How many genders does English have???

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darkina
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How many genders does English have???

Postby darkina » 2004-07-18, 16:38

I don't know if this has been discussed before, but I've always believed that the English language has 3 genders: male expressed by the pronoun HE, female expressed by SHE, and neuter expressed by IT. But it occurred to me to have an argument with someone claiming that English has ONE gender... This made curious, because it's a point of view I had never heard before! :!: :?: :!: :?:
I guess it's possible that both versions can be correct, being just expressions of different approaches, as the other person was a native. I've been 'accused' of judging it basing on my own language, but well yes, I was taught that way when I first learnt English and I don't think there were other ways of doing it than basing on my language...Otherwise I would have been a native... :roll:

I supported my opinion by basing on experiences I've had, such as me talking of, let's say, my brain defining it as 'him' and not 'it', because there's no neuter in Italian so I got confused... I remember a discussion here about whether languages influence thought and viceversa, and there was something about genders too, but I want to point out for example, that if I think of an animated object, let's say a table, I can't help imagining it as male, because a male pronoun is in my mind for it... Which can be different for speakers of languages in which the table is neuter...

Moreover, the discussion actually started from the Russian OHO being neuter, and on a quick thought I think the use of OHO doesn't differ too much from the use of IT, except that in English the whole issue is less noticeable because verbs, adjectives etc are not 'accorded' to the gender as in other languages, so in English the question is only about pronouns...

So what's everybody's point of view??? Am I wrong in thinking of the 3 genders in English? Or are both points of view (one gender/3 genders) acceptable, depending on the way you look at it? Can you provide proofs for the one gender theory? (cos my 'adversary' seemed a bit weak in providing examples, just answering 'so what?' to mine...)

Looking forward to knowing about it...,

confused Darky.
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Postby Saaropean » 2004-07-18, 16:40

I would say there is no grammatical gender in English. The 3rd person singular pronouns show biological sex. A few exceptions exist (e.g. using "she" for ships), but they are rare.

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Postby darkina » 2004-07-18, 16:53

Ah.
Good point indeed...

But still my mind can't think of that as 'no gender'...the gender shows only the sex, which not always happens (my personal obsession 'das Maedchen' ;)), but 'no gender' would make me think more of an absence of distinction, rather than on such a clear biologically based distinction... I guess it depends on the way I'm used to thinking about it...(is it maybe a romance-speaker way of seeing it? Or is it just me? :roll: *trying to save some certainties from tumbling down like a wall ;)*)
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Postby bender » 2004-07-18, 17:12

I believe gender is nothing but a class in which you gather some nouns - and this phenomenon is made evident by grammatical agreement.
In Italian there are two possibilities: masculine or feminine. Coincidentally, these classes are related to sex (and in this case we often call it "gender"), but there are languages in Africa, for example, with twelve classes which nouns can belong to.
In English you can't classify nouns into masculine, feminine or neuter... So, from this point of view, there's no gender.
"He" "she" and "it" are just traces of Old English, which had three genders.

By the way, you don't say that Italian has declension (just like Latin), do you? Even so you say: "tu sei amabile" but "te amo". Pronoun declension is just a trace of noun declension Latin had.
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Postby darkina » 2004-07-18, 17:56

I see... well, I guess my mind just has weird cathegories... :oops: :oops: :oops:

I was exactly wondering if there were languages with 'weird' (that is, unusual for me) genders...like African ones. Is there a language with no gender at all, not even in pronouns?

I don't see what you want to mean by talking of declension... I get it that you are just making an example of things remanining in a language from the past, like you said he-she-it are coming from old English, right?
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Re: How many genders does English have???

Postby ekalin » 2004-07-18, 18:02

Darky wrote:I don't know if this has been discussed before, but I've always believed that the English language has 3 genders: male expressed by the pronoun HE, female expressed by SHE, and neuter expressed by IT. But it occurred to me to have an argument with someone claiming that English has ONE gender... This made curious, because it's a point of view I had never heard before! :!: :?: :!: :?:


I'd say it has ZERO genders, ie, that "feature" is inexistent in the language. Of course, instead of saying that there are no genders one could say all nouns belong to the same gender, forming one gender, but this doesn't change a lot.

Darky wrote:But still my mind can't think of that as 'no gender'...the gender shows only the sex, which not always happens (my personal obsession 'das Maedchen' Wink), but 'no gender' would make me think more of an absence of distinction, rather than on such a clear biologically based distinction...


Caution: gender is not sex. For most animated nouns, gender usually reflects the biological sex, but you yourself have noticed that there are exceptions.

However, with inanimated nouns, gender has no relation to sex. After all, which is the sex of a chair, or of a table?

As Saaropean said, English (just like Esperanto) shows the biological sex when appropriate, and in other cases (minus a few exceptions) uses a special pronoun, "it".
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Postby Pittsboy » 2004-07-18, 18:32

In linguistics, grammatical genders, also called noun classes (just as Bender said above), are classes of nouns reflected in the behavior of associated words; every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be very few which belong to several classes at once. (Hockett, 1958)

It must be pointed that gender in the grammatical sense has nothing to do with biological sex or with what sociolinguists call "gender", as the social role associated with each sex.
Only in some gender-languages, gender exhibits any correlation at all
with sex and in most of these, the correlation is very weak.
In Portuguese, for example, most nouns denoting females receive feminine gender, but not all: what is the gender of "contralto"? And some feminine nouns do not denote females, such "sentinela".

Grammatical gender is distinguished from natural gender by the fact that grammatical gender requires agreement between nouns and the modifiers (demonstratives, articles, adjectives) and sometimes even verbs, used in a sentence, whereas natural gender does not.

Although Bantu languages have gender, for historical reasons, the linguistis who studied these languages have preferred to talk about "noun classes"' rather than about "gender", but gender is there somehow!

The indo-european languages usually have masculine, feminine and neuter genders. Latin had the three, but in some modern descents of it, such as Portuguese, the neuter gender disappeared. In common nouns, grammatical gender is usually only peripherally related to actual gender
Czech, for instance devides the masculine gender into animate and inanimate groups, this sort of division is not found in Italian, for instance. Some linguistis further claim that the Nostratic Language (the ancestor of Indo-european) had human, animal and object genders separated!

There are languages that show no gender marking on nouns. These languages can be divided into two groups:

a) languages that still distinguishe gender, but the distinction is made on modifiers (adjectives, for example), pronouns, and perhaps even verbs --> but not on the noun.
* German would fall into this category, since most nouns give no clue as to their gender other than the forms of the article, determiner, and adjectives they use.

b) languages which have no concept of grammatical gender --> the forms of modifiers used with the nouns, and of verbs, do not change according to gender.
* English would fall into this category. The word "man" is naturally masculine, and the word girl naturally feminine, but the form of the adjective "tall" used with both is still "tall".
Even if English has no concept of gender in nouns, the personal pronouns often have different forms based on the natural gender of the reference, but this is not the same concept.


Gendered pronouns vary considerably across languages --> there are languages that have different pronouns in the third person only to differentiate between humans and inanimate objects, like Hungarian and Finnish. Even this distinction is commonly waived in spoken Finnish. Other languages, such as Japanese, have a wide range of personal pronouns to describe how they relate to the speaker.

That all Indo-European languages evolved from a common ancestor is indisputable. It is plausible to assume that this ancestor language employed a gender system, possibly one with a semantic basis. But what could have caused its modern descendants to assign genders such as masculine and feminine to inanimate objects? And how can a “pure” system evolve into the modern chaos and disagreement? The answer some authors have given to these questions is that the origin of gender is purely formal: some suffixes of sex-differentiable nouns acted as attractors, and created the genders in a purely formal, non-semantic way (Brugmann, 1899). This leaves open the question of what caused sex-differentiable nouns, rather than any other category, to become attractors.
Another possible answer is that in some languages the initially semantic neuter gender was lost, and the void was filled by masculine and feminine genders being assigned to previously neuter nouns. Such a process can be observed today in Russian, where neuter nouns are only 13% of the total, and loanwords entering the language go primarily to the masculine gender, but also to the feminine (Corbett, 1991:317). This hypothesis does not take into account languages that retain the neuter gender, and still assign masculine and feminine genders to inanimate objects (German, Greek, etc.)

An alternative hypothesis is that masculine and feminine assignments to inanimate objects existed even in the original Indo-European ancestor. Although such assignments seem nonsensical today, they might have
“made sense” in the remote past, at least among the few speakers of the ancestor language, based on animistic conceptions of the world. It could have appeared natural to a particular culture that, for example, a stone
is of female sex. However, as the original language evolved, ideas about the stone’s sex changed, too. Since there is no objective way to agree on something like the sex of a stone, the “opinions” among descendant
languages evolved differently. What we observe today appears as a purely formal and arbitrary assignment, since the original “reasons” have been lost.
One prediction of this hypothesis is that gender evolution in
such languages should be traceable through a weak agreement between phylogenetically proximal languages.

source: Evolution of Gender in Indo-European Languages - Harry E. Foundalis


An interesting book I've seen in the library is: Greville G. Corbett, Gender, Cambridge University Press.
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Postby geoff » 2004-07-18, 21:38

An article about gender has been started in the UniLang Wiki. I am sure some of the information from this article could be added there, then next time such a discussion pops up we could point there.

[wiki]Gender[/wiki]

geoff

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PM: Nukkuminenkin on ihanaa.

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Postby Aurelio » 2004-07-19, 5:38

Hi Darky,

That's a tough one! In Italian or German we naturally group every noun into one of two or three categories that determine the form of the other elements in the sentence. Now, English certainly doesn't do that - all inanimates are in one class and all animates are referred to based on their biologic sex (exceptions like vehicles, sun (he) and moon (she) are duely noted ;-) )

On the other hand, this little bit of gender distinction is a good deal more than there's in Chinese: At least in Mandarin and Hokkien there is no distinction between animate and inanimate or between the sexes. It's always ta (Mandarin) or i (Hokkien) for "he/she/it". (The written language shows separate characters for the pronouns in Mandarin, but to my best knowledge that's a recent addition, modelled after the Western languages; all three characters are pronounced the same way: ta).

So, does English have gender as a feature of the noun? I'd say no, because the usage of she/ he is based solely on biologic sex.

Regards,
Aurelio
Last edited by Aurelio on 2004-07-20, 2:37, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby darkina » 2004-07-19, 19:57

Ok...thanks for all the replies, I had never really noticed all this... :oops: :shock: *feels a bit blonde* *changes settings of the brain*
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Postby bender » 2004-07-20, 0:25

Darky wrote:I don't see what you want to mean by talking of declension... I get it that you are just making an example of things remanining in a language from the past, like you said he-she-it are coming from old English, right?


Right!
By the way, I realized my mistake afterwards. The correct is: "Ti amo", right?
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Postby Kanadaeestlane » 2004-07-20, 1:02

Interesting topic. I would definetly subscribe to the theory that english does not have any gender. Most speakers of english have real difficulty trying to learn languages that do segregate objects according to gender. The ship example is not really a grammatical thing either, but rather a term of endearment.
Both Estonian and Finnish don't have gender. The 3rd person singular pronoun in Estonian is Tema or Ta (shortform) this replaces any male or female person or thing. There is however some distinction in occupations, kuningas (king) , kuningana (queen), and others as well. Speakers of Finnish and Estonian sometimes call a male person "she" and a female "him" etc because they have difficulty separating the two early in the learning process or when they are speaking quickly (or in an intoxicated state.. :) ).

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Postby geoff » 2004-07-20, 11:17

Kanadaeestlane wrote:Speakers of Finnish and Estonian sometimes call a male person "she" and a female "him" etc because they have difficulty separating the two early in the learning process or when they are speaking quickly (or in an intoxicated state.. :) ).


This also happens to Chinese people I know all the time. But whereas Finnish only has one word for "he" and "she", which is "hän", Chinese does actually have to different characters, 他 an d 她, for "he" and "she". But they are pronounced exactly the same, at least in Mandarin: ta1.

geoff

MP: Sinun täytyy nousta ylös. Aurinko paistaa.
PM: Höh, mitä ihmeellista siinä on?
MP: Talvi on ohi, kevät on tullut ja elämä on ihana.
PM: Nukkuminenkin on ihanaa.

elgrande

Postby elgrande » 2004-07-20, 14:55

geoff wrote:Chinese does actually have to different characters, 他 an d 她, for "he" and "she". But they are pronounced exactly the same, at least in Mandarin: ta1.


AFAIK this distinction is artificial.
"ta1" is actually the same word, but they "artificially" made two separate characters for it, and it's not that a distinction in pronunciation between two different words was lost.

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Postby Varislintu » 2004-07-20, 16:26

I've also never thought of English as having genders. Like someone mentioned, "he and she" usually refer to real biological differences. But those differenses are extremely deeply rooted in the whole feeling of English. I can't imagine English not making that distinctio -- using something genderless like "it" about all persons.

senatortombstone

Postby senatortombstone » 2004-07-20, 16:44

English may not have grammatical gender like Spanish and German do, but gender is used. For human beings the assumed gender is usually male, but it can be female. It all depends on the occupation or status of the individual. Take the following sentences for example:

I was pulled over by a police officer.

Did he arrest you/give you a ticket?

My hair-stylist did an excellent job.

Did you give her a generous tip?

My sister just gave birth.

Was it a boy or a girl?

A dog chased me while I was walking on the path.

Did it bite you?


Gender roles are deeply embedded in our cultures. Doctors, officers, soldiers, etc are usually assumed to be male. While maids, nurses, secretaries are usually assumed to be female. When one doesn’t know the sex of a child or animal, they are usually referred to as “it.” Sometimes though, in the case of dogs, one might automatically assume that a poodle is a female and a rottweiler a male. A cow is a female and a bull a male. Sometimes the suffix –ESS or –ETTE is added to the title of a typically male occupation. Take the name Smurfette for example. A heroic male is a HERO and a female a HEROINE (maybe a throwback to the German method of denoting females –IN). So gender does exist in English, in a significant, if not grammatical way.

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Postby Aurelio » 2004-07-21, 0:57

Quote:
elgrande wrote:
geoff wrote:Chinese does actually have to different characters, 他 an d 她, for "he" and "she". But they are pronounced exactly the same, at least in Mandarin: ta1.

Quote:
AFAIK this distinction is artificial.
"ta1" is actually the same word, but they "artificially" made two separate characters for it, and it's not that a distinction in pronunciation between two different words was lost.


Like I said, somewhere above, it's modelled after the European languages, to make up for what was perceived to be a 'deficiency' :wink: (or at least that's what I read). There is a third ta1 : 它 used for "it" and I've seen 牠 ta1 used for animals before. Of course it's all the same word.
The same goes for ni3 (you): 你 and 妳.

Hokkien and Cantonese (and classical Chinese) know nothing of this distinction (at least, if they are written with the proper characters and not with the Mandarin ni3 and ta1).

For English, it looks like the conclusion is:
English has no gender but it has sex.
Sounds like somebody needs therapy :lol:

Regards,
Aurelio

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Postby Starion » 2004-07-21, 1:38

senatortombstone wrote:English may not have grammatical gender like Spanish and German do, but gender is used. For human beings the assumed gender is usually male, but it can be female. It all depends on the occupation or status of the individual. Take the following sentences for example:


Nice examples senatortombstone. :) Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

English sometimes uses -ess to denote a female person or thing: Lioness, Princess. Princess Kiara from Disney is my favourite example of both a lioness and a princess. I believe the suffix -ess came from France, but the French don't use -ess.

As noted earlier in this thread, inanimate objects can take genders. For example, one military airplane called a huntress.

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Postby Nukalurk » 2004-07-21, 9:11

They use it in some words.

Some male nouns ending on "e" aren't exactly the same word in the female version but form the female noun with the help of the ending "-esse".

For example.:
le comte - la comtesse (earl/count - countess)
le Suisse - la Suissesse (Swiss - Swiss (woman))
le traître - la traîtresse (traitor - traitress).

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Postby Kubi » 2004-07-21, 14:08

Amikeco wrote:le Suisse - la Suissesse (Swiss - Swiss (woman))

Are you sure? As far as I know, a female Swiss is also a "suisse".
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