How many genders does English have???

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Gong Sun Hao Ran
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Postby Gong Sun Hao Ran » 2004-07-23, 13:59

"Actor" is a more or less collective term that can refer to a male or female actor. Often people use the term "actress" - in certain addresses it is not use and referring to a large cast as "the actors".
Cantonese does not make a distinction between male and female in the third person - or maybe it is a rare practice. The same character is used to refer to both male and female.
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Postby Blackleaf » 2005-12-24, 19:41

Most languages in the world do NOT have grammatical gender, so English is in the majority.

However, most Indo-Europeans do have grammatical gender, English and Afrikaans being the only 2 exceptions that I can think of.

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Postby Gormur » 2005-12-30, 23:06

Daniel wrote:English has 68 genders.


That's one confused language. :lol:

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Re: apparently usage varies

Postby Gormur » 2005-12-30, 23:09

tomakk wrote:Apparently usage varies in the U.S., as we U.S. natives here are reporting widely different experiences!

I have never in my life heard "I waitress tables.." in any state -- I have never heard that used as a verb in any sentence.

I have heard the nouns "waiter" and "waitress" used. I have heard "waiter" used for a female. I have never heard "waitress" used for a male. I have, OTOH, heard "stewardress" used for a male, but I strongly recommend against such usage, as it could well be taken as insulting.


I highly doubt anyone under the age of 40 would use "she" or "he" referring to ships, cars, etc. It just sounds ridiculous and old-fashioned, in my view.
If I'm wrong, then it must be used in isolated dialects or areas I don't know about.

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Postby selters » 2005-12-30, 23:29

You are mistaking the Latin words sexus (biological gender) and genus (grammatical gender) with each other. They are two completely different things.

A more interesting question would be when if English has ever had grammatical gender, and if so, how long ago? Does anyone know anything about that?

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Re: How many genders does English have???

Postby greg-fr » 2005-12-30, 23:50

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.


I share your point of view. My feeling is that English and French have both 4 semantical genders while the former has 3 grammatical genders and the latter only 2.


    1/ semantic masculine : En <man>, Fr <garçon>
    2/ semantic feminine : En <girl>, Fr <femme>
    3/ semantic weak neuter : En <dancer> / <Spaniards>, Fr <victime> / <syndic> (sex unknown, unspecified or irrelevant)
    4/ semantic strong neuter : En <floor>, Fr <pierre> / <rire> (asexualness)

    1a / gender-unmarked this man may be replaced by he, which is grammatically gender-marked : masculine
    1b/ partially gender-marked le livre may be replaced by il, which is grammatically gender-marked : masculine

    2a/ gender-unmarked your mother may be replaced by she, which is grammatically gender-marked : feminine
    2b / partially gender-marked la voiture may be replaced by elle, which is grammatically gender-marked : feminine
    2c/ gender-marked that huntress may be replaced by she, which is grammatically gender-marked : feminine

    3a / gender-unmarked a green table may be replaced by it, which is grammatically gender-marked : neuter
    3b/ gender-unmarked a ship may be replaced by either it or she, which are grammatically gender-marked : neuter and feminine, respectively

    4a/ gender-unmarked the Spaniards may be replaced by they, which isn't grammatically gender-marked : it is number-marked
    4b/ gender-unmarked les Chinois may be replaced by ils, which is grammatically gender-marked : masculine (altouhgh it remains a semantic weak neuter : in this case ils may refer to a group comprising 50.000 female Chinese and just one male Chinese)

    5/ anyone may be replaced by he, they or he or she, which may be grammatically gender-marked or may not.


Perhaps there might be other categories ?

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Re: apparently usage varies

Postby bluechiron » 2005-12-31, 1:22

Gormur wrote:I highly doubt anyone under the age of 40 would use "she" or "he" referring to ships, cars, etc. It just sounds ridiculous and old-fashioned, in my view.
If I'm wrong, then it must be used in isolated dialects or areas I don't know about.


Actually, this is interesting. People under the age of 40 definately use this--many subconsciously--but those who do more often usually work in those industries. Some regions of the US consider it more educated speech to use this gender correctly.

On another note, most US speakers refer to inanimate objects frequently, though not always, in terms of gender. The unofficial consensus seems to be that technological gadgets (computers, microwaves, etc.) are male; vehicles and very large objects are usually female. I'm not going to hunt for the study on this, but suffice it to say there may not technically be gender in the English language, many people have added it back into informal speech.
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Postby culúrien » 2005-12-31, 1:35

I've never referred to genderless items by he or she. A ship is always it. A computer is always it. so on and so worth. I too must live in one of those isolated areas and never known about it :wink:
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Postby Gormur » 2005-12-31, 1:47

celebrian23 wrote:I've never referred to genderless items by he or she. A ship is always it. A computer is always it. so on and so worth. I too must live in one of those isolated areas and never known about it :wink:


Well I´ve only lived just outside of LA County, California and in the middle of Canada, which both more or less represent areas of ´standard´ N American English. :roll:

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Re: apparently usage varies

Postby Kirk » 2005-12-31, 2:48

bluechiron wrote:
Gormur wrote:I highly doubt anyone under the age of 40 would use "she" or "he" referring to ships, cars, etc. It just sounds ridiculous and old-fashioned, in my view.
If I'm wrong, then it must be used in isolated dialects or areas I don't know about.


Actually, this is interesting. People under the age of 40 definately use this--many subconsciously--but those who do more often usually work in those industries. Some regions of the US consider it more educated speech to use this gender correctly.

On another note, most US speakers refer to inanimate objects frequently, though not always, in terms of gender. The unofficial consensus seems to be that technological gadgets (computers, microwaves, etc.) are male; vehicles and very large objects are usually female. I'm not going to hunt for the study on this, but suffice it to say there may not technically be gender in the English language, many people have added it back into informal speech.


I personally never refer to objects without biological gender with gendered pronouns, and if I heard someone do that I'd probably think it sounded pretty odd. As far as the English spoken here there is no grammatical gender to speak of. Also, even in places where speakers have the option to refer to a few objects (like ships or whatever) with a gendered pronoun, there is still none of the agreement with determiners, adjectives, sometimes verbs, etc. that is usually entailed by the term "grammatical gender." That's not even mentioning the fact that such cases are pretty peripheral and the remaining vast majority of biologically genderless objects still receive genderless pronoun agreement.
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Postby allemaalmeezinge » 2005-12-31, 6:23

selters wrote:You are mistaking the Latin words sexus (biological gender) and genus (grammatical gender) with each other. They are two completely different things.

A more interesting question would be when if English has ever had grammatical gender, and if so, how long ago? Does anyone know anything about that?


Of course did it have them. Every language coming from proto Indo-European has to at least at some time have had grammatical gender :D
3 Genders were existent in Old English, just as in modern German, at some time (I think 1500, or something) the articles began to get abbreviated and mixed up. That was the start of diffusing the genders.

Modern English as far as I know still has some relicts of that time, I'm not sure about in what words gender is still active, I think my English teacher once talked about "moon" as still being caring for gender...

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Postby allemaalmeezinge » 2005-12-31, 6:32

OLD ENGLISH:

beorc = birch (german:Birke) (fem.),

mona = moon (german:Mond) (masc.),

deofol = devil (german:Teufel) (neut.)


I browsed a little, one page states that since the 12th century (old) English has had no more tertiar gender system. It, since then, has been replaced by a binar system (animate/unanimated). The tertiar gender distinction from then on only survived, as already has been said, as he/she/it.


You might like this essay on grmamatical gender: http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/%7Ecpercy/ ... Barber.htm )

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Re: apparently usage varies

Postby greg-fr » 2006-01-03, 7:58

Kirk wrote:As far as the English spoken here there is no grammatical gender to speak of. Also, even in places where speakers have the option to refer to a few objects (like ships or whatever) with a gendered pronoun, there is still none of the agreement with determiners, adjectives, sometimes verbs, etc. that is usually entailed by the term "grammatical gender."


We've had this conversation elsewhere already, Kirk. :D

As you know, my view is that agreement with determiners, adjectives, past (or present) participles, substantives, pronouns etc is a form of grammatical-gender-marking but the lack of any such marking doesn't necessarily mean there's no grammatical gender. In other words, why couldn't grammatical gender entail both zero-marking and positive marking ?

Gender- or number-agreement (including zero-marking for both) is the way grammatical gender or number works. That the agreement system is exclusively, essentially or partially zero-marking may not suffice to decide whether grammatical gender or number is absent.

If such weren't the case, the 'quasi'-illimited set of gender-non-marked substantives couldn't be put in equivalence with the finite set of grammatical-gender-marked, third-person, singular pronouns : you could say it for the man, she for the configuration or he for the installment.

Also, some English nouns are obviously grammatically gender-marked : actress, huntress, sculptress, paintress, waitress, stewardess, saleswoman, businesswoman, Frenchwoman, congresswoman, policewoman, spokeswoman, chairwoman etc, aren't they ?

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Re: apparently usage varies

Postby Kirk » 2006-01-03, 8:18

greg-fr wrote:
Kirk wrote:As far as the English spoken here there is no grammatical gender to speak of. Also, even in places where speakers have the option to refer to a few objects (like ships or whatever) with a gendered pronoun, there is still none of the agreement with determiners, adjectives, sometimes verbs, etc. that is usually entailed by the term "grammatical gender."


We've had this conversation elsewhere already, Kirk. :D


Hehe, yes I was beginning to feel the déja vu ;)

greg-fr wrote:As you know, my view is that agreement with determiners, adjectives, past (or present) participles, substantives, pronouns etc is a form of grammatical-gender-marking but the lack of any such marking doesn't necessarily mean there's no grammatical gender. In other words, why couldn't grammatical gender entail both zero-marking and positive marking ?

Gender- or number-agreement (including zero-marking for both) is the way grammatical gender or number works. That the agreement system is exclusively, essentially or partially zero-marking (or not) may not suffice to decide whether grammatical gender or number is absent (or not).


I agree that zero-marking for some nouns in a language can still fit in with an overall grammatical gender system, but in the case of Modern English, no nouns with non-biological gender may experience different agreement, this is unless we exclude a few isolated examples (which don't apply to most English speakers today) like "she" referring to a ship. Even then it'd just be with a pronoun. And it'd be pretty ridiculous to have a small list of words that had grammatical gender (for such speakers) and claim that the 99.99% of other words in English did have grammatical gender, it's just that they're never marked. Grammatical gender doesn't work that way, as it's inherently a noun classification system, and English nouns do not experience noun classification.

I think the Wikipedia article on grammatical gender summarizes the situation for Modern English succinctly in saying:

English has a vestigial natural gender system (on pronouns) but no grammatical gender.


Grammatical gender is a form of noun classification based on non-biological gender, which is something English just doesn't have. Another quote from the Wikipedia article, which puts it clearly:

Not all languages have noun classes. Modern English, for example, does not as is discussed in greater detail in the section on gender-based classification.


You might want to check out the article on grammatical gender here

greg-fr wrote:If such weren't the case, the 'quasi'-illimited set of gender-non-marked substantives couldn't be put in equivalence with the finite set of gender-marked, third-person, singular pronouns.

Also, some English nouns are obviously grammatically gender-marked : actress, huntress, sculptress, paintress, waitress, stewardess, saleswoman, businesswoman, Frenchwoman, congresswoman, policewoman, spokeswoman, chairwoman etc, aren't they ?


Yes, but those clearly relate to biological gender, which wouldn't qualify them as counting for grammatical gender.
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Postby greg-fr » 2006-01-03, 15:24

One thing I found on Wikipédia link you mentioned :

    « The only trace of grammatical gender left in modern English are some pronouns, such as he, she, it, which tend to represent natural gender. The forms of modifiers used with the nouns, and of verbs, do not change according to gender in modern English: 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>. From a linguistic perspective, therefore, English and other similar languages lack grammatical gender. »

A few points here may be puzzling :

    1/ For instance if I paraphrase the last sentence with number instead of gender : « the words <man> / <girl> are naturally singular, and the words <men> / <girls> naturally plural, but the form of the adjective <tall> used with both pairs is still <tall>. From a linguistic perspective, therefore, English and other similar languages lack grammatical number. »

    2/ They admit the trace (!) of grammatical gender : he, she & it, which three are claimed to tend to represent natural (?) gender. I guess 'natural' gender here means semantic gender¹ since the use of it for sexed animals or sexed human babies or children is anything but 'natural' gender... Found ont the net :
      A child learns to speak the language of its environment.
      So cute!! The baby was all alone in the den and was getting up on its front legs. (speaker referring to a panda cub)

    ¹semantic masculine = male sex only ; semantic feminine = female sex only ; semantic weak neuter = male or female sex ; semantic strong neuter = no sex at all.



I don’t see why no type of grammatical gender shouldn't, in principle, be based on sex solely although I agree most are not, just like Bantou, French or German.

Now if grammatical gender is a concept retained for substantives only (grammatical gender is a form of noun classification — it's inherently a noun classification system), what do you do with pronouns — function words used in place of nouns ?
If English had just one 3rd-person, singular pronoun — say : bip — then bip could apply for all semantic genders¹ undiscriminately and the question would be over since the noun & pronoun classes would be isomorphic.
However, English has he, she & it (and perhaps her or she too), not bip. The four of them are purely grammatical items completely distributed according to a form of gender polarity combining sex and animacy : lack (inanimates) or irrelevance (non-human animates + young human animates) and nature (human animates) of sex. Since the noun & pronoun classes have to be isomorphic (otherwise the transfer from noun to pronoun couldn't work), English nouns are necessarily distributed according to the { he — she — it — he or she } grammatical gender polarity. That distribution isn't marked, though : it's implicit.

And sometimes it's totally explicit. Like in chairperson & salesperson, which clearly relate to human animacy to the exclusion of sex (semantic weak neuter) : it cannot be used with chairperson & salesperson because neither of both is a non-human animate ; neither he nor she may be used ; so it may be he or she (or they ?).


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