Date: Sun, 6 Nov 1994 12:25:16 CST
From: salikoko mufwene mufw[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU
Subject: Re: "them" singulars
In Message Sat, 5 Nov 1994 10:15:42 -0800,
Dan Alford dalford[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]s1.csuhayward.edu writes:
He/she merely draws attention to genitalia and
secondary sex characteristics in a way that makes people from other languages
and cultures wonder why they have to pay so much attention to sex in order to
just speak English properly. He/she vs it tends to invoke a "living/dead"
Have you surveyed these claims or are you just guessing? If I may speak
for some of those "people from other languages and cultures," these
interpretations never crossed my mind.
And then, to top it all off, we have a great big gaping hole in
that pronoun set -- any living creature whose genitalia we're not interested
in or can't immediately tell (neighbor's new baby or dog, a tree, a whale, a
bug, a star we label 'IT', as if the creature is dead! I contend our
pronoun systems is subtly complicit in it-ting Mother Earth to death because
of this basic lack of formal respect.
FANTAS-tic theory!! (At least you made me giggle for a while!)
Note this is different from Romance
languages where masc/fem/neut are applied to all objects and beings equally,
without absolute dependence on sexual characteristics.
I have heard another interesting theory about the French gender system,
according to which cultural articfacts and functions originally associated
with women are typically feminine; mutatis mutandis for men/masculine.
There are curious exceptions of course for this theory, because "la
guarde", for instance, is feminine. I wonder if knives were originally used
only by men, as "le couteau" is masculine, while "la fourchette" is
feminine, both of which are used at the dinner table and should have been
expected to be feminine according to this other theory. On the other hand,
"la fourche", which I would associate with men in a farm (though I am not
French), is feminine.
I don't know about Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian, but French doesn't
have a neuter gender.
Salikoko S. Mufwene
University of Chicago
Dept. of Linguistics
1010 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
s-mufwene[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]uchicago.edu
312-702-8531; fax: 312-702-9861