Date: Sun, 6 Nov 1994 12:25:16 CST From: salikoko mufwene Subject: Re: "them" singulars In Message Sat, 5 Nov 1994 10:15:42 -0800, Dan Alford 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" >contrast. 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. Sali. Salikoko S. Mufwene University of Chicago Dept. of Linguistics 1010 East 59th Street Chicago, IL 60637 s-mufwene[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] 312-702-8531; fax: 312-702-9861