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Grammar & Gender Tuesday 9 October 2007 Jacomine Nortier Utrecht Institute of Linguistics, Utrecht University

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Presentation on theme: "Grammar & Gender Tuesday 9 October 2007 Jacomine Nortier Utrecht Institute of Linguistics, Utrecht University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Grammar & Gender Tuesday 9 October 2007 Jacomine Nortier Utrecht Institute of Linguistics, Utrecht University

2 My background: BA in Scandinavian Ls MA (in NL: doctoraal) in Linguistics, course in Moroccan Arabic. Specialized in SLA. PhD (‘gepromoveerd’) on code-switching Dutch-Moroccan Arabic, both sociolinguistic and grammatical aspects (constraints). Supervisor: Pieter Muysken. Educationalists, Arabists and since 1992: Utrecht University; strong focus on generative & formal linguistics. Sociolinguistics: always in the defense but it keeps me alert Interdisciplinarity: sociology, anthropology, ethnology, even theology/islam studies and medieval studies My job: teach and research sociolinguistics. In practice: everything that is not formal linguistics, ranging from L1 and L2 acqu, creolistics and pragmatics to language & gender, language contact & bilingualism

3 My own research: Still some codeswitching (signed/spoken); patterns that are characteristic for specific communities (i.e. Turks vs. Moroccans in NL) Internet data as a source for research on language contact (cs) Youth languages, crossing, language and identity, ethnicity, relation politics / use of language with covert prestige Language and gender: first because I had to (teach). Try to catch attention from formal linguists. How? This talk!

4 Outline: Basic question: Is grammatical gender related to societal gender? Is grammatical gender assigned arbitrarily? Related to societal gender? Does societal gender play a role in (hard-core) grammar? Yes, through Animacy Case marking Active-passive voice Grammatical and societal markedness Animacy: the higher the better? Conclusion

5 Gender in grammar Only interesting for sociolinguists? Only for softies? Only arbitrary? Where is gender visible?

6 Grammatical gender: nouns der Mann - die Frau le garçon - la fille de mens – het huis le soleil - la lune der Mond - die Sonne

7 Harris (1751) found that distinctions in gender can be related to real-life characteristics: Concepts that refer to time and death are said to be masculine because of their irresistable force and power. Virtue and reason, on the other hand, are feminine because of their association with beauty.

8 Assignment of gender: arbitrary (i.e.: unrelated to societal gender)? -keit is feminine?! diminutive: neuter Mark Twain: “The awful German language”

9 Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect for the girl. See how it looks in print -- I translate this from a conversation in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books: "Gretchen.  Wilhelm, where is the turnip? Wilhelm.  She has gone to the kitchen. Gretchen.  Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden? Wilhelm.  It has gone to the opera."

10 (…) a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female, -Tom-cats included, of course; a person’s mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body, are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it, -for in Germany all the women wear either male heads or sexless ones; a person’s nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, hips, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience, haven’t any sex at all. (…)

11 Conclusion of this part: Assignment of grammatical gender is related to societal gender but only to a certain degree. As far as nouns are concerned.

12 Animacy-hierarchy: From animate... (God) humans: men and women animate and non-human but with human characteristics (‘higher’ animals) animate and non-human (‘lower’ animals) living but inanimate (plants) lifeless (such as stones or tables)...to inanimate

13 Based on typological studies, (mainly by Bernard Comrie) Precautions : Generalisations There are always exceptions!

14  Animacy can be expressed grammatically  The presence or absence of grammatical distinctions can sometimes be traced back to distinctions or differences in animacy. Closer look at Case marking Voice: active/passive (Markedness)

15 Case A separate accusative case is often indicative of a high position in the animacy hierarchy. If a language distinguishes nominative and accusative case, high animacy goes together with a separate accusative case.

16 Examples Neuter gender is lowest in animacy- hierarchy ( if language has neuter ) Latin/Greek: nom/acc neuter have the same form. Nom/acc masc/fem have separate forms: bellum/bellum vs. hortus/hortum and rosa/rosam

17 Why? Perhaps neuter subjects usually don’t occur as active nominative forms (agent). I will return to this when discussing active-passive voice.

18 Conclusion so far: If a language has a separate neuter gender, it has fewer distinctions than masc/fem  related to position in animacy hierarchy. Or: if one gender has fewer grammatical distinctions than an (the) other, it is the neuter gender.

19 And what about the relation between animacy and masculine/feminine gender?

20 If a language has more grammatical distinctions for one gender than for the other, it is always the masculine gender that has most distinctions! And (almost?) never the other way round.

21 Examples: German articles (and also Greek, e.g.): Masc nom/acc: der/den Fem nom/acc: die/die Neuter nom/acc: das/das

22 Dutch pronominal system (sing.):. NomGenAcc. 1 st persikme/mijnme/mij 2 nd persje/jijje/jouwje/jou 3 rd pers(f) ze/zijd’r/haard‘r/haar (m) ie/hijz’n/zijn‘m/hem (n) ‘t/het-‘t/het

23 Slavonic languages Some masculine nouns used to have a disctinctive genitive-like accusative case. Feminine forms didn’t have that. Comrie on early-Slavonic (1983, page 189):

24 “(…)it seems that an even more rigorous socially-based distinction existed in the early period, namely that the new form was used for male, adult, freeborn, healthy humans, i.e., not for women, children, slaves or cripples.”

25 Again: animacy?

26 Active/passive: Grammatical subject has a higher position in the animacy hierarchy than grammatical object.

27 Compare: Active: Een hond beet mijn broer (a dog bit my brother) Een steen raakte het kind (a stone hit the child) Passive: Mijn broer werd door een hond gebeten (My brother was bitten by a dog) Het kind werd door een steen geraakt (The child was hit by a stone)

28 There are even languages where women can’t occur as agents in the position of grammatical subjects when the patient & grammatical object is masculine (but there are not many of them).

29 To be honest: I am not sure whether what comes now has to do with grammar:

30 Grammatical markedness; masc is the basis from which other genders are derived; related to societal gender? Arabic : malik = king malik-a = queen (names: Rachid-a; Aziz-a)) Berber: arba = boy t-arba-t = little boy; girl (and numerous other languages)

31 Generic ‘he’: ‘Anyone who enters this room must take off …. shoes’ A lot more to say: not now and here.

32 Societal markedness: read (Dutch) newspapers “When you watch TV you it’s always the same: you made it when you are well- dressed, have an expensive car, and a beautiful sexy girl.” “Refugees with their wives and children (…)”

33 Headlines mid-September: “Airplane crashed in Thailand. Among the injured were a 29 year Dutch man from Arnhem and his girl friend.”

34 Conclusion of part on markedness: Male/masculine is unmarked Female/feminine is derived. Less important? Lower in animacy?? I doubt it.

35 Animacy. The higher the better, and not only in grammar: Now, by the above dissection, the reader will see that in Germany a man may think he is a man, but when he comes to look in to the matter closely, he is bound to have his doubts (…) The humiliating second thought will quickly remind him that in this respect he is no better off than any woman or cow in the land. (Mark Twain, in Teacher 1979: 192)

36 From a selection of Albert Einsteins letters: A teacher in a school (fifth grade) in Ohio discovered that most of his pupils were shocked when he told them that humans are a specific kind of animals.

37 ‘Juffrouw Laps’, zei Stoffel plechtig – en er was een gewichtig ogenblik aangebroken in ’t avendje van juffrouw Pieterse – ‘juffrouw Laps, je bent ’n zoogdier.’ (…) Ik erken onbekwaam te zyn tot geschiedschryver van de krisis die er volgde op dat vreselyk woord. (…) ‘Juffrouw Pieterse, je bent ’n keronje! Je mag zelf een zoogdier wezen, jy en je zoon, dat zeg ik je! Ik ben zo fatsoenlijk als jy durft te denken, want m’n vader was in de granen (…).’ (Multatuli 1985: )

38 Conclusion of ‘the higher the better’: Sometimes male is higher than female is higher than neuter Sometimes [+human] is higher than [-human]

39 Conclusions: Assignment of grammatical gender is related to societal gender but only to a certain degree. As far as nouns are concerned. If a language has a separate neuter gender, this gender has fewer grammatical distinctions than masc/fem  related to position in animacy hierarchy. If one gender has more grammatical distinctions than the other, it is always masculine gender that has most distinctions, neuter has the least. Order: masculine – feminine – neuter Grammatical subject has a higher position in the animacy hierarchy than grammatical object. Order: masculine – feminine – neuter Masculine/male: unmarked; feminine/female: derived. Animacy: the higher the better (human[male  female]  neuter)

40 Thank you for your attention!


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