panzeleche (panzeleche) wrote in linguaphiles,
panzeleche
panzeleche
linguaphiles

Roots of Gender

http://cogprints.org/4007/1/RootsOfGender.pdf

It's an interesting hypothesis. I don't know how much it applies to other languages, but it ccertainly gives some reason to the seemingly rhyme-and-reason-less concept of gender.

If you don't feel like reading it, here's the hypothesis in a nutshell: grammatical gender came about in Russian (and Russian's ancestors) because it served to distinguish dangerous things from non-dangerous things. Gender is determined by:
"1) the size of animal (big vs. not big),
2) immediate danger to man (animal, an encounter with which is life threatening vs. animal, an encounter with which is not life threatening),
3) edibility (edible vs. inedible),
4) possibility to use the animal’s hide for warm clothing (furry vs. non-furry animal),
5) visually distinguishable gender of the animal."

For example, smaller, less dangerous animals, such as рысь ‘lynx’ and лиса [лисица] ‘fox’, are female, while the more dangerous animals are male, such as медведь 'bear' and волк 'wolf'. There's a table of nouns and explanations for their gender on page 10.

Also I've always thought that the concept of gender in languages is silly, simply because giving animate objects gender is... meaningless, I really started to think about it when a French teacher of mine tried to explain gender to the class as such: "Gender doesn't mean actual gender; a chair is not going to dress up and put on earrings." It made me wonder: what is the point of this seemingly random classification? What could have come out of it? I've always, always liked English's 'it' pronoun. It just makes so much sense, in my opinion, and I actually consider this small, two-letter word one of my favorite things about English.

So, what do you think about this paper? Do you know of any other hypotheses that relate to the phenomenom of gender in language?
Tags: gender, language
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