Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: "gender" systems = vowel harmony coalescing with stress changes?

From:Eric Christopherson <rakko@...>
Date:Friday, October 6, 2006, 4:20
On Sep 22, 2006, at 7:39 AM, Wesley Parish wrote:

> On Fri, 22 Sep 2006 13:34, Eric Christopherson wrote: >> On Sep 21, 2006, at 7:25 AM, Wesley Parish wrote: >>> Hi. I just thought that is a reasonable explanation for "gender" in >>> Indo-European languages. And probably in other "gendered" language >>> families >>> such as the Afro-Asiatic family. >>> >>> Are there any books, articles, etc, that ask this sort of question? >> >> Perhaps you could explain your ideas about how they might be >> related. I'm intrigued by the premise, but I can't seem to visualize >> a connection. > > The vowel harmony part of the question derives from the fact that most > "feminine" gendered nouns in the Indo-European and the Semitic > languages have > 'a' stems, to use a latinism - in Greek, it's 'e' stems. I got to > thinking > that vowel harmony would apply primarily to the phrase, with many > of the 'a' > stem words not taking 'i' stem adjectives, and vice versa.
Well, I have personally wondered whether things like that could have been motivated by a desire to make certain words rhyme. I don't know *why* anyone would want to make words rhyme outside of poetry, but it seems like an interesting thing to think about. Your idea seems similar. However, if it were actually vowel harmony, one would expect the vowels inside the word to harmonize too. Besides that, as far as I have heard, vowel harmony only operates on or below the word level, not on whole phrases; and also, in Indo- European at least, not all feminines have a-stems, and not all a- stems are feminine (although it seems conceivable that in the distant past there might have been more of a direct correlation between stem ending and gender, which was disrupted through various changes). What I find interesting is the concept of gender developing from some other, non-gender, category. For instance, it's believed that the eH2- stems in PIE, which have reflexes in both the feminine singular and neuter plural categories, originated as neuter (inanimate/abstract) collective nouns, and gradually spread to more concrete nouns, including many describing female animals and humans. I don't know of a plausible explanation for it would have shifted in that way; I've always been more inclined to think that the nouns were originally feminine, and some inanimate objects and abstract concepts came to be referred to with feminine words because of personification (e.g. the conception of liberty as a lady).
> The question's also partly inspired by Swahili's prefixed > categories. As of > now I don't know nearly enough about Bantu languages to recast the > question > for them. > > I'm assuming that PIE and Proto-Afro-Asiatic had a fixed stress. > And that the > phrasal vowel harmony I'm postulating contributed to that. > > At the moment I'm mostly thinking out loud - I think I'll need to > reread my > linguistics books to work my thoughts out better. > > Thanks > > Wesley Parish > > -- > Clinersterton beademung, with all of love - RIP James Blish > ------------- > Mau ki ana, he aha te mea nui? > You ask, "What is the most important thing?" > Maku ki ana, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata. > I reply, "It is people, it is people, it is people."