LINGUIST List 3.314

Sun 05 Apr 1992

Disc: Gender

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  1. Tom Solomon, Feminine as unmarked gender
  2. Henry Kucera, Re: 3.283 Gender
  3. Henry Churchyard, Re: 3.275 Gender, Spanish la - el

Message 1: Feminine as unmarked gender

Date: Thu, 2 Apr 92 21:11:37 -06Feminine as unmarked gender
From: Tom Solomon <>
Subject: Feminine as unmarked gender

In a paper titled "Naive Linguistic Explanation" in the most
recent issue of _Language in Society_ (v.21, no.1, March 1992,
pp. 83-91) R.M.W. Dixon writes briefly on the Madi language of
Amazonas, Brazil. He notes that "Feminine is the unmarked
gender, being used to cross-reference all feminine nouns (whether
singular or plural), all plural masculine animate nouns, and also
all first and second person pronouns" (p.87). He later repeats
that "feminine gender forms are used to cross-reference any plural
animate noun, whether feminine or masculine" (p.88).

He cites as a reference for this:

Vogel, A.R. (1989). _Gender and gender agreement in Jaruara (Arauan)_.
 Unpublished Master's thesis. University of Texas at Arlington.

Tom Solomon
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Message 2: Re: 3.283 Gender

Date: Mon, 23 Mar 92 11:32:46 ESRe: 3.283 Gender
From: Henry Kucera <>
Subject: Re: 3.283 Gender

>On the other hand, the Russian "djadja" [j = yod] ('uncle')
>has a feminine declension and takes masculine agreements.
>I don't imagine the Russians have any problem with that,
>but it would be interesting to hear from Russianists on
>the subject.
>Don W. - DonWebbCSUS.EDU
 There are many cases like this in various Slavic languages and they certainly
present no problems to native speakers. The set includes not only common nouns
but nicknames (Sasha) and in some languages family names.
 To make things a bit more complicated, the declension of some of these nouns
is mixed: e.g. my name Kucera in Czech has masculine declensional endings in
the dative and locative cases, femine endings elsewhere (nom., gen, acc. inst.)

Hope that helps, H. K.
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Message 3: Re: 3.275 Gender, Spanish la - el

Date: Sun, 5 Apr 1992 02:35 CST Re: 3.275 Gender, Spanish la - el
From: Henry Churchyard <>
Subject: Re: 3.275 Gender, Spanish la - el

In Linguist List 3.275, Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> states:

> As regards gender-neutral pronominals, I'm in the midst of a rather
>large study (actually it's my dissertation) on the theme of pronominal
>variations with human reference antecedents; so I've seen a lot of data.
>On the specific issue involved here, it seems that it is a gross
>oversimplification to imagine that the third person singular subparadigm
>is neatly divided up into masculine, feminine and neuter with a gaping
>hole in the middle for uncertain, unspecified, indistinct or irrelevant,
>just waiting for the right element to come along and fill it.

 I am aware of one language (Azande or Zande) which actually has just
such a fourth indeterminate entity in its pronominal system. In
addition to Masculine, Feminine, and Inanimate pronouns, the language
also posesses a fourth pronominal gender category, `Animal'. In
addition to denoting animals, pronouns of this fourth category are also
used for infants and supernatural beings (which are problematic
categories for Masculine/Feminine/Inanimate gender assignment), as seen
in the following quotations from E.E. Evans-Pritchard, _Social_
_Anthropology_and_Other_Essays_ (1962):

 p.246: ``This idea of a new-born babe as not yet constituting a full
human being is further displayed in linguistic usage, for one commonly
hears the foetus spoken of as _si_ (the [Inanimate] pronoun used for
things), though often it is referred to as _u_ (the pronoun used for
animals and birds), and they continue to speak of a baby as _u_ until it
grows strong and they have no doubt it will live, when they begin to
talk of it as _ko_ (the masculine pronoun) or as _li_ (the feminine
pronoun) according to its sex.''

 p.311 (quoting a discussion of whether a certain vague culture-hero is
conceived of as a supernatural entity): ``He comments, `What the people
imagine Baati to be is difficult to say. Were he accepted as a spirit,
or as a personification of the deity Mbali, he would undoubtedly be
accorded the neuter [Animal] gender [...]. He must have [...] the power
of responding to calls made for him at his various haunting places; and
yet the Azande interrogated replied, "_Ko_wa_boro_, he is like a
person", again using the masculine _ko_ and not the supernatural neuterm
_u_.' ''

 (For information on the linguistic forms of these pronouns, as
opposed to their contextual use, see _Linguistic_Analyses:_The_Non-_
_Bantu_Languages_of_North-Eastern_Africa_, by A.N. Tucker and M.A.
Bryan (1966), p.146ff.)

 --Henry Churchyard
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