The origin of gender

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The origin of gender

Postby FredKurz » Sun 08 Sep 2013 6:54 pm

I have asked the uneducated, the normally educated, the hyper educated, linguistically or otherwise and no one has ever been able to answer who or why gender was ever introduced into any language. Sanskrit even has it. Chinese does not (lucky them). Was there ever a communicative/emotional reason to have a masculine boat or female automobile (French) which 'in those ancient days' gave an added nuance to a noun by the listener knowing that the inanimate object had a so-called feminine or masculine quality? Was there a psychic purpose? Was there actual function in assigning and using gender?
If anyone knows, which ancient culture was the first? Or which ancient ruler? And why?
This has been bothering me for a long time and I, sigh, would like to resolve it before before going the way of dead languages.

Fred Kurz
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Re: The origin of gender

Postby linguoboy » Mon 09 Sep 2013 6:31 pm

FredKurz wrote:Was there ever a communicative/emotional reason to have a masculine boat or female automobile (French) which 'in those ancient days' gave an added nuance to a noun by the listener knowing that the inanimate object had a so-called feminine or masculine quality? Was there a psychic purpose? Was there actual function in assigning and using gender?

There are two sets of questions here: those related to gender systems generally and those related to Western European gender systems specifically. Although M/F or M/F/N gender systems are relatively common, they're far from the only possibilities. Even within Europe you see "common/neuter" systems in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Chapter 31 of the World Atlas of Language Structures talks about some of the other systems out there and their distribution. As you can see from that, "animate" vs "non-animate" is a pretty common distinction.

In fact, it's commonly accepted in Indo-European studies that Proto-Indo-European originally had an animate/inanimate system and that the future feminine gender developed out of the inanimate declension. But what purpose did this gender system serve? Well, there's some evidence that PIE had a complete different syntax from its descendent languages and underwent a major realignment of its verbal system. Having separate genders (and concord between and among noun phrases) is helpful for clarifying the relationship between elements of a phrase or clause. So the usual explanation is that the system was elaborated during a time of transition and then largely retained after that because there was no good reason to simply chuck it (although some Indo-European languages--notably Persian and, to a less extent, English and Afrikaans--have gone on to do that).

FredKurz wrote:If anyone knows, which ancient culture was the first? Or which ancient ruler? And why?

This is essentially unknowable. We don't know how far human language dates back or what features prehistorical languages did or didn't have.
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Re: The origin of gender

Postby Mikhail » Thu 28 Nov 2013 8:12 pm

FredKurz wrote:... who or why gender was ever introduced into any language. ...


Those questions related to evolving the language is like a deep dark forest.
As for my mother language, Russian, I can give a representative example.
Imagine I sit at the table with my son and daughter and I say:
- "За водой ходила?" (have you brought the water?)
Notice, I mark the verb ending "a" which stands for the feminine in russian language. So in this situation it is now clear that I adress my question to the woman (so the daughter, not the son) even without telling the name of the person.
As the spoken language started to evolve I suppose it was used mostly for such a situation as described above and reflection of gender in spoken word forms is a way to ease and shorten up the phrase. However in many other situations these word forms doesnt help and make thing unnecessary complicated.
native: Russian
know good: English, German

my constructed alphabet: Scythian
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