Anonymous (ulvesang) wrote in linguaphiles,

Grammatical Gender: A Non-Sapir-Whorfist Analysis?

Is anyone familiar with any publications which describe or hypothesise why/how grammatical gender/noun classes developed in a language or languages without resorting to fuzzy pseudo-sociolinguistic/cultural arguments, which are usually tautologies in any case (e.g. "in the Spanish-speaking world, the moon embodies typically feminine qualities")?

The only "practical" function of them I can find is the possibility of n-way anaphoric binding for n genders - e.g. German Er liegt zwischen ihm und ihr ('he lies between it and her') could accurately describe the placement of utensils on a dining table (der Löffel 'the spoonMASC', das Messer 'the knifeNEUT', die Gabel 'the forkFEM')... or for the confusion of 2nd-language learners. However, while some languages feature 10 or more noun classes (e.g. Bantu languages), there are a great many languages which work just fine without any.

(Granted, this argument could hold reasonably well for inflection, lexical accent, lexical tone, tense, aspect...)
Tags: gender

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