So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

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So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Jorpho » Thu Feb 07, 2008 4:49 am UTC

(This topic hasn't been done already, has it? I couldn't find it anywhere.)

What possible benefit is there to forcing everyone to refer to the maison or the porte with feminine articles, and feminine adjectives, and feminine pronouns? Is there really anything particularly womanlike about a house or a door? If nothing else, in this era of Basic Human Decency, surely there are those who think it is an insult to womanhood or something to have these objects inextricably linked to their gender?

The only really convincing argument I have seen in favor of these was briefly explored by David Brin in one of his Uplift novels: it acts as a sort of error-correction to prevent a message from becoming garbled during repeated communication, which I suppose was pretty important when societies were dependent on oral history.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Interactive Civilian » Thu Feb 07, 2008 4:52 am UTC

Related to this topic, I have always wondered why "wine" (el vino, le vin, etc.) is male and "beer" (la cerveza, la biere, etc.) is female.
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:31 am UTC

Which era of Basic Human Decency are you talking about, here? Because I haven't noticed a whole lot of that in non-English speaking countries, and English doesn't have gendered nouns in the first place.

Also, as anyone who knows anything about languages will tell you, grammatical gender is to some degree completely independent of the biological/social kind. Isn't it German where the word for "girl" is grammatically masculine? And I know that in many Romance languages the word for "person" is grammatically feminine, despite other instances of seeming sexism in the way pronoun gender works.
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Zak » Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:43 am UTC

There are also lots of cases in which words are both. Like "el agua" in spanish. The "el" is supposed to signify masculinity, but the -a on the end of the word makes the noun femenin.

Confuses the hell out of me.
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:45 am UTC

Z.A.K wrote:There are also lots of cases in which words are both. Like "el agua" in spanish. The "el" is supposed to signify masculinity, but the -a on the end of the word makes the noun femenin.

Confuses the hell out of me.

Those aren't both in Spanish. Agua is still a feminine noun. It simply takes the "masculine" article in the singular form because it begins with a stressed 'a' and la agua would thus be more confusing to pronounce.
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Zak » Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:46 am UTC

I know, still confuses the hell out of me though. Especially because when it is written it just doesn't look right.
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Justinlrb » Thu Feb 07, 2008 7:07 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Also, as anyone who knows anything about languages will tell you, grammatical gender is to some degree completely independent of the biological/social kind. Isn't it German where the word for "girl" is grammatically masculine? And I know that in many Romance languages the word for "person" is grammatically feminine, despite other instances of seeming sexism in the way pronoun gender works.


That's right, it has nothing to do with biological gender. Gender is just grammar jargon for noun category or noun class. Some languages have more than two genders. German has three: masculine, feminine and neuter (girl is neuter - das Mädchen as is child - das Kind.) I have heard of a language with as many as 12 genders but I don't remember the name. And, if I'm not mistaken, some languages don't even refer to biological gender - Hungarian for example.

Moreover, having gender does serve a purpose. It aids in reference. in Spanish I can say "Deja la alli." and the possible options for what it is I am talking about are greatly reduced. (That is a very simple minded example. A good example of reference would be a bit more complicated) Whereas, if I say "put it over there" I'm not giving my listener any extra clues.

If you really want to speak a foreign language well you have to learn to love the gender system.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Interactive Civilian » Thu Feb 07, 2008 8:07 am UTC

Justinlrb wrote:If you really want to speak a foreign language well you have to learn to love the gender system.

Unless you are learning a genderless (in this sense) language like Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and probably several others. ;)

This is one of the many things that makes Japanese the easiest language I've ever tried to learn and the only other language I have ever become fluent in so far (though I'm currently working on Thai, and would still like to build my basic French and Spanish up to reasonably fluent levels).
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Jorpho » Thu Feb 07, 2008 1:25 pm UTC

Indeed, a hearty huzzah for genderless, pluralless Japanese! I think having to learn hundreds of kanji makes up for that, though.

gmalivuk wrote:Which era of Basic Human Decency are you talking about, here? Because I haven't noticed a whole lot of that in non-English speaking countries


I'm sure there are those (probably English-speaking) who bandy about the idea that sexism is inextricably bound to those languages, or something.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Feb 07, 2008 7:19 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:Which era of Basic Human Decency are you talking about, here? Because I haven't noticed a whole lot of that in non-English speaking countries
I'm sure there are those (probably English-speaking) who bandy about the idea that sexism is inextricably bound to those languages, or something.

Yes, but why should the claims of some English-speaking reformers have any effect on foreign speakers of a gendered language?
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby zenten » Thu Feb 07, 2008 8:41 pm UTC

Interactive Civilian wrote:
Justinlrb wrote:If you really want to speak a foreign language well you have to learn to love the gender system.

Unless you are learning a genderless (in this sense) language like Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and probably several others. ;)

This is one of the many things that makes Japanese the easiest language I've ever tried to learn and the only other language I have ever become fluent in so far (though I'm currently working on Thai, and would still like to build my basic French and Spanish up to reasonably fluent levels).


Finnish is another one. Although it does apparently still have a different pronoun for "person" versus "thing".

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby orangeperson » Thu Feb 07, 2008 8:59 pm UTC

Justinlrb wrote:I have heard of a language with as many as 12 genders but I don't remember the name.

Disclaimer: Some of these numbers will be a bit off.
Latin has ~9 different noun "types." There are 5 declensions. 1st declension has one type, which is feminine. 2nd declension has masculine, neuter, and another masculine I think. 3rd has both masculine and feminine types. I don't remember 4th and 5th too well.
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Justinlrb » Thu Feb 07, 2008 9:09 pm UTC

10 noun classes! Check it

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby SpitValve » Thu Feb 07, 2008 9:58 pm UTC

orangeperson wrote:
Justinlrb wrote:I have heard of a language with as many as 12 genders but I don't remember the name.

Disclaimer: Some of these numbers will be a bit off.
Latin has ~9 different noun "types." There are 5 declensions. 1st declension has one type, which is feminine. 2nd declension has masculine, neuter, and another masculine I think. 3rd has both masculine and feminine types. I don't remember 4th and 5th too well.


You can have masculine first declension nouns, can't you? Like "agricola" ?

3 genders & 5 declensions...

Back on topic: Many English speakers seem to have the opinion that anything that isn't in English is stupid and unnecessary, forgetting how many equally irrational things there are in English. Some languages have genders for nouns and adjectives, some have tones as inherent parts of the word, some have subjunctives or all sorts of other moods. Every language has its beauties and its annoyances and it's silly to ask why on earth they have them, when we have such silliness as "tough", "though", "thought", "through", "thorough"...

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Jorpho » Thu Feb 07, 2008 10:07 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Yes, but why should the claims of some English-speaking reformers have any effect on foreign speakers of a gendered language?
I'm not saying they would, by any means. It just seems like the sort of eccentric crusade that someone out there might take up.

SpitValve wrote:Every language has its beauties and its annoyances and it's silly to ask why on earth they have them, when we have such silliness as "tough", "though", "thought", "through", "thorough"...
Well, those were due to the casual whims of Noah Webster several hundred years ago, right? Gendered nouns seem to be much more systematic, and it seemed to me that they might have evolved from some deeper necessity (or might otherwise convey some sort of stylistic meaning) that I am not aware of.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby tetromino » Thu Feb 07, 2008 10:22 pm UTC

Justinlrb wrote:And, if I'm not mistaken, some languages don't even refer to biological gender - Hungarian for example.

IIRC, Hungarian nouns do not have any gender, just like English ones.
That's right, it has nothing to do with biological gender.
An interesting situation does arise, however, when a noun (e.g. the name of a profession or a title) is used to describe a person and the grammatical gender of the noun does not match the biological gender of the person.

Case in point: suppose you have a government minister who is a woman. As you might expect, the word for "minister" is masculine in pretty much all languages that have noun gender.

If your language specifies gender purely using the article (e.g. French), you can solve the dilemma simply by changing the article ("Madame la Ministre") to fit the situation, even if it annoys some prescriptive-grammar purists.

But languages like Russian, where grammatical gender is determined primarily by the word ending, usually don't have the option of flipping the gender of the noun. So you end up with an interesting rule: the noun's gender is independent of biological gender (unless masculine and feminine versions of the noun happen to already exist); however, verbs must agree with biological gender, while adjectives must agree with grammatical gender. For example: новый министр образования ответила на вопросы журналистов (novy ministr obrazovaniya otvetila na voprosy zhurnalistov -- the new minister of education answered the journalsts' questions). The adjective новый (novy, new) is masculine, agreeing with the grammatical gender of "ministr"; the verb ответила (otvetila, answered) is feminine, indicating that the minister is a woman.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Dextrose » Fri Feb 08, 2008 10:01 am UTC

I'm liking Turkish and Hungarian on account of their lack of gendered pronouns - he/she/it are all o in Türkçe and ő in Magyarul (funny how those things work out, eh.) It's horrible trying to figure out expressions for things like "boy" in those languages because the divisions of specificity are so different - erkekler "guys/boys," erkek çocukları "male children...." It's pretty much the opposite of, say, Italian where you have article/pronoun combinations to describe a HUGE variety of grammatical cases, whereas in Turkish a lot of comprehension seems to be largely situational.
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Interactive Civilian » Fri Feb 08, 2008 1:33 pm UTC

zenten wrote:Finnish is another one. Although it does apparently still have a different pronoun for "person" versus "thing".

Dextrose wrote:I'm liking Turkish and Hungarian on account of their lack of gendered pronouns - he/she/it are all o in Türkçe and ő in Magyarul (funny how those things work out, eh.) It's horrible trying to figure out expressions for things like "boy" in those languages because the divisions of specificity are so different - erkekler "guys/boys," erkek çocukları "male children...." It's pretty much the opposite of, say, Italian where you have article/pronoun combinations to describe a HUGE variety of grammatical cases, whereas in Turkish a lot of comprehension seems to be largely situational.


I've often heard that Finnish, Turkish, and Japanese, despite being so spread apart geographically, have many similarities, and even similarities which really aren't shared by any other language in the world (by which I mean, no other languages share those similiarities...obviously, there are other groups of languages that have their own similarities). I always found that to be interesting. 8)

Japanese kind of has gendered pronouns (彼 kare and 彼女 kanojo...notice they share the same kanji...however, one needs to be careful with 彼女, because it's more often used for "girlfriend" than "she"), but pronouns just aren't used very much. Who you are talking about can usually be understood by context. If you do need to be clear, then you just use names instead of pronouns, and if you don't know a name, you just say "that person", "that man", or "that woman". Unless you have already firmly established who you are talking about, you don't want to use "he" or "she", and when you have established who you are talking about, there is no need to use "he" or "she", or any pronoun at all.

It's a neat language. :)
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Number3Pencils » Sat Feb 09, 2008 5:37 am UTC

I'm only in my second semester of Russian, but shouldn't that be "новый министр образовании ответила на вопросы журналистов"?
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby tetromino » Sat Feb 09, 2008 4:22 pm UTC

Number3Pencils wrote:I'm only in my second semester of Russian, but shouldn't that be "новый министр образовании ответила на вопросы журналистов"?

No, it's образования. Образование (education) is neuter, and the genitive case ([minister] of education) is formed with an а/я ending (я in this case, since it follows и). Trust me, I'm a native speaker...

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby hnooch » Sat Feb 09, 2008 9:21 pm UTC

As Justinlrb said, those who complain about sexism in certain words being "masculine" or "feminine" are placing the cart before the horse. Genders are only assigned the names "masculine" or "feminine" because the words for "man" or "woman" belong to them, respectively. Even when there are genders — and by that I mean noun classes — it's an entirely contingent fact that words for males and females be divided among those noun classes. In some languages, noun classes are split in other ways, for instance animate vs inanimate things. (Even English has this distinction! For instance, you can use "he"/"she" only to refer to animate things — sometimes only human things — and "it" only to refer to inanimate things and some animals.)

In fact, as has already been noted, even so-called "masculine" and "feminine" genders don't match up to biological sex (e.g. "young woman" and "child" in German), and were probably given that name in order to conform to ideas of what "gender" in a language should be, maybe under influence from Latin and romance languages. (Yes, I know, citation needed, but this is just speculation.)

Side note: Doesn't Chinese have genders (noun classes) at least so far as quantification is concerned? E.g. you have a different agreement particle for things like "five papers" vs "five people"?

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby mspickle » Sun Feb 10, 2008 12:37 am UTC

There's no "gender" associated with a lot of the words, even though they have a grammatical gender.

Spanish:

El vestido = dress masculine
La corbata = necktie (cravat) feminine
La persona = person (any person, male or female) feminine
El seno = breast masculine
La verga = cock, dick feminine (this is a very rude thing to say, by the way- I don't advise it.)

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby innoby... » Sun Feb 10, 2008 12:55 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Which era of Basic Human Decency are you talking about, here? Because I haven't noticed a whole lot of that in non-English speaking countries, and English doesn't have gendered nouns in the first place.

Also, as anyone who knows anything about languages will tell you, grammatical gender is to some degree completely independent of the biological/social kind. Isn't it German where the word for "girl" is grammatically masculine? And I know that in many Romance languages the word for "person" is grammatically feminine, despite other instances of seeming sexism in the way pronoun gender works.


No it's die frauline or die maedchen (or as best as my meager german knowledge suffices)

It really doesn't bother me, it makes me sorta feel that english may have lost something over the years....though it may not make LOGICAL sense, but in the formation of a language at the early start, it was a way to fit inanimate objects in with noun conjugation. Originally only PEOPLE could perform an action, a chair didn't "sit there" or "support grongh's weight" Grongh sat in the chair, but how did one know if grongh was male or female? by the verb conjugation....

on another interesting note, I've heard japanese use "arbeit" for work, even conjugate it...arbeiten is "to work" in german, another hold over from wwII?

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Interactive Civilian » Sun Feb 10, 2008 2:10 am UTC

innoby... wrote:on another interesting note, I've heard japanese use "arbeit" for work, even conjugate it...arbeiten is "to work" in german, another hold over from wwII?

Well, they don't conjugate it, but yes.
アルバイト (arubaito), which, given the Japanese love of shortening words, is usually said
バイト (baito)
And the interesting thing is they use it to mean "part time job". Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the German word have a nuance more like your career or full-time work?

I'm not sure if it is from WWII or before. The Japanese have a lot of foreign lone words. One of the funny things with teaching ESL in Japan is that many people assume that any loan word has an English origin so they will try to use them in conversation. e.g.
"I had pan for breakfast" (pan = bread)
"Today is my first day at my new bite (when they say "baito" quickly, it sounds like "bite")
"Please fill out my anketto." (enquete is the French word for survey)

Speaking of loan words, it wasn't until I got to Japan that I realized that the American English word "skosh" (as in, "Do you want some sugar?' "Just a skosh") came from Japanese (少し - すこし - sukoshi = a little). Apparently US soldiers there after the war ended picked up from hearing it a lot, and they brought it back to the US.

But I digress...
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Justinlrb » Sun Feb 10, 2008 8:46 am UTC

innoby... wrote:No it's die frauline or die maedchen (or as best as my meager german knowledge suffices)


Look it up. Then correct us ignoramuses.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Ari » Sun Feb 10, 2008 10:53 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Which era of Basic Human Decency are you talking about, here? Because I haven't noticed a whole lot of that in non-English speaking countries, and English doesn't have gendered nouns in the first place.

Also, as anyone who knows anything about languages will tell you, grammatical gender is to some degree completely independent of the biological/social kind. Isn't it German where the word for "girl" is grammatically masculine? And I know that in many Romance languages the word for "person" is grammatically feminine, despite other instances of seeming sexism in the way pronoun gender works.


Nope, German is the one where girls are neuter, ie. "the girl went to the store, and it spotted something nice to bring back".

innoby... wrote:No it's die frauline or die maedchen (or as best as my meager german knowledge suffices)

It really doesn't bother me, it makes me sorta feel that english may have lost something over the years....though it may not make LOGICAL sense, but in the formation of a language at the early start, it was a way to fit inanimate objects in with noun conjugation. Originally only PEOPLE could perform an action, a chair didn't "sit there" or "support grongh's weight" Grongh sat in the chair, but how did one know if grongh was male or female? by the verb conjugation....

on another interesting note, I've heard japanese use "arbeit" for work, even conjugate it...arbeiten is "to work" in german, another hold over from wwII?


«die Fraulein», yes, but «das Mädchen». All nouns that end in «-chen» are neuter. The second one is a combination of «die Mäd» (maid) and «-chen», (roughly equivilent to -ling, "little thing", a diminutive) and it falls foul of the rule that all nouns take their gender from the last part of the compound word.
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Owehn » Sun Feb 10, 2008 2:05 pm UTC

Doesn't «¨-lein» do the same thing as «¨-chen»? Last time I checked, it was «die Frau», «das Fräulein».
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby shivasprogeny » Sun Feb 10, 2008 9:48 pm UTC

hnooch wrote:Side note: Doesn't Chinese have genders (noun classes) at least so far as quantification is concerned? E.g. you have a different agreement particle for things like "five papers" vs "five people"?


Sort of. What you are referring to are "measure" words. In English we use measure words when we say "cup of tea" or "tube of toothpaste" but in Chinese you have to do it whenever you are counting any noun.

As far a classifying the nouns there are some general rules, but it's not always cut and dry what measure word to use. For instance, long skinny objects (pencils, pens, etc.) use the measure word 枝 but there is a different measure word for thin slender objects (needles, pillars), 根.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby hnooch » Sun Feb 10, 2008 10:18 pm UTC

shivasprogeny wrote:
hnooch wrote:Side note: Doesn't Chinese have genders (noun classes) at least so far as quantification is concerned? E.g. you have a different agreement particle for things like "five papers" vs "five people"?


Sort of. What you are referring to are "measure" words. In English we use measure words when we say "cup of tea" or "tube of toothpaste" but in Chinese you have to do it whenever you are counting any noun.

As far a classifying the nouns there are some general rules, but it's not always cut and dry what measure word to use. For instance, long skinny objects (pencils, pens, etc.) use the measure word 枝 but there is a different measure word for thin slender objects (needles, pillars), 根.

Yup, my point is that every noun falls in a category; i.e. every noun has a specific measure word associated with it. This is similar to what is called gender in other languages in that it's a grammatical feature of the noun. That is, there are situations where other parts of a sentence have to agree with the noun's feature. In Chinese, when you quantify a noun, the quantification word agrees with the noun's category. In German, the pronoun you use for a noun agrees with it in gender, as does any definite or indefinite article, modifying adjectives, etc. In Hebrew, a verb agrees in gender with its subject. Etc.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby innoby... » Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:44 am UTC

Ari wrote:«die Fraulein», yes, but «das Mädchen». All nouns that end in «-chen» are neuter. The second one is a combination of «die Mäd» (maid) and «-chen», (roughly equivilent to -ling, "little thing", a diminutive) and it falls foul of the rule that all nouns take their gender from the last part of the compound word.


Thank you for reminding me, my german is losing it's edge, even the little I didn't have before.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby khan » Tue Feb 12, 2008 5:08 am UTC

Interactive Civilian wrote:Related to this topic, I have always wondered why "wine" (el vino, le vin, etc.) is male and "beer" (la cerveza, la biere, etc.) is female.


Possibly because they preferred to put the opposite gender in their mouths?

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Ari » Tue Feb 12, 2008 2:10 pm UTC

Owehn wrote:Doesn't «¨-lein» do the same thing as «¨-chen»? Last time I checked, it was «die Frau», «das Fräulein».


Hrrm, I could've sworn you were wrong, but I looked it up and apparently «¨-lein» is in fact neuter. I guess I've mostly dealt with that one in the plural, so that probably masked its gender. Thanks. :)

innoby... wrote:
Ari wrote:«die Fraulein», yes, but «das Mädchen». All nouns that end in «-chen» are neuter. The second one is a combination of «die Mäd» (maid) and «-chen», (roughly equivilent to -ling, "little thing", a diminutive) and it falls foul of the rule that all nouns take their gender from the last part of the compound word.


Thank you for reminding me, my german is losing it's edge, even the little I didn't have before.


Eh, no problem. That said, memorising genders was never exactly my favourite part of German, but the cool little rules like looking to the ends of the nouns and stuff were fun :)
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby Eschatokyrios » Tue Feb 12, 2008 9:34 pm UTC

hnooch wrote:
shivasprogeny wrote:
hnooch wrote:Side note: Doesn't Chinese have genders (noun classes) at least so far as quantification is concerned? E.g. you have a different agreement particle for things like "five papers" vs "five people"?


Sort of. What you are referring to are "measure" words. In English we use measure words when we say "cup of tea" or "tube of toothpaste" but in Chinese you have to do it whenever you are counting any noun.

As far a classifying the nouns there are some general rules, but it's not always cut and dry what measure word to use. For instance, long skinny objects (pencils, pens, etc.) use the measure word 枝 but there is a different measure word for thin slender objects (needles, pillars), 根.

Yup, my point is that every noun falls in a category; i.e. every noun has a specific measure word associated with it. This is similar to what is called gender in other languages in that it's a grammatical feature of the noun. That is, there are situations where other parts of a sentence have to agree with the noun's feature. In Chinese, when you quantify a noun, the quantification word agrees with the noun's category. In German, the pronoun you use for a noun agrees with it in gender, as does any definite or indefinite article, modifying adjectives, etc. In Hebrew, a verb agrees in gender with its subject. Etc.


Chinese doesn't have noun classes, it has noun classifiers. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noun_class ... un_classes
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby hnooch » Wed Feb 13, 2008 5:35 am UTC

Eschatokyrios wrote:Chinese doesn't have noun classes, it has noun classifiers. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noun_class ... un_classes

Okay, point taken, but from the same page:
"Nevertheless, there is no clearly demarked difference between the two: since classifiers often evolve into class systems, they are two extremes of a continuum."

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby steewi » Mon Feb 18, 2008 4:13 am UTC

When feminists first started going after English words that were genderspecific (actress, chairman, etc.), some English and American feminists complained about the genderist nature of European languages. The feminists who spoke French, German, Spanish, etc., mostly pooh-poohed the idea, because it was just silly to imply that there was a difference between two things just because you said 'el' for one and 'la' for the other. The movement fizzled out before it began.

Chinese was held up as a paragon of language by some feminists as having no grammatical gender, until someone pointed out that the radicals (bits of characters that show meaning) in most of the characters that imply bad personality traits and other bad things (gossip, rape, adultery, and so on) were that of a woman. Oops.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby ZLVT » Tue Feb 19, 2008 10:22 am UTC

steewi wrote:When feminists first started going after English words that were genderspecific (actress, chairman, etc.), some English and American feminists complained about the genderist nature of European languages. The feminists who spoke French, German, Spanish, etc., mostly pooh-poohed the idea, because it was just silly to imply that there was a difference between two things just because you said 'el' for one and 'la' for the other. The movement fizzled out before it began.

Chinese was held up as a paragon of language by some feminists as having no grammatical gender, until someone pointed out that the radicals (bits of characters that show meaning) in most of the characters that imply bad personality traits and other bad things (gossip, rape, adultery, and so on) were that of a woman. Oops.


How is chinese a paragon in this [lack of gender] respect? Magyar has no gender at all, some words refer to a being of specific gender e.g. Szuka (bitch) Királynő (Queen*, lit. King-woman) however, the definite article (az or a) is neutral, and while objects are usually not referred to by a pronoun, (the third person verb fullfilling that requirement) when need be, we use the article like the dutch do. and our third person article, ő is gender neutral, refering to men, women, children and animals, in which cases the article CANNOT be used...officially.

*Királynő suggests a reigning female monarch, Like Queen Elizabeth II, Királyné however refers to a woman who is married to the king. This is due to the fact the the -nő (woman) ending, suggests a female counterpart of a neutral occupation, while -né is the suffix attached to a man's name to indicate his wife.
Note that the word tanár means teacher, it is not gender specific. Usually it is used to refer to a male teacher, the females being called tanárnő, however, formally, both are tanár and a male teacher is specified by tanár úr (úr= sir or lord)
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Feb 19, 2008 3:51 pm UTC

ZLVT wrote:How is chinese a paragon in this [lack of gender] respect?

Agreed.

In fact, I'm gonna say [citation needed] on pretty much the whole of steewi's post...
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby steewi » Wed Feb 20, 2008 12:12 am UTC

I'm with on the citation needed for what I said. I really disagree with the idea that Chinese is genderless. I (thought I) was using it to show the silliness of arguing for gender equality in language. Chinese society has had huge problems with sexual equality (and despite changes, still does), and their apparently "genderless" language didn't eradicate any of it. Like I said, words with the female radical 女 include 奸 (wicked, traitorous), 奴 (bondservant), etc.

Actually I'm not a feminist. It's just one of the myths surrounding Chinese.

As for a citation as to how Chinese is *not* genderless, it's John DeFrancis' The Chinese Language: Facts and Fantasy.

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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby ZLVT » Wed Feb 20, 2008 2:47 am UTC

is it true that the character for war is two women under a roof?
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Re: So what's the deal with gendered nouns?

Postby steewi » Thu Feb 21, 2008 12:14 am UTC

is it true that the character for war is two women under a roof?

Not the one that I know. 战争 is the usual word for war, and it has no women in it. 宼 is a woman and (sort of) money under a roof and it means tyrrany or highway robbery, but 安 is a woman under a roof by herself, and means peace. For the most part, judging characters by their components is misinterpretation - the radical portion is meaningful, but the rest of it is just there to signal pronunciation. Less than 10% of today's characters are composed of parts that make up the final meaning.

That doesn't mean it's not fun making up meanings.


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