Why do any languages have "gender" or "noun class"?

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

Moderators: Calilasseia, ADParker

Re: Why do any languages have "gender" or "noun class"?

#21  Postby NineBerry » Sep 21, 2010 12:12 pm

Yeah, but as Zwaarddijk explained, it is helpful in most cases, so it doesn't matter that there are cases when it is not helpful
User avatar
NineBerry
RS Donator
 
Posts: 6133
Age: 42
Male

Country: nSk
Print view this post

Ads by Google


Re: Why do any languages have "gender" or "noun class"?

#22  Postby Elena » Sep 21, 2010 1:21 pm

Zwaarddijk, welcome to the forum :)

Zwaarddijk wrote:Basically, what you get is a kind of randomized algorithm that introduces - as already noted - a small extra level of redundancy. The extra level of redundancy given by a gender system, although not 100% helpful, is apparently helpful enough to compensate for the extra learning it requires. (Extra redundancy isn't of course the only thing it provides - it also provides some of the benefits of having two distinct third persons (generally called proximate and obviate) without requiring all the complications that such a system brings along. This extra distinct third-person system won't work all the time - you'll run into contexts where all the things you need to distinguish are of the same gender, but it's a sort of randomized solution, and it works often enough to be worth maintaining, for less of a ~cost than developing a proximate-obviate system of native north American style would entail for most languages that currently do have gender systems)

Randomized solutions that only help some of the time really are a surprisingly efficient and cheap method of going about this kind of thing!

What makes the benefits even more obvious is the fact that we don't actually hear every sound the speaker we listen to makes (nor do we read every letter in every word on the page or screen in front of us!) - and having extra clues here and there makes it way more likely that the utterance is reconstituted into the right string of morphemes in our mind.

Define "randomized" here. You seem to be using the term in a non-conventional way :ask:
User avatar
Elena
RS Donator
 
Posts: 727
Female

Print view this post

Re: Why do any languages have "gender" or "noun class"?

#23  Postby Zwaarddijk » Sep 21, 2010 1:45 pm

Think of the set of words in a language. If this language has noun classes or genders, some subset of the words will belong to one class, some will belong to another class ...

Now, as the language develops, there's no knowledge of what utterances will be made. Words, by a variety of approaches, fall into some class (some, in some languages, fall into several; etc etc etc - there's myriads of ways this can happen).
The choice of what class a word belongs to may diachronically be clear (although words do change gender on occasion through a language's history) but synchronically it may approximate randomness pretty well.

An actual statement will have words we can't entirely predict, and these will belong to classes we wouldn't necessarily have been able to predict without the specific knowledge that a given noun belongs to such-and-such a gender.


Does this make sense to you?

In that way, it's a sort of communications protocol where the redundancy markers (or distinct classes that can be separately referred to with different anaphora) have been predetermined in a more or less random fashion.
Zwaarddijk
 
Posts: 4334
Male

Country: Finland
Finland (fi)
Print view this post

Re: Why do any languages have "gender" or "noun class"?

#24  Postby Elena » Sep 21, 2010 1:53 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:Think of the set of words in a language. If this language has noun classes or genders, some subset of the words will belong to one class, some will belong to another class ...

Now, as the language develops, there's no knowledge of what utterances will be made. Words, by a variety of approaches, fall into some class (some, in some languages, fall into several; etc etc etc - there's myriads of ways this can happen).
The choice of what class a word belongs to may diachronically be clear (although words do change gender on occasion through a language's history) but synchronically it may approximate randomness pretty well.

With reference to what parameter? None of my books on Linguistics and Languages refer to randomness regarding gender. I am curious to know whether this is (now) an established fact.

Zwaarddijk wrote:An actual statement will have words we can't entirely predict, and these will belong to classes we wouldn't necessarily have been able to predict without the specific knowledge that a given noun belongs to such-and-such a gender.


Does this make sense to you?

Nope. [Paraphrasing your statement->], in our ability to predict that a given noun belongs to such-and-such a gender, what role does randomness of gender play?
User avatar
Elena
RS Donator
 
Posts: 727
Female

Print view this post

Re: Why do any languages have "gender" or "noun class"?

#25  Postby Zwaarddijk » Sep 21, 2010 6:02 pm

I am not trying to be very accurate here. I am mostly trying to sort of compare this to an analogous mechanism.

But yeah, many languages don't have any obvious rule for how a word has been assigned gender historically - in Swedish, German, Russian, Latin, etc there's a few pairs (or triplets) of words that are synonymous but assigned to different genders. E.g. en tallrik (common gender)/ ett fat (neuter) (both meaning 'a plate', so the assignment is not semantically conditioned, it's not phonologically conditioned - ett hus, en mus - there's even homophones that differ in gender, etc. Taking this into account, the distribution is close enough to random-like for this purpose)
Zwaarddijk
 
Posts: 4334
Male

Country: Finland
Finland (fi)
Print view this post

Re: Why do any languages have "gender" or "noun class"?

#26  Postby Elena » Sep 21, 2010 6:16 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:I am not trying to be very accurate here. I am mostly trying to sort of compare this to an analogous mechanism.

But yeah, many languages don't have any obvious rule for how a word has been assigned gender historically - in Swedish, German, Russian, Latin, etc there's a few pairs (or triplets) of words that are synonymous but assigned to different genders. E.g. en tallrik (common gender)/ ett fat (neuter) (both meaning 'a plate', so the assignment is not semantically conditioned, it's not phonologically conditioned - ett hus, en mus - there's even homophones that differ in gender, etc. Taking this into account, the distribution is close enough to random-like for this purpose)

Yeah, I thought you were using "random" here as kids do in casual conversation ("and then this random guy says..."), rather than in a strict sense relating to actual distributions of word categories within a language ;)
User avatar
Elena
RS Donator
 
Posts: 727
Female

Print view this post

Re: Why do any languages have "gender" or "noun class"?

#27  Postby Blitzkrebs » Sep 30, 2010 4:06 pm

I remember Guy Deutscher saying it was the result of noun classes decaying, in his The Unfolding of Language.
ikster7579 wrote:Being rational is just an excuse for not wanting to have faith.
User avatar
Blitzkrebs
 
Name: Roy
Posts: 392
Age: 31
Male

Country: Amerika
United States (us)
Print view this post

Previous

Return to Linguistics

Who is online

Users viewing this topic: No registered users and 1 guest