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THEORY: Language for a Multi-Species Society: Sex-Based Genders...

From:Doug Dee <amateurlinguist@...>
Date:Sunday, July 10, 2005, 19:08
In a message dated 7/9/2005 9:27:48 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
johnvertical@HOTMAIL.COM writes:

>And I'm not convinced that natlang gender systems have really much to do >with the reproductive gender anyway, it's more about the geno/fenotypical >gender (if even that.) Though if someone knows a counterexample where there >exists (eg) one gender for fertile and one for infertile women, do slap it >into my face.
I've never heard of such a thing either. I did once read that some dialects of Polish (or was it Czech?) put married women & unmarried women into different genders. (Married women go into the historically feminine gender, and unmarried women into the historically neuter gender.) I suppose this is not terribly surprising, given that a number of IE languages put words for children generally into the neuter, and this is of course consistent with your remark that it's not a person's reproductive abilities that determine the gender. I suspect that a in language that evolved among a species (or group of species) that featured individuals who changed sex, individuals of multiple sexes, etc, a sex-based gender system simply wouldn't arise. I suspect that the reason sex-based gender is fairly common among human languages is that: 1. Sex is (generally) permanent, so that the gender category for a person will not generally change (except perhaps in the case of a child growing to adulthood and graduating from neuter in some languages, and the marriage example above). 2. Sex is often socially relevant (in determining who your potential marriage partners are, what sort of social roles a person can fill etc.) 3. A person's sex is generally fairly obvious to an observer (apart from the physical differences between men & women, in many societies they dress differently, have personal names drawn from different sets, etc.) In a species with frequent sex-changes, categorizing people by sex for grammatical purposes would be both less useful and more difficult. In a language spoken by several species, I suspect it would be more likely to have a grammatical gender system based on species than one based on sex. This of course is all speculation. Doug