Gender collapse/unorthodox usage in Afro-Asiatic languages?

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Isfendil
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Gender collapse/unorthodox usage in Afro-Asiatic languages?

Post by Isfendil » Mon 09 May 2016, 01:28

I would like to specify that while the title calls on the entire Afro asiatic group in general, I am especially interested in the Semitic subfamily. I would also like to say that I am asking this, not so much for conlang purposes (I've already started on my semlang and it's gendered) but out of genuine curiousity. I speak Farsi, an entirely ungendered IE language. As I understand it, gender has collapsed mostly in English as well, save for the third person pronouns. Has this happened to any of the Afro asiatic languages?

The second title question, unorthodox gender use, is related to something peculiar I read about Amharic. For one, Amharic has some additional pronouns, called polite pronouns, which are used to refer to priests and other such respectable people in Ethiopian society. It is otherwise gendered, but it also does something strange wherein males can use the female gender to refer to their compatriots or friends- alternatively, to sound insulting as well (although I don't know what contexts dictate each).
To add to the unorthodox gender usage questions, can/do Semitic languages use female default for groups or other neutral situations? Slightly unrelated, but do plural pronouns convey respect in any of the Afro asiatic languages?

And finally, if gender hasn't collapsed in any of the Afro asiatic languages, can it do so reasonably (I know that it can, but I want to know whether it's likely in a premodern context)? Why did gender collapse in Iranian languages?
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Re: Gender collapse/unorthodox usage in Afro-Asiatic languag

Post by Davush » Tue 10 May 2016, 22:38

Gender can collapse easily in any language group given the right circumstances. Introduce a few sound changes (such as loss of final /a/ or /at/ in the case of Arabic) and maybe merge the pronouns /huwa/ and /hija/) and gender could easily be done away with.

Arabic does a lot of strange things with gender in general. Numbers up to 10 'disagree' with their noun. Adjectives agree in the feminine singular with 'broken plurals', even if the singular is a masculine noun. Broken plurals are traditionally referred to with the feminine pronoun 'hiya' (she), regardless of gender of the singular form, but in dialect this is often 'hum' (they). Numbers however, 'disagree' with the original gender of the noun even if they appear in a broken plural form, unlike adjectives and pronouns.

In Kuwaiti dialect, the one with which I am most familiar, it is increasingly common to use the masculine plural to refer to groups of females such as 'banaat 7ilwiin' (nice girls), rather than the expected 'banaat 7ilwaat'. I can imagine this being extended to all feminine and broken plurals. In fact, things like 'ashyaa2 7ilwiin' (instead of singular feminine agreement with the broken plural - ashyaa2 7ilwa) don't sound too wrong.

Arabic uses the feminine for groups and tribes - especially very classical Arabic and some Najdi/Gulf dialects but not when addressing them directly using pronouns.
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Re: Gender collapse/unorthodox usage in Afro-Asiatic languag

Post by Isfendil » Wed 11 May 2016, 05:21

Davush wrote: Arabic does a lot of strange things with gender in general. Numbers up to 10 'disagree' with their noun. Adjectives agree in the feminine singular with 'broken plurals', even if the singular is a masculine noun. Broken plurals are traditionally referred to with the feminine pronoun 'hiya' (she), regardless of gender of the singular form, but in dialect this is often 'hum' (they). Numbers however, 'disagree' with the original gender of the noun even if they appear in a broken plural form, unlike adjectives and pronouns.
I understood the second paragraph, but could you show examples of this? I'm still a bit unclear.
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Re: Gender collapse/unorthodox usage in Afro-Asiatic languag

Post by Davush » Wed 11 May 2016, 10:11

This is one of the more confusing aspects of Arabic grammar.
I'm going to ignore case endings for this.

So, 'bayt' is 'house' and it's masculine.
The broken plural is 'buyuut'. The noun itself is still masculine, but broken plurals usually take agreement in the feminine singular.

bayt kabiir
- a big house (kabiir being masc. sing.)
buyuut kabiira - big houses (kabiira being fem. sing.)

Numbers 'disagree', so a masculine noun takes feminine numbers and vice-versa.

thalaathatu buyuut - 3 houses (where thalaathatu is feminine because bayt in a masc. noun.)
thalaath banaat - 3 girls (where thalaath is masculine because bint is a fem. noun.)

Dialects tend to use the masculine form of numbers regardless, at least in the Gulf.
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Re: Gender collapse/unorthodox usage in Afro-Asiatic languag

Post by Isfendil » Wed 11 May 2016, 19:16

Davush wrote:This is one of the more confusing aspects of Arabic grammar.
I'm going to ignore case endings for this.

So, 'bayt' is 'house' and it's masculine.
The broken plural is 'buyuut'. The noun itself is still masculine, but broken plurals usually take agreement in the feminine singular.

bayt kabiir
- a big house (kabiir being masc. sing.)
buyuut kabiira - big houses (kabiira being fem. sing.)

Numbers 'disagree', so a masculine noun takes feminine numbers and vice-versa.

thalaathatu buyuut - 3 houses (where thalaathatu is feminine because bayt in a masc. noun.)
thalaath banaat - 3 girls (where thalaath is masculine because bint is a fem. noun.)

Dialects tend to use the masculine form of numbers regardless, at least in the Gulf.

Excellent, I get it now. So what you mean by your second paragraph is that, via overgeneralization, a dialect of a language can make all broken plurals take a feminine singular ending in the quantifier? That sounds like a step in the right direction. And, I'm guessing that once that's been done, that children will use feminine numbering for all plurals, and then that will slowly overgeneralize then reapply itself elsewhere until gender collapses?
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Re: Gender collapse/unorthodox usage in Afro-Asiatic languag

Post by Davush » Thu 12 May 2016, 09:48

Yes, I can easily imagine the feminine singular becoming interpreted as a general plural agreement marker, regardless of gender. (This is the opposite of what Gulf dialects are doing though, they're using the masculine plural with broken plurals, but there's no reason why it couldn't happen the other way.)

However, this still leaves a gender distinction in the singular (as well as other things showing agreement like verbs):
bayt kabiir - a big house
bint kabiira - a big girl

I think the most likely way to get rid of gender would be to introduce a sound change such as loss of final -a giving:
bayt kabiir and bint kabiir. This could trigger loss of gender agreement throughout the morphology.
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