HD: Why Gendered Pronouns? 
Posted: 05 June 2014 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A complex tale.

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Posted: 05 June 2014 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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A most interesting article.  One thing unmentioned was the relatively late appearance of the possessive its in English. It’s uncommon in Shakespeare who generally uses his or simply it. In the passage from Antony and Cleopatra below (II,vii) one can find in close proximity both its and it used as the possessive form.

LEPIDUS
What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?

MARK ANTONY
It is shaped, sir, like itself; and it is as broad
as it hath breadth: it is just so high as it is,
and moves with its own organs: it lives by that
which nourisheth it; and the elements once out of
it, it transmigrates.

LEPIDUS
What colour is it of?

MARK ANTONY
Of it own colour too.

It was around this time (late 16th/early 17th century) that its was spreading like wildfire. OED comments: (its, adj. and pron.)

The spread of its as possessive adjective seems to have been rapid in written sources from the late 16th cent. onwards, although it does not appear for instance in the Bible of 1611. (This does show it adj. 1 once (see quot. 1611 at it adj. 1), which was later altered, in an edition of 1660 and in later editions, to its.)

BTW the quotation referred to is 1611 Bible (A.V.) Lev. xxv. 5 That which groweth of it [1660 its] owne accord..thou shalt not reape.

[ Edited: 05 June 2014 11:10 PM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 05 June 2014 06:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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What a wonderful world was Shakespeare’s!

In the article, I don’t understand this:

But it is quite weird cross-linguistically to lack a grammatical gender system and yet still encode natural gender on one tiny set of grammaticalized words, aka your pronouns.

If you’ve got males, females, and inanimate objects, it seems dead cert that you could logically come up with pronouns to represent them. Historically it is somewhat of a mystery in Indo-European languages , as Gretchen McCulloch points out, but the existence of either or both noun and pronoun genders shouldn’t be.

Nice use of the “Willy B” sans explanation, GM!!

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Posted: 06 June 2014 03:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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If you’ve got males, females, and inanimate objects, it seems dead cert that you could logically come up with pronouns to represent them. Historically it is somewhat of a mystery in Indo-European languages , as Gretchen McCulloch points out, but the existence of either or both noun and pronoun genders shouldn’t be.

I believe her point is that English is weird in having grammatical gender for pronouns, but not for nouns. Of course, there’s a known historical explanation—English nouns once did have gender, but the current situation is unusual.

One thing unmentioned was the relatively late appearance of the possessive its in English. It’s uncommon in Shakespeare who generally uses his or simply it.

Thanks for this, Aldi. Of course I knew of the use of his in Old and Middle English for the neuter possessive, but I’d never made the leap to realize that its is such a late entry into the language.

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Posted: 06 June 2014 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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If you’ve got males, females, and inanimate objects, it seems dead cert that you could logically come up with pronouns to represent them.

It seems natural to you because you’re an English speaker.  If you spoke Japanese or Hungarian, it wouldn’t seem natural at all.  And if you spoke Dyirbal, you would find it natural to separate out fruits and vegetables as a separate class of noun.

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Posted: 06 June 2014 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Well, that’s pretty astounding. I would have thought that the majority of languages around the world would have gendered pronouns without necessarily having gendered nouns of any sort. Apparently such is not the case according to the Wikipedia article, Gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns.

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Posted: 07 June 2014 05:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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That’s why I wish everybody would take at least one linguistics course—not only do you understand language better, but you learn so many fascinating and unexpected things!

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Posted: 07 June 2014 11:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I don’t think I’ve ever in my life seen a more convincingly phrased recommendation for organized study. 

Of course there’s another, less attractive side to it. As in all other professions, really good exponents of teaching are few and far between; and really good pupils not less so.  In my experience, far too many teachers see themselves as bearers of a gospel, and anyone who argues with, or contradicts them, as heretics ripe for burning; and too many students are prepared to accept whatever’s dished out to to them, without question or criticism.  This is true, I think, all the way from kindergarten to university level.

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