The Gender of Nouns
Lecture 6
Gender - a grammatical category of the
noun, which reflects the biological
category of sex of the noun referent.
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It plays an important role in the grammar of
some languages.
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In Bulgarian - a masculine noun + the
masculine form of an adjective.
a noun in feminine + a different form of the
same adjective - feminine
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In English gender distinctions are not
formally marked in the noun or in the article.
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According to their lexical semantics, nouns
can be divided into neuter, masculine and
feminine.
Neuter nouns denote lower animals,
objects or abstract notions.
Neuter nouns can be substituted with the
personal pronoun it and the relative pronoun
which.
Masculine nouns denote human beings or
higher animals of male sex.
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Masculine nouns can be substituted with
the personal pronoun he and the relative
pronoun who.
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Feminine nouns denote human beings or
higher animals of female sex.
Feminine nouns can be substituted with the
personal pronoun she and the relative
pronoun who.
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How do we know when to use he, she or it?
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We can classify names of human beings names of males & names of females.
In terms of structure there is nothing in the form
of the proper noun to signal the sex of the
referent.
Still it is possible to know from social experience
whether it refers to males or females.
When such a name becomes the name of an inanimate
object it still retains this feature in its semantic component
no matter that it is not active, though another feature of
the same nature /-sex / predominates.
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+ proper
+ sex
+ animate
+ human
+ female
+ proper
-sex
- animate
- human
+ female
The personal pronouns he, she, it and the relative
pronouns who, which are gender-sensitive:
John is late
~He is late
Mary is late
~She is late
John and Mary are late ~They are late
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Here the choice of pronoun is determined by the
sex of the person being referred to.
However, this distinction is lost in the plural
Sometimes the nouns in a pair are morphologically
marked for gender.
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The marker is not considered to be a grammatical
ending, but a derivational suffix:
masculine
feminine
actor
actress
hunter
huntress
lion
lioness
hero
heroine
widower
widow
usher
usherette
As for family names of humans the
situation is different
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A family consists of male and female members and
that is why the family name as such has the
semantic features /female/ and /+female/.
Depending on the referent one of them becomes
active and the other passive.
Mr Johnson
+male
Mrs Johnson
+female
The Johnsons
In Bulgarian nouns are marked for gender
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Bulgarian category of gender is very strong.
In маса, стол we have gender, but not sex.
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маса
+common
- animate
- human
+ female
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жена
+ common
+ animate
+ human
+ female
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Gender differences are also manifested in
possessive pronouns (his/hers) and in reflexive
pronouns (himself/herself).
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The natural distinctions reflected in such pairs as
brother/sister, nephew/niece, and king/queen have
no consequence for grammar.
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While they refer to specific sexes, these words are
not masculine or feminine in themselves.
These distinctions in spelling reflect differences in
sex, but they have no grammatical implications.
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For instance, we use the same form of an adjective
whether we are referring to a waiter or to a waitress:
an efficient waiter ~an efficient waitress
Here are some examples of nouns marked for GENDER
Masculine
Feminine
Masculine
abbot
bachelor
czar
duke
Francis
hero
monk
tiger
abbess
spinster, maid
czarina
duchess
Frances
heroine
nun
tigress
actor
buck
drake
earl
gander
lion
ram
wizard
Feminine
actress
doe
duck
countess
goose
lioness
ewe
witch
The category of gender can be said to be based on
the functional oppositions of three categorical
forms.
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These oppositions can be presented in the
following way:
masculine
neuter
feminine
Gender Classes
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Personal nouns [+human] and nouns denoting
higher animals [- human; + animate] can be organized
in pairs or groups according to their semantic relations.
Common countable nouns with the semantic feature
/+human/ fall into 2 groups as regards gender:
nouns with one single semantic feature for sex,
either /+male/ or /+female/
mother
parent
daughter
child
father
son
Nouns with both semantic features for
sex in binary opposition +/-male
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They cannot function simultaneously in one and the
same linguistic context (usually denote an occupation
or a status of the referent)
Common countable nouns with the semantic feature
/+animate/ but /-human/. Nouns with one single
semantic feature for sex, either /+male/ or /+female/
doe
fawn
stag
buck
mare
filly
stallion
colt
Other nouns have two semantic features
for sex: /+male/ and /+female/
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Sometimes the speaker employs combinations of words to
make the information clear:
noun + noun
boyfriend – girlfriend
buck-rabbit – doe-rabbit
doctor – lady doctor
turkey-cock – turkey-hen
student – woman student
adjective + noun
frog – female frog
nurse – male nurse
personal pronoun + noun
she-bear – he-bear
name + noun
billy-goat – nanny-goat
To the gender class of higher organisms belong
nouns denoting:
a. names of countries
 countries are usually treated as inanimate nouns:
Belgium is a small country, but it is thickly populated.
 If the country is referred to as a political, cultural or
economic power, it can be substituted with the
personal pronoun she:
Germany managed to stabilize her economy in a
comparatively short period of time.
 When the name of the country is used to refer to a
sports team, it is treated as a collective improper
noun and is substituted with they:
Italy can be proud of their success.
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b. names of vessels, machinery or toys
they are usually treated as inanimate nouns:
We were watching a ship in the distance. It was rolling
sluggishly from side to side.
 some speakers substitute such nouns with personal
pronouns referring to human beings. This is due
to some personal involvement of the speaker with
the noun referent:
Have you seen my sloop, which is in the dock? Isn’t
she a beauty?
 This phenomenon borders on personification.
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Personification
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showing particular qualities, emotions or the
elements of Nature in the form of a person
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When the qualities embodied are positive, the noun is
treated as feminine:
Mary Ann has heard a lot about Nature. She is a kind of very powerful
invisible fairly godmother, who is in charge of everything that happens
in the world that’s not because of people or machines. (A. Lurie)
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When the qualities embodied are negative, the noun
is treated as masculine: Death
Gender Bias in the Use of Gender Sensitive
Pronouns
The masculine pronouns he, him, his are not
preferred nowadays to refer to an unspecified or
hypothetical individual.
 To avoid gender bias, English speakers tend to use
the group of pronouns he or she when substituting
nouns of common gender in formal speech:
Tell the next person who calls that he or she can
make an appointment.
 In spoken English they is used to refer back to an
unspecified person:
What happens if someone changes their mind?
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