English and Gender(s)

Bardioc   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:30 am GMT
But, terms like ''Mädchen'' have lost the deminuative sense, while ''Bübchen'' did not. You can analyse ''Mädchen'' as derived form ''Magd'', so it would actually be some kind of ''litte female servant'' or ''little maidservant''. But using ''Mädchen'' do not recall that possible meaning nowadays, excluding maybe some feministic activists.
Candy   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:32 am GMT
<<It's also not good to exclude that you'll get convinced on something right before you really got aquainted to the topic. >>

What makes you think I'm not?

<<I also stated why assinging gender to (inanimate) objects arbitrarly does make sense! >>

I know you did. Still doesn't make sense to me.

<<There are lots of things about English that seem "ridiculous," "pointless" and appear illogical to non-native speakers. >>

Obviously. I'm an English teacher and am well aware of them, and would be the first person to admit it. I see my students struggling with English every day. Simply because I think gender is illogical doesn't mean I think English is 'perfect' and completely and totally logical!

<<I maintain - and you've admitted - that your stand here is based purely on your own bias. >>

Yes. And? We all have our own subjective opinions and biases. Now you know one of mine. You and I will never agree on this, so let's keep it friendly and agree to disagree!
Candy   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:35 am GMT
Addition to above: just as my students have to put up with the craziness of English, so I have to put up with gender in other languages. I accept it's a part of French and German, the only other languages I know, and when I learn words I have to learn 'der, die, das' too.

Doesn't mean I have to like it! ;)
JJM   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:38 am GMT
"an object has no gender."

An object in French clearly DOES have a gender - it's either masculine or feminine.

What it does not have is a sex.

So both a table and the moon in French are most certainly feminine in French and thus contain feminine qualities. At the same time, they are most certainly NOT female in French*

In language, the term "gender" is not synonymous with the term "sex." Neuter is a gender but it's not a sex.

* Apart, I suppose, from the possible tendancy of a poet to treat the moon as female in a figurative sense. But this is akin to English speakers who call a ship "she."
Bardioc   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:50 am GMT
Candy: See topic ''All the grammer you need to know...any comments'':

''Pronouns are words like “he”, “she”, “it” “his”, “her” or “which” and “that” which stand in place of nouns. When you use a pronoun instead of a noun, you must make sure that it is obvious which noun you are referring to. If it is not clear you must use the noun again.''

Having gender, it is less likely to use the noun again instead of using a pronoun. If you e.g. speak form a cat (die Katze, feminine), the feed, (das Futter, neuter) and the feeding dish or cup (der Napf, masculine), you may refere to them as ''sie'', die Katze, ''es'', das Futter, and ''er'', der Napf in subsequent sentences. If there's only ''it'' for all of them, then you need to repeat the proper nouns again and again or there must be a convention that ''it'' refers to the last noun used respectively. This would be more effective, but with gender, the effectiveness can be increased. Of course, there's a upper limit because you can't keep in mind tenth of subjects and objects you talk about the last couple of minutes.
JJM   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:54 am GMT
To all: if I've ended up seeming to offend, that was certainly not my intent. So, my apologies if I have.

My point is essentially this: while grammatical gender as expressed in languages like German, French or Serbo-Croat seems on the surface to be "arbitrary" and "illogical," it is the manifestation of linguistic evolution, and occurs according to a clear pattern of use and historical development.

For all of these languages, we can reach back to their antecedents and study how gender developed. To get further back, beyond written records, we can look at how other languages operate (some native Northern American languages or Bantu as examples) to get a view of how gender or noun classification might have started out in language.

Here's a thought: in languages where there are NO genders at all (and there are some), English with its "he/she/it" would seem very arbitrary and odd.
Guest   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:55 am GMT
Interesting discussion but I personally don't understand what it means for an object (by mental image or by classificiation ?) to have gender. I think this is how Anglophones view the concept of gender. What does it mean for an object to gender ?

I gave an example where your face (which is one object) in French can be masculine : "ton visage" or feminine : "ta figure". How do you determine its gender by object classification alone without a word "visage" or "figure" to tell you ???

For a table, it depends what kind of table you mean. Do you mean "une table" or "un bureau" ? Both mean the object "table" and look the same but have different functions but both are not feminine, so we can't say this object is feminine or masculine.

If you want to compare "tour" (tour) with "tour" (tower), they sound different. How? By comparing them in their entirety : /Untour/ "un tour" sounds different to /unetour/ "une tour".
Bardioc   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:56 am GMT
So ''inanimate'' and ''animate'' are genders, too?

In German, it's ''das Schiff'', thus neuter!
Guest   Thu Sep 15, 2005 11:57 am GMT
Corrections :

What does it mean for an object to have gender ?

/Untour/ "un tour" sounds different to /unetour/ "une tour" and both look different when written.
Guest   Thu Sep 15, 2005 12:06 pm GMT
Can you not see that gender works by function of word, not by object ?
Bardioc   Thu Sep 15, 2005 12:06 pm GMT
Hebrew also has gender, even in first and second person singular. Conjugation also reflects that. You add a special suffix on the verb if you are female. In French, you say ''mon ami'' even if you refer to your girl-friend.
Candy   Thu Sep 15, 2005 12:13 pm GMT
<<This would be more effective, but with gender, the effectiveness can be increased.>>

And yet somehow hundreds of millions of people manage to speak English every day without getting totally confused about pronouns....

Bardioc, I really appreciate your efforts to educate me (really, I do - I'm not being sarcastic) but I'm afraid I'm a lost cause! :)

Anyway, I'm hopelessly late for my next lesson, trying to drum some crazy illogical English (again, not being sarcastic!) into the heads of my German students - speak to you later!
JJM   Thu Sep 15, 2005 12:47 pm GMT

You're still using "masculine/feminine" when you obviously mean "male/female."

For linguistic purposes, "masculine/feminine" is gender, "male/female" is sex. So (one more time), an inanimate object in French can be feminine without being female. Indeed, because French has only two genders, every noun in the language HAS to be either masculine or feminine. But not every noun HAS to be male or female.

However, I think I understand your confusion over objects having gender. That's probably because I haven't been precise in highlighting that we are talking about how language classifies objects, not the objects themselves. So when I say "an object has inherent gender," I'm talking about the linguistic perception of that object, not the object itself.

Obviously objects exist quite happily outside of language. But language is the human means to describe them. When you use a word to describe an object in French or English, you MUST employ gender. So the "word picture" (or noun) MUST carry with it an inherent gender. That gender will of course depend on the "word picture" you choose.

When a face is described as "visage," it is masculine; when described as "figure," it is feminine - so it has to be "beau visage" or "belle figure" and not "belle visage" or "beau figure" because the inherent gender of the "word picture."

But neither the object nor the words which describe it are male or female.

Again, the word picture "moulin" is masculine but it's not male and would not be male in any language because the object it describes is not male. The word picture "homme" is masculine and would also be recognized as male in any language because the object it describes is a living thing with a sex.

Ouch! Has your brain exploded yet? Mine has!
JJM   Thu Sep 15, 2005 1:07 pm GMT

"And yet somehow hundreds of millions of people manage to speak English every day without getting totally confused about pronouns...."

An excellent point and the nub of the whole issue.

It's fruitless to argue the relative merits of one language's grammar over another's. There is just no objective way to approach this.

The fact that a table is masculine in German, feminine in French, neuter in English and probably nothing in Japanese does not make any one of these languages "more" or "less" efficient or "more" or "less" logical.

Native speakers cheerfully communicate in their respective languages without a second thought about it.
Guest   Thu Sep 15, 2005 1:38 pm GMT

If I meant "female" I would be referring to a lady, girl, woman, etc. If I meant "male" I would be referring to men, boys, etc. I used only the words "masculine" and "feminine", without referring to sex.

I'm not confused. I made my statements clear with examples to demonstrate my understanding. You are playing with semantics to hide your confusion and now introducing the idea of "linguistic perception". Well of course it boils down to the use of language. That's my point. Your notions of gender were based on inaminate objects, mine on words.

All along you were suggesting it was the objects themselves that determine gender choice. i.e. any words to denote such and such an object classification are feminine (or masculine). Your words : "So both a table and the moon in French are most certainly feminine in French and thus contain feminine qualities." And my response is, no, not certainly and no, not necessarily. A table is an object which does not have any feminine qualities intrinsically. Without a specific word or words to denote a table, one cannot place its gender.