Noun: Gender

March 7th, 20122:46 pm


Noun: Gender

In a language, the category of gender must be strictly oppositional. In other words, it should consist of at least two members of the opposition. The classical gender opposition contains three members: masculine gender, feminine gender and neuter (the third is missing in some languages, as it is the case in Italian). The opposition also presupposes that a noun may be classified as belonging either to masculine or feminine or neuter.

The majority of scientists believe that the grammatical category of gen­der had disappeared from the English language by the end of the Middle English period. What has survived the time is the possibility of lexical in­dication of the biological sex. Means that provide this indication are purely lexical or derivational, e.g. boy – girl, cock – hen, bull – cow, waiter – wait­ress, lion – lioness, landlord – landlady, he-goat – she-goat.

Replacement of nouns by pronouns, marking the biological sex (he, she) or the inanimate nature (it), may be interpreted by proponents of the gender category in English as an argument in favour of their position. However, the argument appears misleading since in this case the pronominal property of gender differentiation is obviously transferred onto nouns that lack this property. Moreover, the choice between he, she or it is also lexically deter­mined and is not related to grammar. Besides, such a noun as dog may be substituted either for he or she or it, and here the key factor will be not a noun as such but the speaker’s subjective attitude to the dog. Similar subjec­tive attitude may turn inanimate nouns into he or she. This kind of personi­fication is either a stylistic device or a phenomenon regulated in everyday language by cultural-historical traditions. Compare, for example, in English, the reference of she with the names of countries, vehicles, weaker animals, etc.; the reference of he with the names of stronger animals, the names of phenomena suggesting crude strength and fierceness, etc.

Contrary to English, the purely grammatical gender in German, Ital­ian, Ukrainian or other languages is a formal feature of nouns, arbitrary by nature: e.g. German das Glas (neuter), Italian il bicchiere (masculine) and Ukrainian склянка (feminine). It also should be borne in mind that in these languages the gender of a noun requires corresponding agreement of adjec­tives, pronouns and articles accompanying the noun. No such processes are observed in English. It thus seems justified to restrict the term “gender” to the languages that have precise and mutually exclusive noun classes marked by clear formal markers.

It should be emphasized that the current tendency to avoid gender suf­fixes (e.g. – ess, -ette, -woman, -man, -lady, -lord), peculiar to Modern English, decreases the number of words with “lexical gender”. Such words (usually denoting professions) are replaced by neologisms with no sex in­dication: stewardess — flight attendant, cameraman – videographer/camera operator, policeman — police officer, chairman – chair, etc.

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