Re: Noun genders (was: Re: Is English a creole? (was: Indo-European Studies))

Jeff Chandler (
16 Aug 1995 20:35:17 GMT

In article <3vigj1$s1k@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM>, claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM
>In article <>,
>Christopher Monsour <> wrote:
>>In article <>,
>>Glynis Baguley <> wrote:
>>>Me too. Something I'd be particularly interested to know is whether
>>>the terms masculine and feminine (and neuter, etc) have been used for
>>>as far back as anyone knows, or whether they were much later. The word
>>>`gender', etymologically, has no connection with sex, simply meaning
>>>`type' or `kind'. In the languages I have some knowledge of, there are
>>>some words that seem to belong to the `wrong' gender, eg `la
>>>sentinelle', `das Maedchen' (all diminutives in German are neuter),
>>>those first-declension nouns in Latin like `poeta' and `agricola'. Is
>>>this because the terms `masculine' and `feminine' have been used, if
>>>not arbitrarily, then loosely as convenient but not particularly
>>>accurate labels for categories that might just have well have been
>>>labelled `Type 1', `Type 2', etc? Are we wrong to think that
>Isn't this the way most linguists teach gender?
>That is certainly the slant I learned.
>>>grammatical gender is closely connected with biological sex or hazy
>>>notions of male and female characteristics?
>>Are you sure about `agricola' and `poeta'? I thought they were
>>actually masculine, which would of course be the right gender, but
>>with goofy inflections. Unfortunately, I haven't a Latin dictionary
>*agricola* and *poeta* are, indeed, masculine nouns.
>Follow-ups adjusted.
> .
> .
> .
>Cameron Laird
> +1 713 267 7966
> +1 713 996 8546 FAX

The type of gender you are discussing is often referred to as
"grammatical gender" as opposed to "natural gender" (i.e the actual,
physical sex of the object being discussed). In the case of grammatical
gender, using a word such as poeta or agricola as an example, Latin
grammar uses a system called "declension" for nouns and adjectives. There
are five declensions for nouns. The first declension is made up mostly of
(grammatically) feminine nouns and ends in the letter "a". In fact,
the general rule of thumb for first declension nouns is that they are ALL
feminine UNLESS they refer to males (agricola, poeta, nauta etc.). Like
wise the second declension is made up of nouns that end in -us or um.
Again the rule of thumb is nouns in -us are masculine, the nouns in -um
are neuter.As faar as the gender issue goes it's mainly so the speaker or
reader knows how to identify what noun goes with what adjective. If you
say " I saw Jim" the speaker expects that you are speaking of a male. If
you then say "She's doing great " you will confuse the hearer.
(Let's assum, just for the sake of argument that Jim is a male and
not a female). Likewise in Latin. If you say "femina bona" (a good woman)
you have a 1st declension noun and a feminine adjective. which would make
sense to a Roman. If you say "agricola bonus" (a good farmer guy) this
would also make sense to a Roman. 1st declension noun with a masculine
adjective. If you said "femina bonus" a Roman would probably scratch his
or her head (like your listener did when you called Jim a she).
Does this help or am I babbling? ;-)
Thanks for listening.

The opinions expressed in this message are my own personal views
and do not reflect the official views of Microsoft Corporation.