq that has the sounds [skwa] in it?" "Oh, sure,"
he said, "someone knocks on the door and you say 'peskwa' -- 'enter!'"
So the RELATIONSHIP that the [skwa] forms point to is not really a
relationship at all except on a purely sexual level. Does anyone
working on Algonquian languages really think that Algonquian speakers,
who were in matrilineal/matrilocal cultures, went around calling women
the equivalent of 'vaginas' all the time?????!

> And finally, (3) the class of
> animate nouns pretty much does cover everything in the real world
> which is a living thing, so "tree" is animate but "stick" is
> inanimate. We find the usual strictly grammatical arbitrary exceptions
> too; thus, strawberries are animate but blueberries inanimate. There
> are also extensions of gender beyond the simple distinction of being a
> living or non-living thing, thus artefacts from the white world are
> usually named with animate nouns: pots and kettles, stoves, knives,
> etc. Nothing mystical or holy, just regular arbitrary grammatical
> gender. Don't believe everything you hear or read, Dan and colleagues.

I'm not sure I ever used the words 'mystical' or 'holy' anywhere
in my submission. On the contrary, our own cultural materialism can
quite easily be seen as quite heavily mystical. And why, exactly, is
'mystical' such an effective glob of mud with which to cover over any
argument that that you don't agree with? "Yet, if MYSTICAL be
perchance a term of abuse in the eyes of a Western scientist, it must
be emphasized that these underlying abstractions and postulates of the
Hopian metaphysics are, from a detached viewpoint, equally (or to a
Hopi, more) justified pragmatically and experientially, as compared to
the flowing time and static space of our own metaphysics, which are au
fond equally mystical." (Whorf, p59). Since quantum physicist David
Bohm's _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_ was based in large part on
Whorf's description of the linguistic system behind Hopi metaphysics
(as far as I know the first description of a cosmology not based on
our mystical cornerstones of space and time), we may have reached a
point where 'mystical' says more about the person who utters it than
the one it's directed to.

Ever read the founder of our discipline, Wm. von Humboldt? "It is
remarkable how everywhere here [England at the time] there is a
decided feeling to treat magnetism, mesmerism, and everything
pertaining to it as though it were nothing but lies, deceit, and
imagination. The cold -- and more than cold, one might say crude and
coarse -- realism which is the order of the day hereabouts doesn't
even permit inquiry into anything that cannot be touched with the
hands and explained with rationality. All experimentation and
investigation is cut off, because the English start with the certainty
that they are being deceived." The more things change, the more they
stay the same, eh?

Again, are we only seeing what we expect to see through our finely
crafted linguistic lenses? Is it REALLY an indisputable TRUTH that ALL
human beings use 'animate' gender to refer to 'living' as a property
of the object/being pointed to? Or is this open to discussion? My
claim, from Native Americans, is that in Algonquian languages, in
Hopi, and in many other languages refer not to a property of the
object, but rather a property of the relationship one has with that
object being discussed; a Hopi referring to clouds in an animate way
is not saying that clouds are 'alive' in our sense, but rather that
their relationship with the clouds is an animate, respectful one.

Now -- is this claim worthy of debate, argument, whatever, perhaps
followed up by actual research by other linguists into other Native
American languages given this clue? Or do we all know so much by now
about these languages that it's just patently false?
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Message 3: Re:7-613, Dis:Grammatical Gender

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 1996 08:35:13 +0400
From: "Jurij R. Lotoshko" <>
Subject: Re:7-613, Dis:Grammatical Gender
To: amrCS.Wayne.EDU
To: ("Douglas Moore")

Sub: Re:7-613, Dis:Grammatical Gender

Alexis Manaster Ramer
>> Here is a simple example of a rule about gender which holds
>> good in a number of languages, incl. Polish, Russian, German,
>> French, Spanish, Hebrew, and I am sure many others:
>> If a language has a pair of nouns X and X-y (where X-y is
>> derived from X by the addition of some kind of derivational
>> morphology, not necessarily a suffix) and where the meanings of
>> X and X-y differ only in that one denotes females and the other
>> males of some category of human beings, then absolutely
>> positively never will you find that the one denoting men is
>> grammatically feminine and the one denoting women is
>> grammatical masculine.
>> ..........
>> The Greeks were not completely crazy when they came up with
>> these terms (and as far as I can see my rule applies to Greek
>> and Latin as well).

Yes, you right, Greeks were not crazy, but look deeper and wider.
What you say about other nouns, which has not a pair?
Why only human being?

- -------
Douglas Moore

>> It appears, from what has been said on the mailing list that
>> Russian has a fourth gender type. This may be the allusive FF
>> type. According to my theory, such a type could be intuitively
>> understood as "subject as subject"
>> From an epistemological point of view, all our present day
>> sciences are uniquely directed at a knowledge of the object
>> (ontologies), never the subject. The latter form of knowledge
>> has been coined as "gnoseology." Curiously it has really only
>> been the Russians and Polesh who have made a name for
>> themselves in this latter domain. Whatever the case may be, the
>> construct "subject as subject" is quite an allusive one.

- ----
Try to understand scheme

 Russian Language
- --------------------------------------------------------------
The objective Language Speech
reality of the [as system] [communication]
exteral world
- --------------------------------------------------------------
object/subject Substantiv (noun)
 1. Common name
 Only Sing.
What is that/this? --> Fem.
 --> Mas.
 --> Neut.

Who is that/this? --> Fem.
 --> Mas.
 --> Common Gend. ---> On lakomka (mas.)
 Mas./Fem. Ona lakomka (fem.)
 (He/she has a sweet tooth)

Note: 1) Who and What may have different uderstanding.
 2) The words like 'agranom'-- agronomist, vrach -- 'doctor',
 'avtor'--author and so on (about 400 words) in speech have
analitical form of gender (See. Graudina L.K., Ickovich V.A.,
Katlinskaja A.P. Grammaticheskaj pravilnost russkoj rechi. Moskva,
1976, p. 98-99; else Muchnik I.P. Kategorija roda i ee razvitije v
sovremennom russkom literaturnom jazyke.-- V knige: Razvitije
sovremennogo russkogo jazyka, Moskva, 1963, pp.63-88 (??).

 2. Proper name
What is that/this? --> Fem. Volga, Amerika, Tver'...
 --> Mas. Pariz (capital of France), Berlin...
 --> Neut. Otradnoje (name of village)
Who is that/this? --> Fem. Evgenija, Aleksandra
 --> Mas. Evgenij, Aleksandr
 --> Common Gend.
 Z^enja (shot form from Evgenij/-a)
 }-- short form from Aleksandr/-a

Speech ---> Z^enja (Sasha, Shura) xoros^aja devoc^ka.
 [Z^enja (Sasha, Shura) is a good girl.]

 Z^enja (Sasha, Shura) xoros^yj mal'c^ik.
 [Z^enja (Sasha, Shura) is a good boy.]

About derevation with russian suffix -ix- in Proper name in
Russian teritorial subdialekts I have already wrote, but it was not
published. Why? I don't know.

 Czech Language
- -----------------------------------------
The objective Language
reality of the [as system]
exteral world
- -----------------------------------------
object/subject Substantiv (noun)
 Only Sing.
 1. Common name
What is that/this? --> Fem.
 --> Mas.
 --> Neut.

Who is that/this? --> Fem.
 --> Mas.
 --> Neut.


P.S. Category of Animat/Inanimate has a much more interesting
 scheme in Slavic Languages.
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Message 4: Q: Grammatical Gender vs. Sex identity

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 1996 15:41:35 EDT
From: Rossinyol <kennyUDel.Edu>
Subject: Q: Grammatical Gender vs. Sex identity

In the literature on Grammatical Gender, I have found a great deal of
work examining the regularities of grammatical gender assignment and
there has also been much discussion of exceptions (where the actual
sex and the grammatical gender are mismatched.) The most common type
of mismatch is that shown in the examples below:

a) Le professeur(ms) = the teacher (is used for female professors)
b) La vedette(fs) = the star (even when the referent is male)


c) djadja = uncle (is fem. in form, but takes masc. agreement.)
d) Sasha = dim. of Aleksandr (is fem. in form, but takes masc. agreement.)

However, I have noticed that there is little, if any, discussion of
examples where the noun in question has a referent that is necessarily
a member of one sex, but is morphologically marked with a conflicting
grammatical gender. An example that I can think of would be the
following from German:

e) die Junge(fs) = the youth/young man
f) das Maedchen(ns) = the young woman

I am trying to find data on other examples of this phenomenon in as
many languages as possible. I will be using the data to prepare a
paper, analysing this particular type of mismatch. If you can think
of examples of this sort of mismatch (actual sex of referent !=
grammatical gender of noun), I would appreciate hearing of them.

Also, if anyone knows of any references in the literature to this sort
of phenomenon, I would appreciate hearing of it. So far my research
has not turned up anything particularly promising. I will post a
summary of any info I get to the list.

Thanks in advance for your help,

Kenneth Allen Hyde | No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife
Univ. of Delaware | between the shoulder blades will seriously
Dept. of Linguistics | cramp his style -- Old Jhereg proverb | A mind is a terrible toy to waste! -- Me
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