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Thread: Grammatical gender

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    Default Grammatical gender

    I have been trying to learn to speak french, at least to the point of being able to hold down a basic conversation with my grandparents. They can speak english, but I have always wanted to be able to speak my ancestral tounge on my mothers side.

    (It's one of my life long goals.)

    As I speak english natively, one of the biggest grievances for me is grammatical gender.

    WHY!!!!!!!!!!

    If there was an actual system to assign noun gender, it would still be a headache, but a manageable one. However in french at least, it's completely arbitrary. Why is a ball point pen masculine? WHAT IS SO MALE ABOUT IT

    It has to be the most ridiculous, arbitary, convoluted, stupid and did I mention stupid grammatical rule conceived.

    I think I'll have to go and study french in an actual course, instead of tying piece it together myself. This thread really has no purpose but for me to vent.

    French speakers, arbitary noun genders are stupid! /end rant
    Last edited by Bluenoir; 06-06-2011 at 01:49 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neotropic View Post
    Why is a ball point pen masculine? WHAT IS SO MALE ABOUT IT
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    lol. i've wondered how that works in those languages that do it, how people know which one to use. rote memorization? or is there some kind of culturally embedded understanding of what makes something masculine or feminine? (phallic - masculine lol.) i don't get it. it would frustrate the shit out of me, too.

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    laghlagh, think of it this way.

    In English, why is "to oversee" to watch over, but "an oversight" is a mistake?

    I imagine gender is one of those things you pick up that just doesn't make any logical sense.
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    There is the remnants of a system, like, "stylo" is masculine as it finishes with an -o, where as "styloe" (which doesn't exist) or, say, "voiture" is feminine as they finish with an -e. And then you've got the rules of if it finishes with -age it's masculine, if it finishes with -tion it's feminine, etc. The problem is that it's an organic language, it wasn't designed, it was just sorta developed.

    I guess if you want a system, there's always Lojban.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cat King Cole View Post
    I imagine gender is one of those things you pick up that just doesn't make any logical sense.
    This, there is no logical way of knowing which is which. It's just something you have to learn noun by noun. English, cept for some very few circumstances, is neutral. While it's second nature for my grandparents, it's totally alien thus confusing for me.

    There is the remnants of a system, like, "stylo" is masculine as it finishes with an -o, where as "styloe" (which doesn't exist) or, say, "voiture" is feminine as they finish with an -e. And then you've got the rules of if it finishes with -age it's masculine, if it finishes with -tion it's feminine, etc. The problem is that it's an organic language, it wasn't designed, it was just sorta developed.
    Alright, there is no reliable way of determining gender.
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    From my romance-native perspective, it seems quite stupid to think about objects as not having a gender. For example a bed is clearly male in my mind, even though it'll always be expressed as "it" in english. This can be an obstacle when learning German, though, since an object's gender isn't language-invariant.

    AFAIK the reason is simply how a given word ends in the "nearest" latin case where it ends with a vowel (i.e. casa - "house" in italian - will be feminine because its nominative ends in a, yet caso - "case" - will be masculine because its latin nominative ends in -us yet its latin accusative ends in -o). It's technically simple yet it's quite cumbersome to create a rule which doesn't even work all the time, thus rote memorization is the way to go.

    rote memorization? or is there some kind of culturally embedded understanding of what makes something masculine or feminine?
    Rote memorization, I believe.

    Why is a ball point pen masculine?
    In Italian she's female, if that makes you feel better...
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    Think of it this way:
    There is no logical connection for example between the word "bed" (the spelling/pronounciation) and the actual object. Still people learn the word, and yes, they have to memorize all words and connections between words+objects separately as they learn the language. Same with gender. So it really isn't that strange.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nowisthetime View Post
    Think of it this way:
    There is no logical connection for example between the word "bed" (the spelling/pronounciation) and the actual object. Still people learn the word, and yes, they have to memorize all words and connections between words+objects separately as they learn the language. Same with gender. So it really isn't that strange.
    I understand that, it's just strange for me to think of inanimate objects in terms of masculine and feminine.

    However,

    The word bed is only a symbol for the actual object. To then take it further and assign it a sex, seems rather strange and unnecessary to me. Why not have a blanket le? or make le and la interchangeable? Why the genders? esp due to the arbitrary (for all practical reasons) nature of their assingnment.

    Old english did it too, but for some reason it died out.

    Nevertheless, it is what it is and I will just have to accept it and learn it. The only trouble is the condescension that the french are supposedly famous for when you stuff up the oh so obvious genders. I have alot of french relatives. The flax my mother got from them for not teaching me french as a child. So I would believe that.

    I wish she did teach me though. She did not want to confuse me, as I live in Australia. Imagine a young child just starting school and mixing up the two languages
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    Quote Originally Posted by We Are Carbon View Post
    There is the remnants of a system, like, "stylo" is masculine as it finishes with an -o, where as "styloe" (which doesn't exist) or, say, "voiture" is feminine as they finish with an -e. And then you've got the rules of if it finishes with -age it's masculine, if it finishes with -tion it's feminine, etc. The problem is that it's an organic language, it wasn't designed, it was just sorta developed.

    I guess if you want a system, there's always Lojban.
    Oh shit, you know about lojban? I've been trying to learn it - to think in it!

    But yes, most languages, including English, are stupid to the extreme and end up limiting thought and whatnot; this silly rule about word gender is only the surface, if you continue in French you will grow proportionally more frustrated...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neotropic View Post
    However in french at least, it's completely arbitrary.
    In the languages I know - which do not include French - there's a significant correlation btw gender and phonetics - there's a tendency for nouns to have articles that make the sound flow easier.

    Something similar is true of English, btw - one uses the "a" or "an" indefinite article (and slightly varying pronounciation of the formal variant) depending on whether the noun is pronounced as starting with a vowel or not, avoiding vowel collision.
    Last edited by ragnar; 06-07-2011 at 12:23 AM. Reason: grammar, choice of words
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    Quote Originally Posted by We Are Carbon View Post
    There is the remnants of a system, like, "stylo" is masculine as it finishes with an -o, where as "styloe" (which doesn't exist) or, say, "voiture" is feminine as they finish with an -e. And then you've got the rules of if it finishes with -age it's masculine, if it finishes with -tion it's feminine, etc. The problem is that it's an organic language, it wasn't designed, it was just sorta developed.

    I guess if you want a system, there's always Lojban.
    ^ this

    Quote Originally Posted by FDG View Post
    From my romance-native perspective, it seems quite stupid to think about objects as not having a gender. For example a bed is clearly male in my mind, even though it'll always be expressed as "it" in english. This can be an obstacle when learning German, though, since an object's gender isn't language-invariant.
    It isn't just romance-native perspective.

    In Italian she's female, if that makes you feel better...
    What are you talking about, he's obviously male.

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    Although there are no absolutes in French concerning grammatical gender, there are some useful patterns.

    Words are usually masculine if they end with:

    -age
    -ment
    -il, -ail, -eil, -ueil
    -é (but not -té)
    -eau and -ou
    -ème, -ège
    -i, -at, -et and -ot
    -er
    -oir
    -isme
    -ing
    -ard

    Words are usually feminine if they end with:

    -tion, -sion and -son
    -ure
    -ude, -ade
    -ée
    -té
    -ière
    Consonant followed by -ie
    -euse
    -ance, -ence

    I pasted those in from this site (which has further information, including notable exceptions to the patterns) and have seen the same info in various books. Helps me a lot. It's a good exercise to find as many words as you can for each of those endings and practice writing and saying them, as a drill.

    One helpful thing about the irregularities in French, and I expect in other languages (?), is that the MOST irregular stuff often is also the most commonly encountered, so you get lots of chances to assimilate those oddities the more you're exposed to the language.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neotropic View Post
    The word bed is only a symbol for the actual object. To then take it further and assign it a sex, seems rather strange and unnecessary to me. Why not have a blanket le? or make le and la interchangeable? Why the genders?
    well where do you think new beds and blankets come from?

    i'm quite used to grammatical gender that it actually never occurred to me to question why it exists, so good question ... tbh english sounds a bit sterile without it ... it is all in the endings really - due to endings some words sound feminine while others masculine, so you'd anthropomorphize and bestow gender upon not the object but onto the word itself

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    Quote Originally Posted by FDG View Post
    From my romance-native perspective, it seems quite stupid to think about objects as not having a gender. For example a bed is clearly male in my mind, even though it'll always be expressed as "it" in english. This can be an obstacle when learning German, though, since an object's gender isn't language-invariant.
    This confuses me. In French, for example, we have

    penis--> le pénis--> masculine, so far, so good, BUT
    vagina--> le vagin--> also masculine

    Even if these are not the most colorful terms for the sex organs, they are the most basic. Is a penis male, but a vagina male, as well? Is there any reason whatsoever I would conceive of these objects as having gender, rather than only the terms that refer to them, when I am thinking and speaking in French? Or were you kidding?

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    I also find it hard to think of objects as *not* having genders. And I'm not kidding.

    Golden's example is funny. In Polish, those have matching genders... in fact I can't recall any synonyms for them that don't. Bed, however, is neutral. (That's another thing. Some languages have only two genders, like Spanish, some have three, like Polish or German, neutral being distinct, not something you can use as a replacement.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Golden View Post
    This confuses me. In French, for example, we have

    penis--> le pénis--> masculine, so far, so good, BUT
    vagina--> le vagin--> also masculine

    Even if these are not the most colorful terms for the sex organs, they are the most basic. Is a penis male, but a vagina male, as well? Is there any reason whatsoever I would conceive of these objects as having gender, rather than only the terms that refer to them, when I am thinking and speaking in French? Or were you kidding?
    Ah, the French connection. American pimps of the Africoid variety may refer to their prostitute's vagina or the services rendered therein as a cock.

    cock n. 6 [Fr. coquille, cockleshell or cowrie]
    1. [mid-19C+] {US, mainly Black/Southern} the vagina.
    2. [1920s+] intercourse with a woman.
    3. [1970s+] {US Southern} a woman, viewed solely as a sexual object; thus a piece of cock {cg. PIECE OF ASS n.}

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    But in English it's often the same thing. Country or car are for instance feminine.
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    You can always follow David Sedaris' example, who always buys things in plural, because he doesn't need to remember the genders, and so he ends up buying two chickens and two kilos of potatoes and two toasters by the end of his anecdote.
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    Oh, yeah. I've heard that it can be extremely complicated to remember the grammatical gender of words for people who don't have this feature in their languages. Even those who speak very well German often mix up the genders. This is pretty unfortunate because these mistakes are very rare for native speakers. However, it doesn't make understanding impossible or something like this. It just sounds odd.
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    Quote Originally Posted by We Are Carbon View Post
    You can always follow David Sedaris' example, who always buys things in plural, because he doesn't need to remember the genders, and so he ends up buying two chickens and two kilos of potatoes and two toasters by the end of his anecdote.
    What if he's asked to indicate what chickens to pick?
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    I have a hard time with declensions, inasmuch as they do not "exist" in Spanish. On the other hand, there are around 15 different simple tenses in Spanish, whereas there are only two in English (present and past, the rest is based on these two).
    I guess sometimes the gender of a word does not depend on "logical reasons": in German, it depends on the last letters of a word, for instance.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Ineffable View Post
    What if he's asked to indicate what chickens to pick?
    Solution: "All your chickens. I want ALL of your chickens."

    (NB: The ultimate meaning of Sedaris' story was that it was completely impractical for him to do the above, and the story was told to make fun of his attempt to try to learn French.)
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    Gender in Spanish is easy enough, although even in my peak Spanish years, I would at times make mistakes.
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    Quote Originally Posted by We Are Carbon View Post
    Solution: "All your chickens. I want ALL of your chickens."
    The adjective and pronoun "all" will use gender too . (tous[too]/toutes[toot])

    (Yeah I know that was a joke, just fooling around.)
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    Yeah. Like nowisthetime said, the connection between verbal signifier and the object-in-the-world is so random and tenuous anyway, the "addition" of gender is hardly a "change" at all. In fact, it is not a change. Gender isn't "added to" it is "part of." It is only "added to" when you come from a system that lacks gender.

    It is still odd to think of objects as having genders. I don't think of objects as having genders even though I speak spanish reasonably well (and I can at least read and write it). I can remember to use those rules but I don't attach any gender to the objects, I only remember the name of the object without any real association between the object name and the object gender, if that makes sense. The natural biases our language predisposes us to! (to which our language predisposes us). There's actually a multibillion dollar contract to research other cultures by means the cognitive biases produced by their language structures and their idiomatic expressions. Although linguists have determined that it's nothing as extreme as "The Hopi people perceive time cyclically rather than linearly because of their system of tenses," (which was an old hypothesis) our use of language does map to different ways of processing/perceiving objects. It's pretty darn cool.
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    Quote Originally Posted by silverchris9 View Post
    I can remember to use those rules but I don't attach any gender to the objects, I only remember the name of the object without any real association between the object name and the object gender, if that makes sense.
    But neither do I, gender is purely formal. I don't see a bottle more "female" than a stick, for instance. I can make symbolic associations with sexes, though they don't necessarily correspond with the grammatical gender. I associate "bed", for instance, with the feminine (like country, car - something that holds, contains or supports), though when I learn a new language which uses gender I would initially assume it's masculine, which I guess it's the same situation with someone who just learned a gender-aware language, even if it's not his/her native one.
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    I think language acquisition really does often come down to those stumbling blocks where your native language lacks grammatical features, syntactical structures, and phonemes that another one contains.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cat King Cole View Post
    laghlagh, think of it this way.

    In English, why is "to oversee" to watch over, but "an oversight" is a mistake?

    I imagine gender is one of those things you pick up that just doesn't make any logical sense.
    Well in the first instance you're implying looking from above, down below, like a photo of the earth from space.

    In the second instance you're implying looking past something or beyond something and missing something.

    I've heard oversight used in the first instance as well... like "government oversight" imply the government is monitoring something. Likewise you can say overlooked to imply something similar to oversight.

    Really imho context is what drives things home.

    Gender to me is odd, specifically why its called gender... maybe its drawing upon a deeper concept like an analogy of words to people. People exist in different variants, called genders. People exist in different ethnicities as well. Similiarly their are different languages for different ethnicities and different genders for different words.

    That seems more sensible than people selecting gender based on sexual connotations... such as "this word is a manly word" or "this word is phallic" or "this word is soft and nuturing and feminine" or "this word is girly like a female".

    My guess is probably certain languages adjusted the sound of articles and so forth for fluidity and these stuck, when scholars studied this and noticed it, they likely gave it the arbitrary name of gender, noticing it as different variations on a noun.

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    Wow, this thread is still going.

    In truth, I am actually having a lot of fun learning french, my vocabulary is almost starting to become somewhat workable. It should be obvious that my frustration in my original post was exaggerated, as this thread was made on a whim. I say this just in case some of you are tempted to read into the thread a little more than it was meant to be taken.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HaveLucidDreamz View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Cat King Cole View Post
    laghlagh, think of it this way.

    In English, why is "to oversee" to watch over, but "an oversight" is a mistake?

    I imagine gender is one of those things you pick up that just doesn't make any logical sense.
    Well in the first instance you're implying looking from above, down below, like a photo of the earth from space.

    In the second instance you're implying looking past something or beyond something and missing something.

    I've heard oversight used in the first instance as well... like "government oversight" imply the government is monitoring something. Likewise you can say overlooked to imply something similar to oversight.
    How about cold-booded having a pejorative meaning, as per dictionaries, vs positive sang-froid, then? You aren't going to get far by insisting on there being an ultimate logic to it, I'm afraid.

    Really imho context is what drives things home.
    Obviously.

    Gender to me is odd, specifically why its called gender... maybe its drawing upon a deeper concept like an analogy of words to people. People exist in different variants, called genders. People exist in different ethnicities as well. Similiarly their are different languages for different ethnicities and different genders for different words.

    That seems more sensible than people selecting gender based on sexual connotations... such as "this word is a manly word" or "this word is phallic" or "this word is soft and nuturing and feminine" or "this word is girly like a female".

    My guess is probably certain languages adjusted the sound of articles and so forth for fluidity and these stuck, when scholars studied this and noticed it, they likely gave it the arbitrary name of gender, noticing it as different variations on a noun.
    I really don't know what to make of it. Do you imagine that somehow people speaking those languages didn't know what "gender" is until some scholars (presumably speaking English or other no-gender-nonsense language) appeared out of the blue and named it "gender"?

    Grammatical gender *is* gender. Get over it. It was gender in Latin, in Old French, in Old English, in Old Norse, in Celtic languages... in most if not all languages that contributed to what is modern day English. It kicked it out along with most of declination and a significant part of conjugation, and it works, but keep in mind grammatical gender is no outlandish construct in "certain languages" that "scholars" suddenly came across, in fact it's pretty much standard for Indo-European languages. /sigh

    I see Wikipedia also says it's "merely a convenient label" and linguistic classification and whatnot, but it sure doesn't feel that way. It's more of an inconvenient reality in those languages, I'd say.

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    Le roi internet Bluenoir's Avatar
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    Humans like dichotomies. Perhaps grammatical gender is an object of a time when it was inconceivable that things (even words) could exist without fitting into some sort of dichotomous order. Hence (male, female) Human beings do have a tendency to see patterns where none actually exist.

    I'm of course speculating, that's just what I think could be a possiblity.
    The mode of goodness conditions one to happiness, passion conditions him to the fruits of action, and ignorance to madness.

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    Quote Originally Posted by werlkjlakjeraoiaeswroiaer View Post
    I think language acquisition really does often come down to those stumbling blocks where your native language lacks grammatical features, syntactical structures, and phonemes that another one contains.
    Agreed. Which is why I think at this point I'd be fine trying to learn another romance language, 'cause I'm familiar with most of their twists and turns and they feel mostly natural, but if I veered off into another language family (i.e., whatever language family mandarin falls under), I think I'd crash and burn.

    It's so cool how plastic our brains our when we're tiny.
    Not a rule, just a trend.

    IEI. Probably Fe subtype. Pretty sure I'm E4, sexual instinctual type, fairly confident that I'm a 3 wing now, so: IEI-Fe E4w3 sx/so. Considering 3w4 now, but pretty sure that 4 fits the best.

    Yes 'a ma'am that's pretty music...

    I am grateful for the mystery of the soul, because without it, there could be no contemplation, except of the mysteries of divinity, which are far more dangerous to get wrong.

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