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Research on grammatical gender

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Like Daniel I am not entirely sure I understand what NewBie is trying to establish.

There have been studies as to whether native speakers of languages which distinguish male and female grammatical genders think of inanimate things as having some sort of male or female identity which matches the assigned grammatical gender. The problem with such studies is that, if the subject does not immediately assign a male or female identity to something according to his ideas of what male and female qualities are, he may as a default fall back on the assigned grammatical gender.

You should look into typical usage and issues regarding terminology in Linguistics. It's a complex topic beyond the scope of this thread. There is no way to make absolute terms that everyone agrees with or are uncontroversial as describing natural kinds across languages. Some linguists explicitly deny that natural kinds exist across languages at all, so terminology is often traditional, or sometimes strategic for the purposes of comparison. (Some others do believe that there are cross-linguistic categories, but they propose different definitions for things, so that's not consistent either.)

Most research proceeds by analogy from one language to another.

It is reasonable to ask about how gender is expressed in English.

But it is essentially pointless to ask about grammatical gender as a grammatical category in English, because even if you want to insist that "he" and "she" somehow represent a similar system, there is just much less to study because there is no gender agreement operating generally in the language. Other European languages have much more going on (as do various languages elsewhere).

And for the record, the issues with gender are relatively uncontroversial, and linguists generally agree about why English does not have gender, but French, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic, and many other languages do. One clear distinction is that these languages have gender assigned to all nouns, not just humans. That's what grammatical gender means.

Regardless, for a study like proposed in the original question here, it is unclear to me why English would be relevant. My assumption is still that it was about using English as a control language for comparison without interference, but I'm not sure.

Daniel, thank you.
> But it is essentially pointless to ask about grammatical gender as a grammatical category in English,
> because even if you want to insist that "he" and "she" somehow represent a similar system, there is
> just much less to study because there is no gender agreement operating generally in the language.
I have no choice. I do not speak English I can only study it. The gender category seemed pretty evident to me because I studied it with the grammar books that do consider this category in English – the references are below.
And I have just found another example I do not know what to think about – the Proper Nouns that are personal names. For example, Thomas and Mary. Does these nouns have a non-neuter gender from your point of view? I have never met a mentioning of such a phenomenon.
The references below are just for fun.
No doubt the best non-specialized (for non-linguistic institutes, preferably trading specialties) English grammar textbook in the Soviet Union. It is in Russian but it gives the most comprehensive examples of gender in English. There are all the examples given above (except for my new Proper Nouns example) including the word ship plus the following one I have forgotten about (the paragraph’s translation is mine the examples are in British English originally):
§ 48. The name of a country when it is used as the political unit is often feminine and is replaced with she:
Example. England has an unfavourable balance of trade. The value of her imports is much greater than the value of her exports.
Probably the best specialized (for linguistic institutes) English grammar textbook in the Soviet Union. It states:
It is doubtful whether the grammatical category of gender exists in Modern English for it is hardly ever expressed by means of grammatical forms.
The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar states:
In some languages grammatical gender distinctions of masculine and
feminine (and sometimes also neuter) apply to all *nouns and related
*words. In English, however, grammatical gender distinctions are found
only in *third person singular personal *pronouns, where the feminine
forms (she, her, herself, hers) contrast with the masculine ones (he, him,
etc.) and the non-personal forms (it, its, etc.).
A Soviet textbook for students of philological departments (from a scan, there may be errors).

§ 1. There is a peculiarly regular contradiction between the presentation of gender in English by theoretical treatises and practical manuals. Whereas theoretical treatises define the gender subcategorisation of English nouns as purely lexical or "semantic", practical manuals of English grammar do invaria-bly include the description of the English gender in their sub-ject matter of immediate instruction.
In particular, a whole ten pages of A. I. Smirnitsky's theoretical "Morphology of English" are devoted to proving the non-existence of gender in English either in the grammatical, or even in the strictly lexico-grammatical sense [Смирницкий, (2), 139-148]. On the other hand, the well-known practical "English grammar" by M. A. Ganshina and N. M. Vasilevskaya, after denying the existence of grammatical gender in English by way of an introduction to the topic, still presents a pretty comprehensive description of the would-be non-existent gender distinctions of the English noun as a part of speech [Ganshina, Vasilevskaya, 40 ff.].
That the gender division of nouns in English is expressed not as variable forms of words, but as nounal classification (which is not in the least different from the expression of sub-stantive gender in other languages, including Russian), admits of no argument. However, the question remains, whether this classification has any serious grammatical relevance. Closer observation of the corresponding lingual data cannot but show that the English gender does have such a relevance.
§ 2. The category of gender is expressed in English by the obligatory correlation of nouns with the personal pronouns of the third person. These serve as specific gender classifiers of nouns, being potentially reflected on each entry of the noun in speech.
The category of gender is strictly oppositional. It is formed by two oppositions related to each other on a hierarchical ba-sis.

Surely, as a Russian speaker, it is obvious to you how English differs from Russian: English has only gendered pronouns, and no system of agreement for gender with adjectives, verbs, or other categories. Importantly, English also only reflects natural gender, and no arbitrary gender for inanimates, like how in Spanish "la mesa" (the table) is feminine, but "el asiento" (the seat) is masculine. In English, the only things that are expressed as having gender... have gender-- people. (Some speakers today who do not identify with a binary gender prefer alternative pronouns too, by the way, either "they" or some other new pronouns.)
Old English did have grammatical gender, just like German does today. It was lost. There's no agreement on adjectives, etc., now.

The only traces are:
1. The pronouns themselves, but "it" is used for any objects without natural gender.
2. Arguably some sort of "agreement" (but this can be explained instead just by semantics) between pronouns like "himself" vs. "herself", etc.
3. Very rare uses of "she" (even more rarely "he") to refer to objects. Boats are sometimes female, but that tradition is dying out.

And that's it. Otherwise it's all generally flexible, with pronouns based on meaning (=natural gender), not convention.

--- Quote ---For example, Thomas and Mary. Does these nouns have a non-neuter gender from your point of view? I have never met a mentioning of such a phenomenon.
--- End quote ---
No, those names aren't grammatically gendered. They're referentially gendered. If a woman was named Thomas or a man named Mary, we wouldn't switch their pronouns! Those two names are almost always consistently for men and women respectively, but some others are indeed flexible, like Kyle, or Alex (a nickname for Alexander or Alexandra, typically). Another interesting case is Carol, which is now commonly a woman's name, but back maybe 200 years ago, it was more common for men, I believe.

There's no agreement or gender about words, but just their referents. Big difference. Unlike Russian or Spanish, etc., where you would need to name the gender of random objects based on convention!


To end with a random curious fact, there is one gendered adjective in English, in prescriptive and formal usage: blond (masculine) vs. blonde (feminine), just borrowed directly from French for the spelling, and pronounced differently in French, but pronounced the same in English, so this distinction is basically irrelevant and many English speakers/writers aren't aware of it.


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