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

Glynis Baguley (
Wed, 26 Jul 1995 09:19:05 GMT

In article <> writes:

> I have often wondered quite where the idea of gender FOR NOUNS came from; it
> seems so natural (well, it is) for speakers of languages that have it, but so
> unnatural for the rest of us. Any ideas? (I can perhaps see anthropomorphism for
> some things, like wind or sun, but this seems unlikely for everyday objects;
> also, they vary - table is a different gender in French and German, for
> example.)

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
grammatical gender is closely connected with biological sex or hazy
notions of male and female characteristics?

Do speakers of languages in which nouns have gender actually think of
the names of objects being masculine or feminine, or are these just
grammatical terms that only matter in grammar lessons?

If you were anthromorphising the sun, would you see it as masculine
(Latin) or feminine (German)?

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