My conlang, not yet named, but Angelic.

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Great Angemon
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My conlang, not yet named, but Angelic.

Post by Great Angemon » 30 Jan 2015 06:58

Can anyone explain to me what the purpose of gender in a language is, and how to apply it to a conlang? Like, for example, if I created a small base word and added a vowel to the end, is that enough? e.g. sen is the base for person, then adding an a makes it Divine gender, adding e makes it Mortal and adding u makes it Evil? OR am I completely wrong and misunderstanding it?
Last edited by Great Angemon on 02 Feb 2015 23:41, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Ahzoh » 30 Jan 2015 07:14

Gender is simply dividing nouns into classes, whatever those may be.
You can mark gender by suffixes or prefixes or whateverfixes.
You could divide nouns into an abstract class or concrete class, for instance.
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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Thakowsaizmu » 30 Jan 2015 07:25

Swahili, for example, has between 16 and 18 noun classes (depending on who you ask) ((they are called noun classes instead of genders)), and divides nouns along lines such as "humans", "natural forces", "groups of objects", "instruments" and so on.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by shimobaatar » 30 Jan 2015 08:33

In addition to what others have said:
Great Angemon wrote:Can anyone explain to me what the purpose of gender in a language is, and how to apply it to a conlang? Like, for example, if I created a small base word and added a vowel to the end, is that enough? e.g. sen is the base for person, then adding an a makes it Divine gender, adding e makes it Mortal and adding u makes it Evil? OR am I completely wrong and misunderstanding it?
That would be changing the gender/noun class of a noun for derivational purposes, assuming:

sena diety, god
sene person, man, mortal
senu bad person, sinner

Can sen appear alone? If so, what does it mean without a noun class/gender suffix? Just a person of any kind, mortal or immortal, good or bad?

And what do you mean, exactly, by "what's the purpose of gender in a language?"?

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by QuantumWraith » 30 Jan 2015 10:05

Great Angemon wrote:Can anyone explain to me what the purpose of gender in a language is
I don't know that there's any intentional purpose behind gender. However, at the very least, gender, along with case marking, personal agreement, etc, can serve to parse the discourse and prevent ambiguity.
Great Angemon wrote:Like, for example, if I created a small base word and added a vowel to the end, is that enough?
Affixes can be as simple or as complex, phonetically, as you'd like. However, there's a strong tendency for the former. Especially for frequently used affixes.
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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Plusquamperfekt » 30 Jan 2015 10:50

Miwonša has several declensions, but don't ask me how to determine the number of genders...

Here is an overview of my noun declension

Code: Select all

           -a     -i     -o (1)  -o (2)   -n 

NOM.SG     -a     -i     -o      -o       -n  
ACC.SG     -ai    -i     -oi     -oi      -ni
GEN.SG     -ak    -ik    -ok     -ok      -nka
DAT.SG     -aš    -iš    -oš     -oš      -nša

NOM.PL     -i/e   -a     -i      -a       -nje
ACC.PL     -i/e   -a     -i      -a       -nje
GEN.PL     -oi    -iki   -ik     -ai      -nki
DAT.PL     -iš/eš -iši   -iš     -aš      -nši

3SG PR     wai    wai    woi     woi       woi

3SG PR = 3rd person pronoun ("woi" = "he" / "wai" = "she")

So there are five declensions, but only two pronouns... Furthermore, type 3 and type 5 have the same adjective declension.. So depending on how you cound you could either say that Miwonša has two genders (masculine "woi", feminine "wai"), that Miwonša has four genders (a; i; o2; o1+n) or that Miwonša has five genders (a, i, o1, o2, n).

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Xing » 30 Jan 2015 13:11

Ahzoh wrote:Gender is simply dividing nouns into classes, whatever those may be.
Simply dividing nouns into classes does not constitute a gender system. Any language could divide theirs nouns into classes in various ways - according to, for instance, the shape of the stem.

What's characteristic of a gender system is that it triggers agreement in one way or another. For example, a language with gender may require that adjectives agree with the gender of the nouns they modify, or that verbs agree with the gender of their subjects. And commonly, nouns of different gender may require different pronouns. (A language that - like English - expresses gender only when it comes to pronouns, but nowhere else, might be considered a borderline case.)

Just in case any beginner should be lurking around here, we could repeat a couple of points:

(1) Gender does not have to be shown on the nouns themselves. Two nouns could be complete homonymes - they could be pronounced and written the same - but still take different genders. (So that they would require different inflections for accompanying verbs or adjectives.) Therefore, it's misleading to say that "nouns inflect for gender" - gender is an inherent part of the noun, which triggers inflection various other accompanying words.

(2) Simply having different words for "male" X and "female X" (like "actor" vs "actress"), is not what linguists mean when they say that a language has "gender".

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Prinsessa » 30 Jan 2015 14:01

Aww, Xing beat me to it.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Thrice Xandvii » 30 Jan 2015 14:59

Xing wrote:(2) Simply having different words for "male X" and "female X" (like "actor" vs "actress"), is not what linguists mean when they say that a language has "gender".
Unless of course there are also separate words for adjectives, for instance, that can only be used with nouns of the same class.

(While gender is a super popular term, I've always preferred the term "noun class.")
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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Systemzwang » 30 Jan 2015 15:04

Great Angemon wrote:Can anyone explain to me what the purpose of gender in a language is, and how to apply it to a conlang? Like, for example, if I created a small base word and added a vowel to the end, is that enough? e.g. sen is the base for person, then adding an a makes it Divine gender, adding e makes it Mortal and adding u makes it Evil? OR am I completely wrong and misunderstanding it?
Number of declensions isn't the key to determining the number of genders.

Normally, gender requires some kind of congruence. Having words that end in -a, -o, -i be considered 'different genders' wouldn't really be justified unless this also causes something elsewhere - separate pronouns for -a, -o and -i nouns? Some marking on adjectives? Slightly different case systems wouldn't afaict be sufficient to really justify calling a thing a case system.

So, what use does such a thing have? Well, we could go on a slight side-track to investigate one of the benefits.

Experiments have shown that if you record a word and replace one of the sounds with white noise, most listeners won't even notice a sound is missing. They'll hear the right word! Of course, acoustically, 'car' and 'tar' are obviously identical if we cover the distinctive phoneme with white noise. So, in isolation, we couldn't really all that well distinguish 'car' from 'tar' or 'bar', once white sound has covered the initial consonant (and its effect on the subsequent vowel). Our brain fills it in, and it does so based on contextual cues. You know John's had buying a car on his mind a while, and when gas prices appeared in the previous sentence, that made your brain likely to guess 'car' rather than 'tar'.

However, we could improve the likelihood of guessing right by introducing some lexically-conditioned redundancy. Thus, in a language with two words that are almost identical but differ by gender, a car whooshing past when you say the noun itself, but the gender being marked on the verb or the adjective or wherever might provide slightly more hints for the brain to efficiently resolve what was lost due to noise.

A side complication of course is that there might be words that are identical except for an underlying and not necessarily always marked gender distinction (i.e., say, a language that only marks gender on pronouns or if adjectives are present). You win some, lose some.
Last edited by Systemzwang on 30 Jan 2015 15:07, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Great Angemon » 30 Jan 2015 15:06

shimobaatar wrote: That would be changing the gender/noun class of a noun for derivational purposes, assuming:

sena diety, god
sene person, man, mortal
senu bad person, sinner
Actually, it'd be

sena- angel
sene- human
senu- demon

But no, sen can't appear as a word on it's own. Nouns need to end in a vowel to determine gender/noun class. But am I in essence correct on use?

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Prinsessa » 30 Jan 2015 15:20

I would suppose, tho, whether these are to be viewed (I intuitively wanted to say 'viewn' before my spellcheck said no – interesting) as gender, derivations or something else depending on the various factors mentioned throughout this thread.

Don't quote me on it, but I don't think an "evil" gender would be very naturalistic, if that's something you care for. Perhaps someone else could shed some light upon that.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Great Angemon » 30 Jan 2015 15:29

Prinsessa wrote:
Don't quote me on it, but I don't think an "evil" gender would be very naturalistic, if that's something you care for. Perhaps someone else could shed some light upon that.
That's actually one of the characteristics of the race speaking the language. They're angels, so naturally they see things as Divine, Mortal or Evil.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Prinsessa » 30 Jan 2015 15:30

Great Angemon wrote:
Prinsessa wrote:
Don't quote me on it, but I don't think an "evil" gender would be very naturalistic, if that's something you care for. Perhaps someone else could shed some light upon that.
That's actually one of the characteristics of the race speaking the language. They're angels, so naturally they see things as Divine, Mortal or Evil.
Oh, okay. Non-human language.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Salmoneus » 30 Jan 2015 16:12

Since it comes up so often, I thought it might be helpful to give a fuller explanation of 'what is gender for'.

First things first: most things in language are 'for' a lot of different purposes. Gender has many advantages. In some languages, only some of those advantages are made use of - not all gender systems are the same.

So, here are some advantages of having gender:

- easy way to distinguish male and female things (or animate vs inanimate, or whatever gender system is being used)
Sometimes it's nice to be able to say 'sheepa' for female sheep, 'sheepo' for male sheep and 'sheepu' for neuter sheep, rather than needing the words 'ewe', 'ram', 'wether', and then having to learn an equivalent set of three for every single animal out there.
As has been pointed out, this (i.e. gender-derivation) is not normally enough for a system to be called 'gender', but it is a useful byproduct. It should also follow that there may be systems that have gender (or just gender-derivation) only for certain classes, like humans or livestock, where gender actually matters.

- disambiguates homophones
If two words are distinguished by gender, they don't need to be different from one another to be understandable as having different meanings. In German, for example, (iirc?) 'See' is the word for both an ocean and a lake... but one is masculine and one is feminine, so you can always be clear which one you mean without needing an additional word for one meaning. Of course, not all languages allow zero-marked gender, and even those that do don't necessarily have homophones with different genders. But it's a useful possibility that gender allows!

- adds redundancy
As Miekko has said, a big part of language is ensuring redundancy, to cope with information loss - languages like to encode the same information several times. In a system with gender, the information about what is meant by a word is essentially repeated throughout the sentence through things like agreement.

- allows agreement, which allows freer word order
Gender becomes gender when words agree with one another - eg adjectives agree in gender with their noun. This makes it easier to move word order around to sound nicer or to show the emphasis of the speaker more clearly. So, for instance, languages where adjectives agree with their nouns might be more willing to let the adjective go either before or in front of the noun, because there's less worry about it being mistaken for a modifier of a different, adjacent noun.

- makes the referents of pronouns more clear
There never seem to be enough pronouns, and we're always getting confused about which thing is doing what to which. One way to help with that is to make pronouns 'agree' with the thing they're referring to. This could be folded under the last point, but conceptually they're quite different (a pronoun does not semantically 'agree' with a noun - they are both of equal status, and many pronouns can be used without a noun being present at all). That this is different from agreement can also be seen pragmatically in how pronoun gender works in language: often, the pronoun shows the 'semantic' gender of the thing itself, rather than the gender of the noun that is or might be being used to refer to that thing. [Eg in German, 'das Maedchen', 'the girl', is neuter, but girls are often (iirc?) referred to with feminine pronouns, sometimes even when they are being called 'das Maedchen'.] And of course you can do pronoun gender-marking without having gender agreement: English, for instance, has gender-marking on its third-person singular personal pronoun, but nowhere else.

- encodes cultural values and worldviews
Sometimes gender can show how people see the world, and hence is used by people who want to show their membership of the cultural group. For instance, in English there has long been a convention among sailors that ships take the feminine plural. This doesn't necessarily mean that they see it as female, but it does suggest they are giving it a degree of animacy (as the english neuter has come to be seen as an inanimate), reflecting the respect and affection they feel for it. Because sailors were historically extremely important in England, this usage spread to the public at large, who wanted to show their membership of the nautical 'in-crowd'. Likewise, nations came to be given feminine pronouns, to show that they were being treated as animate entities in their own right. [More generally, English can use the feminine pronoun as a mark of affection or possessiveness - hence telling someone about their favourite guitar 'oh, she's a beauty!', to show that you understand how important it is to them]. And more recently, because the neuter is seen as inanimate, there has been a movement to refer to babies as 'he' or 'she', rather than the traditional 'it'.
Likewise, the same can happen in languages with more use of gender, and in particular of animacy. What a language treats as animate or inanimate can be very important to the speakers of a language.
Of course, it's important not to fall into the trap of assuming that this applies to ALL gender assignments. In a language like German, where most gender is arbitrary, clearly the speakers are not greatly attached to the idea of this spoon or that bridge having a particular gender. But it is a function that can be employed in some languages, for some part of the vocabulary.

- can make languages harder to learn
Relatedly, gender can have the advantage of making it harder to learn a language. One of the main purposes of language is to be intentionally difficult to learn, in order to mark outsiders (and ideally to classify them). Speakers of a language will pick the most obscure shiboleths to tell insider from outsider. Making every language learner correctly learn the gender of every single word is a great way to do this.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by kanejam » 30 Jan 2015 22:48

The best way to understand gender is to look at languages that have it. You could have a look at Thak's Swahili thread in teach and share.

Sal raises some good in depth points, but basically the important thing to implement it is agreement. French nuit 'night' has nothing about it that suggests its gender, but it takes the feminine article la rather than the masculine le. It also takes feminine pronouns and adjectives, no matter how far away from the noun they are: la nuit, elle est belle 'the night, she is beautiful (and not handsome)'. You can also have verbs agree in gender.

As others have said, if senu means angel in your language but doesn't agree with anything, then it's a form of derivation and not true gender (or noun class).

You could also look up classifiers, which are usually considered separately to noun classes (so as to avoid saying Chinese has a hundred genders), and I'm pretty sure there are languages with both noun classes and classifiers.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Great Angemon » 31 Jan 2015 03:33

Can someone help me? I need an example of a VOS word order. Would it be 'Run to you, I did"?

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by shimobaatar » 31 Jan 2015 03:36

Great Angemon wrote:Can someone help me? I need an example of a VOS word order. Would it be 'Run to you, I did"?
SVO = I ran to you.

VOS = Ran to you I.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Great Angemon » 31 Jan 2015 03:41

shimobaatar wrote:
SVO = I ran to you.

VOS = Ran to you I.
Thank you.

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Re: Gender in a conlang

Post by Great Angemon » 31 Jan 2015 04:15

Do verbs change shape according to the noun. For example, if I'm saying "I(divine gender) look at you(Evil gender)", would the verb change to fit one of the nouns/pronouns?

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