Grammatical gender

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wakeagainstthefall
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Grammatical gender

Post by wakeagainstthefall » 28 May 2014 07:21

Right now I'm making a conlang loosely based on linguistic phenomena in European (not necessarily Indo-European) languages such as Latin, Greek, Finnish, etc., but that also has a few quirks of its own. The people that speak this language will be to their own world what the Greeks and Romans were to the Western world.

Anyway, instead of the standard masculine, feminine, and/or neuter, I've decided for the conlang to have animate/inanimate. But what exactly could I classify as animate? Could the noun for "the sea" be an animate noun if it represents an obviously sentient god or goddess? I'm just thinking of examples in Greek such as "thalassa" and "ouranos," which are the words for sea and sky, but also the names of the deities associated with them. Could inanimate objects associated with certain gods or sentient beings be considered animate in gender then? And what about words like "face" or "hand," which are parts of sentient beings?
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Julanga » 28 May 2014 08:40

Swedish has animate and inanimate genders. These are some examples:

sjö "sea/lake" - animate
hav "sea/ocean" - inanimate
himmel "sky/heaven" - animate

ansikte "face" - inanimate
hand "hand" - animate
kropp "body" - animate
huvud "head" - inanimate
ben "leg/bone" - inanimate
arm "arm" - animate
öga "eye" - inanimate
öra "ear" - inanimate
tand "tooth" - animate

nyckel "key" - animate
lås "lock" - inanimate

dörr "door" - animate
vägg "wall" - animate
mur "wall" - animate
fönster "window" - inanimate
tak "roof/ceiling" - inanimate
golv "floor" - inanimate

bord "table" - inanimate
stol "chair" - animate

bil "car" - animate
hus "house" - inanimate
cykel "bicycle" - animate
träd "tree" - inanimate
blomma "flower" - animate

barn "child" - inanimate
pojke "boy" - animate
flicka "(young) girl" - animate

djur "animal" - inanimate
däggdjur "mammal" - inanimate
hund "dog" - animate
katt "cat" - animate
fågel "bird" - animate
insekt "insect" - animate

planet "planet" - animate
stjärna "star" - animate

sten "pebble" - animate
hål "hole" - inanimate
grop "hole, hollow (in surface)" - animate

blixt "lightning (count noun)/flash" - animate
våg "wave/(measuring) scale" - animate

There are patterns, but you still have to learn it by heart.



(If I made a conlang with genders I would let animate refer to beings, intelligences, such as humans, angels, klingons, dogs, birds, insekts, worms, and AIs. Anything with any genuine thought and will, even if primitive. Inanimate would be everything else, including computers without genuine AI and body-parts. My conlang has these categories lexicalized, but it doesn't have any genders.)



Klingon has three genders:
- entities capable of using language
- body-parts
- everything else

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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by gach » 28 May 2014 11:28

Don't get too hung up with the association of animacy and associated spirits or deities. Animacy can also be associated with agentivity so that naturally inanimate things that are dynamic and capable of causing action on their own (like wind or moving water) are also classified as animate. Animacy can also cover items that are culturally relevant. So depending on the culture, a blacksmith's utensils might be animate while fishing gear isn't.

Even if you stick to determining animacy purely based on the natural animacy of the things, you have to decide where to draw the line between animate and inanimate. Will plants be animate? What about small invertebrates? If you are going to be really strict about what to call animate, you might only include people and the culturally most relevant big animals under the animate gender.
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eldin raigmore
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by eldin raigmore » 28 May 2014 14:03

wakeagainstthefall wrote:... But what exactly could I classify as animate? Could the noun for "the sea" be an animate noun if it represents an obviously sentient god or goddess? ... Could inanimate objects associated with certain gods or sentient beings be considered animate in gender then? And what about words like "face" or "hand," which are parts of sentient beings?
My conlang Adpihi has three degrees of animacy rather than two.
(In reality my definition of animacy has to do with will or volition and the possibility of control.)
In the conlang the three degrees of animacy are:
  • "inanimate": not able to move under its own power and control
  • "sessile animate": able to move under its own power and control, but not able to translocate its own entire body from one place to another under its own power and control
  • "free animate": able to translocate its own entire body from one place to another under its own power and control
This conlang also has some other divisions that are logically independent of animacy and of each other; among them are living vs nonliving, sentient vs nonsentient, and rational vs nonrational.
Living things are those capable of growing, or multiplying, or reproducing, or spreading. Nonliving things are incapable of growing, multiplying, reproducing, spreading.
Sentient things have senses and/or can sense or perceive, for instance can see or hear or feel; nonsentient things cannot perceive.

"Rational" is something of a misnomer. It "means" "capable of reasoning", but actually it is used to mean "capable of using language".
It's also a bit fuzzy.
A being is "capable of using" a language if it is capable of understanding and of uttering completely new sentences in that language.
If a being is not thus capable of using even one language, it is non-rational.
If a being is capable of learning a new (to that being) language it is rational.
Beings that can use one or more languages but cannont learn any language they don't already know are kind of in the fuzzy border between rational and nonrational.
"Rational" probably is not independent of animacy and sentience. A completely inanimate being probably can't be "rational", though a sessile animate could; likewise a completely nonsentient being probably couldn't be "rational".

A deity would probably be free-animate, non-living, sentient, and rational.
Whether or not a body-part would be sessile-animate or inanimate might depend on one's attitude.
For instance a man might feel that his penis was sessile-animate, if it didn't seem to be entirely under his control.

"Fire" and "water" might have different translations depending on how "animate" they are and how "living" they are.

A fire which is being used on purpose and under control might be sessile-animate if, for instance, it's powering a "donkey engine" or some other fixed machine.
An out-of-control wildfire might be both free-animate and living.

Water lying or sitting in a bowl or vessel or pond or lake might be inanimate and non-living.
A stream which is powering a water-mill might be considered sessile-animate and non-living.
A river which is flooding and bursting its banks might be consider free-animate and living.

Since these classifications of nouns (the three degrees of animacy, along with living/nonliving, sentient/nonsentient, rational/nonrational, and concrete/abstract (and if I left something out I can't remember what it was or whether I left it out)), are all dimensions of gender in Adpihi, they are all lexically inherent in the nouns, and other words must "agree" or concord with them.

Adpihi has morphemes that can re-type a noun, like the "-ess" ending in English. So in some cases it's transparently obvious that two nouns of different gender actually refer to the same sort of things.
So for instance a baby who cannot yet crawl might be sessile-animate, living, sentient, and non-rational;
one who can walk but has not yet begun to learn to talk might be free-animate, living, sentient, and non-rational;
and one who can talk as well as walk might be free-animate, living, sentient, and rational.
Since unmarked humans can walk and talk and either grow or reproduce, the base noun for a human might have those classes; one "type-caste" morpheme might be used to make a noun for humans who can't use any language, and an additional one might be used for humans who can't take themselves from point A to point B.

I hope that's given you some additional ideas about how to think of "animacy".

For me, in real life, something is animate if it could be an agent*, and/or it might be important to communicate whether its participation in some clause were voluntary or involuntary.
*An agent is something that can perform, or instigate, or effect, or control, the action-or-whatever-the-verb-represents in its clause.
Edit: If something that could be an agent, is an involuntary participant or a non-agent participant (e.g. the patient) in the clause, that should be marked somehow; if it never could be an agent there may be no need to mark that it isn't one in this clause either.
For my conlang I chose to take the ability to move as the marker of animacy. But merely being able to move doesn't make something animate; it has to be able to do so under its own power and under its own control to count as animate. So an automobile wouldn't be animate unless it were self-driving.

Since "gender" is split into a few different dimensions in my conlang it is well-set-up to have "genders" for high-tech or science-fictional new nouns that don't fit into any of the "genders" from its prehistoric or ancient vocabulary. That's just an added benefit of realizing that these features of nouns are not necessarily dependent in any fixed way, and not necessarily ordered in any fixed sequence.

So; does that help? Does it further clarify some of the ideas some of your thread's other contributors have been saying?
Last edited by eldin raigmore on 28 May 2014 22:55, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Micamo » 28 May 2014 14:22

Basically, "animate" and "inanimate" are just words linguists use to describe the genders in various languages because of certain broad patterns; Reality is, as with sex-based systems, the division can be as arbitrary as you like.
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Systemzwang » 28 May 2014 15:31

julanga,
calling the Swedish neuter and common genders "animate" and "inanimate" is not quite accurate in any sense; they don't behave like animate vs. inanimate in animate-inanimate systems, us native speakers don't really see them as distinct by any actual sense of animacy, nor anything like that.

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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Linguist_Wannabe » 30 May 2014 17:07

Julanga wrote:Swedish has animate and inanimate genders. These are some examples:

sjö "sea/lake" - animate
hav "sea/ocean" - inanimate
himmel "sky/heaven" - animate

ansikte "face" - inanimate
hand "hand" - animate
kropp "body" - animate
huvud "head" - inanimate
ben "leg/bone" - inanimate
arm "arm" - animate
öga "eye" - inanimate
öra "ear" - inanimate
tand "tooth" - animate

nyckel "key" - animate
lås "lock" - inanimate

dörr "door" - animate
vägg "wall" - animate
mur "wall" - animate
fönster "window" - inanimate
tak "roof/ceiling" - inanimate
golv "floor" - inanimate

bord "table" - inanimate
stol "chair" - animate

bil "car" - animate
hus "house" - inanimate
cykel "bicycle" - animate
träd "tree" - inanimate
blomma "flower" - animate

barn "child" - inanimate
pojke "boy" - animate
flicka "(young) girl" - animate

djur "animal" - inanimate
däggdjur "mammal" - inanimate
hund "dog" - animate
katt "cat" - animate
fågel "bird" - animate
insekt "insect" - animate

planet "planet" - animate
stjärna "star" - animate

sten "pebble" - animate
hål "hole" - inanimate
grop "hole, hollow (in surface)" - animate

blixt "lightning (count noun)/flash" - animate
våg "wave/(measuring) scale" - animate

There are patterns, but you still have to learn it by heart.



(If I made a conlang with genders I would let animate refer to beings, intelligences, such as humans, angels, klingons, dogs, birds, insekts, worms, and AIs. Anything with any genuine thought and will, even if primitive. Inanimate would be everything else, including computers without genuine AI and body-parts. My conlang has these categories lexicalized, but it doesn't have any genders.)



Klingon has three genders:
- entities capable of using language
- body-parts
- everything else
Very interesting point about Swedish. I remember hearing somewhere than native American languages that make an animacy distinction often tend to draw the boundary between them in interesting ways.

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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by abi » 30 May 2014 17:34

I've always found Australian noun class systems fascinating, as they combine gender and animacy in a wide variety of ways, with some languages being very clear cut and others and arbitrary as european languages. My personal favorite from Australian Languages:
One of the most insightful discussions is that by Pensalfini (1997: 254) concerning the
four noun classes in NCb1, Djingulu: ‘The easiest class to characterise is the smallest,
and apparently most marked, vegetable class. This class is occupied mostly by objects
that are long and thin or pointed, or are sharp, which happens to include a lot of vegetables,
but also body parts such as colon, penis, tail, neck, umbilical cord and chin; instruments
such as spears, didgeridoos, fire-drills, shields and barbed wire; phenomena such as lightning
and rainbows; and features like roads, gullies and trenches. Some plant food that is
not of this shape, such as acacia gum and berries, are in this class (though most are neuter),
and there are some unusual entries such as the words for war and the ceremonial ring.
The next smallest and specialised class is the feminine, which aside from words for female
higher animals includes words for axes of all sorts, the sun, most smaller songbirds, and
some of the more “unusual” animals including echidnas, flightless birds, crabs, scorpions,
turtles and catfish. The two remaining classes are the most general, with the masculine
being used for most other animates and neuter for inanimates. Exceptions to this are that
flat and/or round inanimates tend to be masculine, including many trees, the moon, shadows,
swamps (with water), grindstones, eggs, rounded spear throwers, boomerangs, coolamons,
and things made of glass. Also body parts that are flat, such as liver, brow and
vagina, are masculine. The neuter gender includes all words for dwellings, materials, sticks
and stones, instruments and body and plant parts that do not fall into other gender classes
on the basis of shape properties, and most abstract concepts and entities.’

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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by eldin raigmore » 30 May 2014 17:40

So a vagina is masculine, but a penis is vegetable.

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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Micamo » 30 May 2014 19:19

eldin raigmore wrote:So a vagina is masculine, but a penis is vegetable.
Sounds about right.
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by thetha » 30 May 2014 23:15

Linguist_Wannabe wrote: Very interesting point about Swedish. I remember hearing somewhere than native American languages that make an animacy distinction often tend to draw the boundary between them in interesting ways.
In Arapaho, hiteehíb 'strawberry' and honíí'o 'raspberry' are both animate, but the general term for berry is inanimate. The words for almost all other plants are inanimate as well.

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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Yačay256 » 05 Jun 2014 21:12

I'm working on Sakoaryi ([sakoɒ̯ɹjɪ]), a conlang wherein each nominal must take one of five genders, and these are assigned more or less strictly according to semantics: The rational gender; the animate (including all body parts); the abstract; the concrete (for artificial things that are concrete) and the inanimate (for naturally occurring concrete).
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Thrice Xandvii » 05 Jun 2014 23:06

Yačay256 wrote:the concrete (for artificial things that are concrete)
So things like roadways, and skyscrapers and urban art pieces?
and the inanimate (for naturally occurring concrete).
Like... rocks?

I'm totally kidding, but I just couldn't resist.

I've been thinking about the three-class system in use in Khengallese, and I keep wanting to assign things based on natural gender, even though that isn't what the classes are for. (I blame Spanish.) In case you are unfamiliar with the classes I came up with they are:

Class I (Solid): This consists of things that are generally unchanging objects (in the physical sense), things like rocks, people, food items, etc. It is probably the largest in terms of number of items that belong to it.

Class II (Fluid): This is for items that are subject to change as a natural extension of them existing. So far things like air, water, lava, maybe emotions also.

Class III (Æthid): Lastly we have everything associated with the sky, dieties, and "celestial" things (like stars, constellations and visible planets... though this planet would likely be considered Class I), possibly also fire and lightning. I think this group will be the smallest.

I keep debating if things like thoughts, emotions, and other not-so-concrete concepts will be a part of the æthid or fluid classes. Another thing troubling me is if I should randomly sprinkle a few items into each class that don't really make sense, but that have things in common lexically with other entries of that class (since there are a few trends among each class: solids tend to end in consonants, fluids in short vowels, and æthids in a long vowel or /u/).
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Imralu » 14 Jun 2014 10:53

My conlang, Ngolu/Te has three genders.

Inanimate: inanimate objects, plants, abstract concepts, animals*, slaves*
Animate: humans other than initiated men, goddess, animals*
Masculine: initiated men, god

The usage of the genders differs a little depending on the speaker. Initiated men, who are referred to in the masculine gender, refer to slaves and all animals other than pets in the inanimate gender. All other speakers refer to slaves and all non-sessile animals (ie. insects, worms, but not coral) in the animate gender.
Glossing Abbreviations: COMP = comparative, C = complementiser, ACS / ICS = accessible / inaccessible, GDV = gerundive, SPEC / NSPC = specific / non-specific, AG = agent, E = entity (person, animal, thing)
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by eldin raigmore » 14 Jun 2014 18:44

Huhm! Interesting gender-system, Imralu.

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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Imralu » 15 Jun 2014 12:46

Thanks!
Glossing Abbreviations: COMP = comparative, C = complementiser, ACS / ICS = accessible / inaccessible, GDV = gerundive, SPEC / NSPC = specific / non-specific, AG = agent, E = entity (person, animal, thing)
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by Curlyjimsam » 10 Jul 2014 19:57

In my language Greater Atlian, the gender I describe as "human" is actually used for anything that can talk, and that I call "animate" anything that can move. So radios and talking animals in fairy tales are "human", but babies aren't. And cars are "animate". And so on.
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Re: Grammatical gender

Post by mbrsart » 10 Jul 2014 20:22

So, it's basically High-animate, Low-animate, and Inanimate?
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