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What are gendered words for?

  Tags: Gender | Grammar
 Language Learning Forum : Philological Room Post Reply
21 messages over 3 pages: 1 2 3  Next >>
Tyrion101
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 Message 1 of 21
12 April 2014 at 5:08am | IP Logged 
I've often wondered if there is a rhyme behind the madness that is gendered words, and I had a thought while I was looking at Mandarin. In Mandarin it seems sometimes that you say things differently depending on if you are talking about a person or an object. Is that the case? Is it also the case in languages with gendered words?
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luke
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 Message 2 of 21
12 April 2014 at 5:53am | IP Logged 
In the words of Edwin Starr absolutely nothing.

I just wanted to link to that great song to expand culture.


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renaissancemedi
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 Message 3 of 21
12 April 2014 at 8:22am | IP Logged 
Not in greek. Of course, if you talk about a person you take into cosideration the actual gender, but there are exeptions: the girl/ boy are "it" words for example. So, in the end, no.

Why did you call it madness?
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Cabaire
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 Message 4 of 21
12 April 2014 at 9:39am | IP Logged 
Well, one function is easier back reference:

Die Vase stieß gegen den Teller. Jetzt ist er kaputt.
The vase bumped against the plate. Now it is broken.

In the gendered language you know now, that it is the plate, not the vase that is broken.
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Henkkles
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 Message 5 of 21
12 April 2014 at 9:52am | IP Logged 
The Indo-European gender system stems from an animate-inanimate divide present in early Proto-Indo-European that changed into the three-way gender system we all know (hate/love) (likely due to grammaticalization of some conjugational paradigms, but I can't remember right now). Many IE-languages, like Icelandic, still mirror the old system's logic in them; the "inanimate" class didn't have an accusative that was different from the nominative, but the animate ones did. In Icelandic masculine and feminine are (often) distinct from the nominative (only masculine also in plural) but the neuter never gets a distinct accusative separate from the nominative. This is why some age-old words like "tree" are neuter in almost all IE-languages (that still have neuter, usually it merged with the masculine where two-way distinction is present).

To wrap it up, yes, there used to be a logic behind it, but since it has collapsed into a more or less arbitrary (with the Romance languages entirely arbitrary [opinion]) system and we just have to live with it (sigh.)

Edited by Henkkles on 12 April 2014 at 12:37pm

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Serpent
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 Message 6 of 21
12 April 2014 at 3:41pm | IP Logged 
Cabaire wrote:
Well, one function is easier back reference:

Die Vase stieß gegen den Teller. Jetzt ist er kaputt.
The vase bumped against the plate. Now it is broken.

In the gendered language you know now, that it is the plate, not the vase that is broken.
Assuming vase and plate have different genders in the language
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Lizzern
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 Message 7 of 21
14 April 2014 at 1:29am | IP Logged 
As far as most native speakers are concerned, the genders just are the way they are, there's no reason or sense involved :-) And some of them are counterintuitive anyway. Most people don't look for patterns. We just learn them, and later on we thank our lucky stars that English doesn't have noun genders for us to memorise...

But it's helpful in some ways because it lets you know which noun "it" might be referring to, even a paragraph later. If you're talking about a person instead of an object, the pronouns change, but the rest stays the same.

Liz
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eyðimörk
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 Message 8 of 21
14 April 2014 at 10:51am | IP Logged 
Henkkles wrote:
The Indo-European gender system stems from an animate-inanimate divide present in early Proto-Indo-European that changed into the three-way gender system we all know (hate/love) (likely due to grammaticalization of some conjugational paradigms, but I can't remember right now). Many IE-languages, like Icelandic, still mirror the old system's logic in them

And some languages treat animate and inanimate objects differently, within a two- or three-way gender system structure, or have two words for the same object. At least I've always assumed that this is a remnant of the PIE animate/inanimate divide.

Breton, for example, has a two-gender system, but plurals do not follow gender. Instead they follow the inanimate/animate divide (some notable exceptions exist). Some plural fun: both animate and inanimate plurals of "god" can be found in a dictionary, and also trees take the animate plural.


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