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zompist bboard • View topic - How should I assign gender to words?

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 17, 2018 11:56 pm 
Niš
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I am making a conlang in which the writing system is based off of Arabic but the grammar is not all that similar to Arabic or English(more justification for calling it a conlang if grammar has little similarity to the languages it is based off of).

I plan for it to be agglutinative but not necessarily to the degree that Hungarian is(I mean a sentence spanning word sounds pretty crazy to me but maybe that is just because I grew up speaking English).

Anyway, I thought about it long and hard and decided to assign gender to words of at least these 4 parts of speech:

- Nouns
- Verbs
- Adjectives
- Pronouns

Not all verbs will I assign gender to. For example linking verbs like is or looks will not be assigned gender because they are used to link the subject to the action verb or to adjectives and adverbs.

Pronouns practically already have gender in them. For example "he" is masculine. However "he" could also be neuter, at least in English because it can be used to refer to someone of unknown gender. "it" is clearly neuter.

It does make sense though for all nouns and adjectives to have gender. And again, there are clear examples of where 1 gender makes far more sense. An example of that is the adjective "pregnant" It makes far more sense to say "pregnant" is feminine because male pregnancy, while possible, is extremely rare.

But as for the assigning of gender I figured it would be like this:

- Feminine
- Masculine
- Neuter

Latin had this 3 gender system.

Now I am not so sure I would want inflections from grammatical case. I mean word order is a much simpler way to get across the same ideas as grammatical case. In other words for example instead of having the genitive case you could just use a possession marker on the possessor and either way, you get the same thing across, possession. But the possession marker is way simpler than inflecting every possessable noun for the genitive case.

But how should I decide which words are feminine, which are masculine, and which are neuter? I mean with the pronouns, it is obvious, with some nouns, adjectives, and verbs, it is obvious, but what about the majority of nouns, adjectives, and verbs which are not obvious? Sure, with some I could look at statistics(like for example how many females knit compared to males) but it is likely that for the majority of nouns, adjectives, and verbs, I either won't find statistics or the statistics will be inconclusive(thus me assigning neuter if I just went by statistics). A great example of that would be the word stitch. It really depends on why you are stitching(crafts or medical), thus it would most likely be inconclusive.

So for those words of which statistics won't help, should I look at related words to help me assign gender and if I can't find related words of which the gender is obvious, already assigned, or obvious from statistics, use randomness?

And should I strive for equal # of words in each gender?

My conlang is not naturalistic in the sense that adjectives have an inherent gender and thus do not have to agree with the noun's gender. For example, here is a translation specifying the noun and the adjective and their genders and also specifying pronoun gender:

My NEUT husband MASC is pregnant FEM. I NEUT know that is weird but he MASC is pregnant FEM.
So yeah, adjectives don't have to agree with the noun in gender.


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:48 am 
Avisaru
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So what exactly does gender do in your language if there's no gender agreement?

Anyway, different languages handle this differently. In some languages grammatical gender is based almost exclusively on natural gender, which in the case of your language would mean that neuter would be the largest group by far. In other languages, such as Indo-European languages and (IIUC) Arabic, gender assignment is pretty random and more connected to a word's shape than to its meaning.

You may choose.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:35 am 
Avisaru
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Sexing words is always tricky, but it's easier with older words which aren't so worn away and have the, er, important bits still intact.

*Gendering* words, however, is pretty much up to you. It depends what you mean by "gender" - is it merely a way of classifying words to govern how they agree with each other, or is it closely tied to natural gender?

The ALCK has a very good section about this.


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:45 am 
Sanno
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"Gender" is a pattern whereby words in different classes are modified to show that they are related to one another - adjectives "agree" in gender with nouns. If you don't have adjective-noun agreement, it's hard to see in what respect you have "gender". What does it mean for "pregnant" to be a "feminine" adjective - it's not what "feminine" normally means in linguistics?


"Pronouns" "obviously" have "gender" because you speak English, in which pronouns sex-discriminate. There is nothing objective obvious about this. "He" is used with males and "she" with females because that's a rule about English. Many languages have only a single pronoun, "he/it/she", that is used with both males and females.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 9:53 am 
Avisaru
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 3:03 pm 
Smeric
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There are some conlangs that could be analyzed as having gendered verbs.

In Late Andanese, one of my oldest conlangs, verbal gender is explicitly tied to the first syllable of the stem of the verb. If a verb begins with hi-, it is feminine, no questions asked. Therefore, the verb himu "to tax" is feminine even if the tax collector is a man. For a man to be the agent of this verb, there must be an additional prefix, ki-, before the stem. Thus for a man, the verb for tax is kihimu .

I don't know of any natural languages with a setup like this. I think it would be most useful if the gender were tied to something meaningful rather than being just an additional detail that must be learned with each word. And i think it would be likely to survive if the vbs could take different meanings, so e.g. the verb for stitch would have a different semantic meaning depending on whether it was conjugated as masculine, feminine, or neuter.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:41 pm 
Smeric
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 6:24 pm 
Sanno
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My conlang, Rawàng Ata, does the same as Merc's conlang, and indeed I used to talk of masculine and feminine verbs. But since in Rawàng Ata it's best seen as a verb transitivity issue, I just call them dynamic and stative now. However, we could certainly imagine a conlang in which there are verb classes distinguished only by their interaction with male vs female arguments.

Similarly, you could have 'gendered' adjectives if you had to mark mismatch between adjectives and nouns. Say, if "angry" is 'feminine' and "meek" is 'masculine', you could have "the he-angry man", "the angry woman", "the meek man" and "the she-meek woman".


You could also maybe talk of 'gendered' verbs if they trigger agreement on nouns, rather than vice versa? "The he-angry he-man stabbed the woman" but "the angry woman stabbed the man".

Although it's more plausible with marking on the object. I believe there are languages where objects agree in gender with the verb, where the verb itself agrees in gender with the subject (that is, subject gender agreement is so powerful that it goes through the verb and into the verb's object). It's not impossible that such a language might allow, say, verbs without subjects to still have an assumed gender-control over their arguments?

It seems conceptually valid, at least, even if it doesn't occur in practice in recorded human languages.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 5:35 am 
Avisaru
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 8:44 am 
Avisaru
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 8:13 pm 
Niš
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Well for gender I am aiming for non-naturalistic, thus nouns and adjectives not having to agree in gender and verbs themselves having gender.

For things like possession, plurality, word order, basically everything except for gender, I am aiming for naturalistic.

And since my people use a base 60 number system and the language is agluttinative I think I would have affixation like this:

(Number-Number of number-**Plus)*x-Base-Plural-Gender

The Number and Number of number references the base 60 system

So for example there would be separate affixes for:
1
60
60
60
etc.

This would be the Number affix.

For the Number of number there would be separate affixes for:
1
2
3
4
.
.
.
59

The Plus affix is basically the word for plus.

This will repeat until the number that is meant is fully described.

Then there is the base word itself

The Plural affix is used either in place of or in conjunction with the prefixes describing the exact number.

The Gender affix describes what gender the word has if it does indeed have gender. So for example if you wanted to say something like:

"160 women got pregnant this year and of those, 50 of them had a miscarriage, 10 had a stillbirth, 20 had twins, 2 had triplets, and only 1 had quadruplets"

in my conlang it would look more like this:

"60-2-Plus-1-40-woman-Plural-Feminine got pregnant-Feminine this year and of those 1-50-woman-Plural-Feminine had a miscarriage-Feminine, 1-10-woman-Plural-Feminine had a stillbirth-Feminine, 1-20-woman-Plural-Feminine had twins-Neuter, 1-2-woman-Plural-Feminine had triplets-Neuter, and 1-woman-Feminine had quadruplets-Neuter"


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