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Re: Semantic Content of Grammatical Gender?

From:Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets <>
Date:Monday, February 2, 2009, 11:46
2009/2/2 David McCann <david@...>

> On Sun, 2009-02-01 at 11:32 -0000, caeruleancentaur wrote: > > > A few others have come to mind. (BTW I'm talking about Spanish.) > > > > la policia = the police > > el policia = the policeman > > French has a couple of dozen like that:
As a French person, I experience those pairs as homonyms, rather than as a single word with different meanings depending on gender. They may be related words, but they are nonetheless different words (that just happen to be pronounced the same way)
> > la pendule 'clock', le pendule 'pendulum'
"Pendule" is only for clocks with a pendulum. It originally is an abbreviation of "horloge à pendule": pendulum clock. Since "horloge": clock is feminine, the abbreviation took over the gender of the original headword. Nowadays, we just think of it as a separate noun.
> la critique 'criticism', le critique 'critic'
la trompette 'trumpet', le trompette 'trumpeter' It's a common phenomenon in French to call a musician by his instrument, or a specialist by his specialty. It is basically an abbreviation of the same type as above ("le joueur de trompette": the trumpet player becomes "le trompette" where the gender is taken over from the omitted headnoun). It varies wildy in usage though. Although you don't often hear someone call a pianist "le piano" (we just use "le pianiste"), you do indeed sometimes hear "le trompette" (although it's more common to hear simply "le trompettiste"), but also "le violon" for "le violoniste", despite the fact that the instrument is masculine as well. Unlike the example of the "pendule" above, in my ear expressions like "le trompette" or "le violon" to refer to musicians still very much feel like abbreviations rather than fully separate nouns. The expression "joueur de" is omitted, but feels very present. I would also use those expressions only in the context of discussing musicians in an orchestra. When referring to musicians in other contexts, I would only use "trompettiste", "violoniste" and other words in "-iste".
> > la manche 'sleeve', le manche 'handle' > la livre 'pound', le livre 'book' > Obviously the loss of final syllables has helped by creating homophones > of unrelated words, as in the last case.
It's true in both those cases. "la manche" comes from Latin "manica", which meant both "sleeve covering the hand" and "glove". "le manche" comes from Latin "manicus", which in some expressions meant "handle". They are related, but only indirectly, and were already of different genders in Latin. Sound changes ended up making those nouns homonyms. In the same way, "la livre" comes from Latin "libra", while "le livre" comes from Latin "liber". Once again, sound changes ended up making homophones. The thing to remember here though is that although they may be related words, the words in those pairs (except in the cases I explained) just feel like different nouns, not like derivatives of a single one depending on gender. -- Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets.