Date: Mon, 7 Nov 1994 17:43:54 CST


Subject: Re: Algonquian et. al.

In Message Mon, 7 Nov 1994 12:56:14 -0800,

Dan Alford dalford[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] writes:

I have no idea what Dr. Mufwene's native language is,

but the lack of such interpretation in his mind is *possibly*

because that language had male/female distinctions built in --

and I'm not sure how that correlates with the interpretations by

those without such distinctions.

I grew up speaking two Bantu languages: Kiyansi and (Kikongo-)Kituba and

claim to have them both as my native languages. According to the canonical

Bantu model, Kiyansi should have a noun class system in which the

Human/-Human distinction is quite central. However, I discovered about five

years ago that the verb's first syllable in Yansi varies according to tense

and mood but not according to person and number. At least in my dialect,

there is no evidence of subject-verb agreement. (I have discovered a number

of other diverging features from the Bantu canon that should be disturbing

for Bantu geneticists!) However, the pronominal system distinguishes between

humans and nonhumans. Kituba, a Bantu-based creole, follows more or less the

same system.

I suppose I was shocked mostly by the correlation of gender with

genetalia. Dan's analysis was made more interesting by a question I received

from my 6-year old daughter a couple of days before (more or less as follows):

"Daddy, how do you tell a baby girl from a baby boy?" I am sure several of

you parents and/or adults have received such questions. I was reminded of

Hilary Putnam's distinction between, on the one hand, the essential features

of gold or an elm, and on the other, the stereotypes by which the average

speaker operates. On the other hand, there might be more interindividual

variation in the conceptualization of meaning than I have made allowance for

in my assumption that communal linguistic systems are not monolithic.


Salikoko S. Mufwene

University of Chicago

Dept. of Linguistics

1010 East 59th Street

Chicago, IL 60637


312-702-8531; fax: 312-702-9861