Genders in a Language

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ltrout99
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Genders in a Language

Postby ltrout99 » 2015-08-29, 1:30

How many of you use genders in your conlang? Also, do you think there is any benefits to having a gendered conlang rather than one without any genders? I use genders in my conlangs about 75% of the time only to have the nouns and adjectives match (it just seems cleaner in my opinion).
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby TommyZamora2 » 2015-08-29, 1:51

I myself don't like to use genders. I don't really know about the benefits of having them or not, but that's just me. Does the one you are working on currently have them?
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby ltrout99 » 2015-08-29, 2:52

TommyZamora2 wrote:I myself don't like to use genders. I don't really know about the benefits of having them or not, but that's just me. Does the one you are working on currently have them?


The new one I started a few nights ago does not. I am deciding whether or not to have them. I want a fairly fusional language and right now I have around 15 cases (nearly 30 since they have short/long vowel ending (vowel harmony) (I love cases :blush:) and if I was to have genders I would most likely need to change cases to change according to: Gender, plural, and whether it is a short or long vowel ending. I think that just seems a little much.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Ahzoh » 2015-08-29, 3:11

My conlang has three genders and I too use it for adjective agreement. I also use it to distinguish male and female entities where that applies.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Koko » 2015-08-29, 3:14

I have no genders in Isyan, but just over four declension paradigms (some could be argued to be associated with animacy). Sambrata has an animate-inanimate distinction.

I don't think there's any benefits to either. It just depends on what suits your desires and what-not.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Ashucky » 2015-08-29, 10:55

Having genders (or any other kind of noun classes) has the same usefulness as having cases or number or verbal conjugations. Like all other features, genders add another layer to the language, more depth and make it more interesting, and create a slightly different way of how the speakers understand and perceive the world around them.

ltrout99 wrote:[...] if I was to have genders I would most likely need to change cases to change according to: Gender, plural, and whether it is a short or long vowel ending. I think that just seems a little much.

Not necessarily. I assume the majority of your cases are various locative cases that would have originally been postpositions/adpositions, so cases could now always come final, without changing much, no matter the gender of the original noun. There would probably be some differences due to assimilation or other processes like that, but it doesn't have to be for every case suffix, and it can be rather easily done, too. But I don't know how your language works, so I can't give you actual examples.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Levike » 2015-08-29, 11:09

ltrout99 wrote:How many of you use genders in your conlang?

I do, I've always had 4 genders, no special reason, I just like to classify things.

Plus, I like having a set of endings, so I can recognise words and their functions more easily.

Do you think there are any benefits to having a gendered conlang rather than one without any genders?.

No.

"It makes the language more interesting", that's something you can say about anything.

The only real benefit is that it gives extra-info, for example if you're talking about a teacher, the "shape" of the noun you're using already tells me if it's a he or a she.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Dormouse559 » 2015-08-29, 17:53

A few of the potential benefits of genders I have seen are:

1) They allow for more pronoun usage without introducing ambiguity. Speakers of most European languages probably take it for granted that they can introduce Dick and Jane, then use feminine pronouns/agreement and have everyone understand which person they mean. Larger gender systems (also called noun class) allow for even more pronouns. Imagine splitting "it" three different ways or more.

2) They let phonological material be recycled. Romance languages have plenty of word pairs that are differentiated only by gender agreement and maybe a thematic vowel. In French, "manche" means "handle" with masculine agreement and "sleeve" with feminine agreement. And in languages like Swahili, genders as derivation are even more productive.

3) They add redundancy, which is anathema to many a conlanger, but redundancy is how we can understand utterances despite interference, like loud noises or static. If I don't hear the noun, but I hear the adjective, and it's in the gender specifically reserved for fruit (or male adults or weapons), I might be able to guess the noun from context.


If you want to read up on gender systems, I highly recommend "Gender" by Greville Corbett.


All of this isn't to say you should use gender. Just like there's no reason you should include grammatical number or tense. Just don't dismiss it right off the bat.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby ltrout99 » 2015-08-30, 3:26

Ashucky wrote:Not necessarily. I assume the majority of your cases are various locative cases that would have originally been postpositions/adpositions, so cases could now always come final, without changing much, no matter the gender of the original noun. There would probably be some differences due to assimilation or other processes like that, but it doesn't have to be for every case suffix, and it can be rather easily done, too. But I don't know how your language works, so I can't give you actual examples.


Yes, I could include genders in my language. I'm still deciding on it. If I was to do it, it would mainly be in limited quantities; Pronouns and certain nouns would be the main ones to get it. I don't see the point in having a gender on the word "couch" for example.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Dormouse559 » 2015-08-30, 3:37

If a language has gender, every noun has gender. We often think of English's "gender pronouns" he and she and think English has two genders, but in fact it has three. The pronoun it is an example of that third gender. Grammatically speaking, things we refer to as it aren't genderless; they're in a "non-human" gender.

EDIT: And to confront a misconception that seems to turn a lot of people off to gender: Grammatical gender is not inherently linked to social gender or biological sex. The term comes from the European grammatical tradition, where grammatical genders are often sex based, but sex is not the defining feature of gender in every language. And even in languages where gender is sex based, the gender a sexless noun is assigned doesn't necessarily imply any connection between that noun and the sex its gender is based on. The words for "manhood" and "masculinity" are feminine in most if not all Romance languages. French slang words for "penis" are almost exclusively feminine and the word for "vagina" is masculine. In French, a "soulmate" is feminine even if they're male. The gender of a noun does not necessarily link it to a particular sex.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Koko » 2015-08-30, 4:03

Dormouse559 wrote:Grammatically speaking, things we refer to as it aren't genderless; they're in a "non-human" gender.

Babies are non-human :hmm: ?

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Dormouse559 » 2015-08-30, 4:25

Non-adult human. It's not uncommon cross-linguistically for babies to end up in a class with less agency. Genders also have a certain amount of bleed-through. We do call certain animals and objects (and babies) "he" and "she"; that's an example of promotion, giving them human-like status.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby ltrout99 » 2015-08-30, 15:42

Dormouse559 wrote:If a language has gender, every noun has gender.


So in other words, I could really make a language with only certain words having genders?
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Dormouse559 » 2015-08-30, 17:12

ltrout99 wrote:So in other words, I could really make a language with only certain words having genders?
No, you couldn't. If you can identify one gender in a language, there is at least one more. That second gender might be defined oppositionally, like "non-human", but it is a gender nonetheless; and all nouns will be assigned one gender or another.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Mentilliath » 2015-08-30, 18:03

Yes, I use genders. Halvian has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. They are sex-based in the sense that most biologically masculine/feminine nouns match the grammatical genders. Beyond that, the assignment of nouns to gender is arbitrary. I use genders because they allow for more variety in my language. I like having adjectives match nouns in not just number and case, but also gender.

The difference between Halvian gender and the gender systems of many other languages is that the gender of a noun can be identified without the use of agreement. The nominative singular or genitive singular of a Halvian noun can always tell you its gender.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Ashucky » 2015-08-30, 19:29

Dormouse559 wrote:EDIT: And to confront a misconception that seems to turn a lot of people off to gender: Grammatical gender is not inherently linked to social gender or biological sex. The term comes from the European grammatical tradition, where grammatical genders are often sex based, but sex is not the defining feature of gender in every language. And even in languages where gender is sex based, the gender a sexless noun is assigned doesn't necessarily imply any connection between that noun and the sex its gender is based on. The words for "manhood" and "masculinity" are feminine in most if not all Romance languages. French slang words for "penis" are almost exclusively feminine and the word for "vagina" is masculine. In French, a "soulmate" is feminine even if they're male. The gender of a noun does not necessarily link it to a particular sex.

^^ This.

Grammatical gender and biological sex are two very different things. While biological sex corresponds to grammatical gender most of the time (hence their names), they don't have to and they don't always correspond. Like in French, "manhood" and "masculinity" are feminine in Slovene too. The word for "person" is feminine and when I (male) use it to refer to myself, I will feminine gender throughout (eg. adjectives, etc.), and other people do the same, no matter their biological sex. The word for "child" is masculine, and the word for "girl" is neuter. But it's just grammatical gender, it doesn't mean anything else. The word for "duke" is masculine, but it declines like a feminine noun because it ends in -a (adjectives remain masculine, of curse). The same goes for male names ending in -a (eg. Luka, Matija, etc.).

The words "feminine, masculine, neuter" could easily be replaced by something else. It's exactly the same if they were called "green, purple, yellow". The word for "manhood" is green, and so is the word for "person" and the word for "moon", while the word for "pen" is purple and the word for "man" likewise. There is absolutely no difference here. It's simply because the green words end in -a while the purple words end in a consonant (aka purely grammatical).

And yes, a language either has genders or doesn't. There's no middle ground.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Mentilliath » 2015-08-30, 23:20

^It's true there's no such thing as a language where some nouns have gender and some don't, but there are languages where gender distinctions are only made in certain word types (such as the pronouns in English) and not in others (with the exception of I guess, words like "lion" and "lioness").
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby linguoboy » 2015-08-30, 23:40

Mentilliath wrote:^Well, there is a middle ground in the sense that a language can only make gender distinctions in the pronouns (such as with English) and nowhere else.

I fail to see how that is a "middle ground". Every noun gets replaced with one of these three pronouns and, though there is some variability of usage (e.g. "it" or "she" for boats), in the vast majority of cases there is one and only one correct choice.

We tend to think of gender as something controlling agreement primarily between nouns and modifiers, but again this is a very Eurocentric view and there's no reason why you couldn't have, for instance, gender agreement only between nouns and verbs instead.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Koko » 2015-08-30, 23:52

Hmm, I have a question concerning biological sex. Is it plausible for a language to not have this in any form? (not to say it isn't apparent to the speakers, but there's no lexical difference between, say, "man" VS "woman")

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Mentilliath » 2015-08-30, 23:58

linguoboy wrote:I fail to see how that is a "middle ground". Every noun gets replaced with one of these three pronouns and, though there is some variability of usage (e.g. "it" or "she" for boats), in the vast majority of cases there is one and only one correct choice.

We tend to think of gender as something controlling agreement primarily between nouns and modifiers, but again this is a very Eurocentric view and there's no reason why you couldn't have, for instance, gender agreement only between nouns and verbs instead.


I changed my response to reflect that, because it's true, there's no such thing as a language that has gender in some nouns and not in others. If one noun has gender, then they all do. I only meant that the phrase "has gender" can mean very different things depending on the language. English "has gender" in the sense that pronouns are marked for gender, but the manner in which nouns agree with them is entirely semantic and there's no morphological gender in nouns the way there is in Romance languages. In that sense I mean that there are different "degrees" of gender. Some languages make more distinctions, some languages have more ways in which gender agreement can apply.
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