Genders in a Language

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Dormouse559 » 2016-06-03, 20:18

Worth remembering that the names are just names. If you want to put gods in the Things gender, that makes a lot of sense. Perhaps a different name would be more fitting. The labels aren't an inherent part of the genders; they simply describe a pre-existing phenomenon.

Grouping the gods with humans also makes a lot of sense. (Again, you don't have to keep the name "Humans". Why not "Sentient"?) Your genders sound like they have a strong semantic component, so the cultural attitudes of the language's speakers will likely have some influence on gender assignment for borderline cases, like the gods.

Are the gods thought of as more like humans? Forces of nature? Animals? As another idea, where do the things/concepts associated with the gods go? Maybe a god tends to have the same gender as their main representative.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby linguoboy » 2016-06-03, 21:04

Dormouse559 wrote:Worth remembering that the names are just names. If you want to put gods in the Things gender, that makes a lot of sense. Perhaps a different name would be more fitting. The labels aren't an inherent part of the genders; they simply describe a pre-existing phenomenon.

Moreover, even with primarily-semantic gender systems, switching categories in order to highlight contrasts is common. Lakoff goes into this in some detail in Women, fire, and dangerous things. (The title comes from a noun class in Dyirbal which groups together those semantic classes of nouns primarily in order to create contrasts between them and other classes of nouns.)

In Indo-European languages, for instance, it's common to put women not yet of childbearing/marriageable age into the "thing class" (i.e. neuter gender) in order to highlight the contrast between them and childbearing/married women. This isn't about treating women as objects, it's about emphasising a form of categorisation that is highly salient in society.

So if the gods are anthropomorphised in your conworld, then using either the Thing or the Animal class would be a way of highlighting the difference between them and ordinary people. (All the more so if humans can potentially be deified.) If some gods are zoomorphised, then the Thing class makes even more sense, since it would allow contrasts like rabbit(animal) for an ordinary rabbit vs rabbit(thing) for the Rabbit God or a rabbit idol.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Atluk » 2016-06-03, 22:40

Thanks! :)

I imagine the gods having a true form but are also capable of taking on human forms and are often depicted with humanoid bodies in images.

There is an animistic root to the religion, so I imagine nature spirits would fit more in the Thing Class.

Like Dormouse said, I should rename them. Maybe Sentient, Animal, and Miscellaneous, or simply Class A, Class B, and Class C.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby linguoboy » 2016-06-04, 2:47

Atluk wrote:Like Dormouse said, I should rename them. Maybe Sentient, Animal, and Miscellaneous, or simply Class A, Class B, and Class C.

Neutral is always best at the start. Later maybe you can work out what the names are in native grammatical works and use those instead if you like.

It's also possible to have nouns which span multiple classes. Like they take one sort of agreement in the singular and another in plural. Or one sort of agreement with adjectives and another sort with verbs.

So where do abstracts go in your scheme? I guess those are "Things"? What about parts or collections of animals (like "claw" and "herd"?) or non-animates which behave somewhat like animates (e.g. fire, viruses, cars)?
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby hashi » 2016-06-04, 6:59

It's as "valid" as your conlang's speakers perceive it to be. If it were me, I would have a subclass of the 'human' class used exclusively for the gods.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Atluk » 2016-06-04, 12:58

I'd like to have only a few noun classes and keep them simple.

The names may be a little misleading. The Human class is really for nouns that relate to humans, or human-like or sentient creatures.

"Nose" is the Thing class though it relates to humans, so I may do the same thing with animal parts such aa "claw", or "tail", though I could have Class A as humans, sentient beings, and anything relating to humans, therefore putting "nose" in the Human class. Class B can be Animals and anything relating to animals, putting "claw" and "tail" in Class C.

Actually, words for body parts can have more than one class. There is a grammatical difference between a human's nose (marked for Class A), while an animal's nose puts the same word in a different gender.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Atluk » 2016-07-05, 14:33

I have no preference about gender.

I guess I prefer animacy, but I'm creating an agglutinating language and the vast majority of those have gender based on animacy, so I want it to stand out from them.

Gender based on natural gender (masculine and feminine) don't really interest me even though I love Spanish.

The Common/Neuter distinction is to English-y for me.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby linguoboy » 2016-07-05, 16:10

Atluk wrote:I guess I prefer animacy, but I'm creating an agglutinating language and the vast majority of those have gender based on animacy, so I want it to stand out from them.

You can stand out from them simply by what you classify as "animate". Consider, for instance, a language where thoughts and abstract concepts were treated as "animate" rather than being classed with concrete objects. Or where gender assignment was fluid based on the agentivity of the NP in question. (So, for instance, "corn" might be inanimate in "Hail destroyed the corn" [and "hail" animate] but animate in "Corn sustains life".)
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Atluk » 2016-07-07, 13:42

I see.

My conlang has an animacy scale that works like this: Human and Other Sentient Beings, Animals, Abstract Objects, Concrete Objects (including plants).

I recall that the link to animacy you posted put plants between animals and objects, but I want to lump them into one class with the Concrete Objects. Idk if it makes sense to do it like that or not.

Also, I have been toying the idea of having genders based on tangibility. There are tangible nouns like people, money, land, food, tools, etc., and then things like the sky are considered intangible.

English actually seems to have this with intangible nouns like love and bravery, so I don't think it's necessary for a language to make such a distinction.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby linguoboy » 2016-07-07, 15:27

Atluk wrote:I recall that the link to animacy you posted put plants between animals and objects, but I want to lump them into one class with the Concrete Objects. Idk if it makes sense to do it like that or not.

Typically (with some variation of order and of where the cutoff for animacy occurs), the scale ranks humans above animals, then plants, natural forces, concrete objects, and abstract objects, in that order.

Key word is "typically". I don't see an issue with the variation you propose.

Atluk wrote:Also, I have been toying the idea of having genders based on tangibility. There are tangible nouns like people, money, land, food, tools, etc., and then things like the sky are considered intangible.

English actually seems to have this with intangible nouns like love and bravery, so I don't think it's necessary for a language to make such a distinction.

What's the difference for you between "tangible" and "concrete"?
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Atluk » 2016-07-21, 22:33

linguoboy wrote:
Atluk wrote:I recall that the link to animacy you posted put plants between animals and objects, but I want to lump them into one class with the Concrete Objects. Idk if it makes sense to do it like that or not.

Typically (with some variation of order and of where the cutoff for animacy occurs), the scale ranks humans above animals, then plants, natural forces, concrete objects, and abstract objects, in that order.

Key word is "typically". I don't see an issue with the variation you propose.

Atluk wrote:Also, I have been toying the idea of having genders based on tangibility. There are tangible nouns like people, money, land, food, tools, etc., and then things like the sky are considered intangible.

English actually seems to have this with intangible nouns like love and bravery, so I don't think it's necessary for a language to make such a distinction.

What's the difference for you between "tangible" and "concrete"?


Well, I think I'll be scrapping the four levels of animacy and instead base it on tangibleness/concreteness.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Llawygath » 2016-07-22, 20:36

Dormouse559 wrote:(Again, you don't have to keep the name "Humans". Why not "Sentient"?)

Because non-human animals are also sentient. You probably mean "sapient".

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Atluk » 2016-07-23, 11:58

I created a noun class system last night, but I haven't made it a part of any conlang yet.

There eight categories, though I now think some of them should be merged since there are separate classes for Concrete Objects, Food, and Artificial Objects.

It's a lot of fun, and I have an idea about a noun within the language could be in a different class depending on dialect.

Let's use 'city' as an example. It could belong in the Places class since that is what a city is, but it could also fit in the Artificial category since cities are built. Depending on the region and dialect, 'city' will be marked with Places or Artificial.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Serafín » 2016-07-23, 15:33

Dormouse559 wrote: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.

Elaborating on 2) with more examples:
  • In Romance languages (where it's not productive at all and there's no pattern) you get cases like Spanish punto 'dot' and punta 'tip [of a pencil/spear]', Spanish puerto 'dock' and puerta 'door', French grain '(edible) grain' and graine 'seed'.
  • Arabic, which has masculine and feminine gender, has a series of collective-singulative nouns where the collective is formed with the masculine and the singulative is formed with the feminine: shajar 'group of trees' and shajara 'a tree', laHm 'meat' and laHma 'piece of meat'.
  • Bantu languages, with their many genders or "noun classes" (typically 7-12: one for humans, another for animals, another for diminutives, another for mass nouns, another for abstract nouns, another for infinitives...), similarly have examples of derivation across genders. Agent nouns are typically derived by taking an infinitive and changing its gender prefix to a human gender prefix, as in Sesotho ho-bina 'to sing' (infinitive gender) -> mo-bini 'singer' (human gender), se-bini 'professional singer' (professional attribute gender, also used for languages; corresponds to the diminutive/language gender in Swahili). This process naturally lends itself for abstract nouns too: ho-rata 'to love' (infinitive gender) -> bo-rato 'love' (abstract noun gender).
  • We're getting out of the territory of what's usually considered "gender" now, but consider Chinese classifiers. These are not genders, since nouns can often take more than one possible classifier, with just a little nuance in meaning. The nuances can be made interesting though. There's the classic nuance of respect/formality: Mandarin 三位人 sān wèi rén 'three people' (wèi is a classifier for people that sounds formal) is more formal than 三个人 sān ge rén (using the generic classifier ge). But sometimes the classifier lets you specify a certain meaning: Mandarin 课 kè alone means either 'course' or 'lesson', but if you use classifiers you get 三门课 sān mén kè 'three courses' (using the subject classifier mén) and 三节课 sān jié kè 'three lessons' (using the segment classifier jié). You can easily imagine creating genders from this across time.

Also:
4) It can be used to support free word order (subject verb object, object subject verb...) without actually using cases, as in Swahili.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Dormouse559 » 2016-07-25, 21:28

Llawygath wrote:Because non-human animals are also sentient. You probably mean "sapient".
I mean either. I'm more familiar with the usage of "sentient" as a synonym of "sapient". Your source calls that a mistake; I call it semantic drift.
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Llawygath » 2016-07-26, 2:14

Dormouse559 wrote:I mean either. I'm more familiar with the usage of "sentient" as a synonym of "sapient". Your source calls that a mistake; I call it semantic drift.

Here is where the descriptivists and the prescriptivists part ways. I suppose one could just use "conscious" for "sentient", but it seems problematic to me that "sentient" can mean either "conscious" or "sapient", as it may contribute to (or stem from) the traditional belief that only humans are sentient/conscious. Semantic drift does not occur in a cultural vacuum.

I shouldn't get too far off-topic, though, so... I've only ever used genders in the languages I based off of French. I just don't like them that much -- no offense to their proponents, of course. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that I got the idea that gender was too mainstream and it was radical and exotic not to use it.

I might use genders based on animacy in a future project, but the one I'm working on now already has eleven cases and a few dozen declensions, so I don't think I'll add more complexity to the nouns. I have enough trouble keeping them straight.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Ashucky » 2016-07-26, 9:44

Llawygath wrote:I might use genders based on animacy in a future project, but the one I'm working on now already has eleven cases and a few dozen declensions, so I don't think I'll add more complexity to the nouns. I have enough trouble keeping them straight.

Talking about complexity, take a look at Archi ;)
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Levike » 2016-07-26, 10:16

Ashucky wrote:Talking about complexity, take a look at Archi ;)

That's why it's a dying breed. :twisted:
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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby Atluk » 2016-08-16, 22:46

Serafín wrote:
Dormouse559 wrote: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.

Elaborating on 2) with more examples:
  • In Romance languages (where it's not productive at all and there's no pattern) you get cases like Spanish punto 'dot' and punta 'tip [of a pencil/spear]', Spanish puerto 'dock' and puerta 'door', French grain '(edible) grain' and graine 'seed'.
  • Arabic, which has masculine and feminine gender, has a series of collective-singulative nouns where the collective is formed with the masculine and the singulative is formed with the feminine: shajar 'group of trees' and shajara 'a tree', laHm 'meat' and laHma 'piece of meat'.
  • Bantu languages, with their many genders or "noun classes" (typically 7-12: one for humans, another for animals, another for diminutives, another for mass nouns, another for abstract nouns, another for infinitives...), similarly have examples of derivation across genders. Agent nouns are typically derived by taking an infinitive and changing its gender prefix to a human gender prefix, as in Sesotho ho-bina 'to sing' (infinitive gender) -> mo-bini 'singer' (human gender), se-bini 'professional singer' (professional attribute gender, also used for languages; corresponds to the diminutive/language gender in Swahili). This process naturally lends itself for abstract nouns too: ho-rata 'to love' (infinitive gender) -> bo-rato 'love' (abstract noun gender).
  • We're getting out of the territory of what's usually considered "gender" now, but consider Chinese classifiers. These are not genders, since nouns can often take more than one possible classifier, with just a little nuance in meaning. The nuances can be made interesting though. There's the classic nuance of respect/formality: Mandarin 三位人 sān wèi rén 'three people' (wèi is a classifier for people that sounds formal) is more formal than 三个人 sān ge rén (using the generic classifier ge). But sometimes the classifier lets you specify a certain meaning: Mandarin 课 kè alone means either 'course' or 'lesson', but if you use classifiers you get 三门课 sān mén kè 'three courses' (using the subject classifier mén) and 三节课 sān jié kè 'three lessons' (using the segment classifier jié). You can easily imagine creating genders from this across time.

Also:
4) It can be used to support free word order (subject verb object, object subject verb...) without actually using cases, as in Swahili.


I have no preference with gender or noun classes. I like creating languages that lack grammatical gender just as much as I enjoy making languages with gender.

My current project is currently lacks grammatical gender, though I am considering adding a particle to mark rational nouns (pronouns would remain unmarked), and there is a slight animacy distinction, but not prevalent enough to be considered a gender. There is one pronoun for third person for both male and female and a separate third person pronoun for it. I also wouldn't know if a 'rational' vs 'nonrational' distinction would be separate from an animate vs inanimate distinction since the nouns in the 'rational' class would be animate since it includes humans and deities and some languages have different levels of animacy.

I don't think my conlang really needs a gender system, but I do think Catalan and Romanian do some cool things with gender. IIRC, the masculine nouns in Catalan seem to lack a suffix, while feminine nouns end with -a. I believe Romanian neuter (or what is left of it) nouns are feminine in the singular form, but become masculine in the plural.

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Re: Genders in a Language

Postby linguoboy » 2016-08-17, 0:28

Atluk wrote:IIRC, the masculine nouns in Catalan seem to lack a suffix, while feminine nouns end with -a.

Generally speaking, this is true, but there are also cases where the root noun is feminine and the masculine form is derived via a suffix, e.g. abella "bee" > abellot "drone", bruixa "witch" > bruixot "warlock".
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