The Gender of Nouns

Lecture 6

Gender - a grammatical category of the noun, which reflects the biological category of sex of the noun referent.

 It plays an important role in the grammar of some languages.  In Bulgarian -

a masculine noun masculine

form of an

adjective

. +

the

 a

noun

in

feminine

+ a different form of the same

adjective

-

feminine

In English gender distinctions are not formally marked in the noun or in the article.

 According to their lexical semantics, nouns can be divided into

neuter

,

masculine

and

feminine

. 

Neuter nouns objects

or denote

lower animals 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.

Masculine nouns

can be substituted with the personal pronoun

he

and the relative pronoun

who

. 

Feminine nouns

denote

human beings higher animals of female sex

. or 

Feminine nouns

can be substituted with the personal pronoun

she

and the relative pronoun

who

.

How do we know when to use he, she or it?

 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.

 + 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   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.

 The marker is

not

considered to be

a grammatical ending

, but

a derivational suffix

: masculine feminine actor hunter lion hero widower usher actress huntress lioness heroine widow usherette

As for family names of humans the situation is different

  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. The Johnsons Mr Johnson +male Mrs Johnson +female

In Bulgarian nouns are marked for gender

  Bulgarian category of gender is very strong. In маса

,

стол we have gender, but not sex.

 маса

-

+common animate - human + female  жена + common

+

animate + human + female

Gender differences are also manifested in possessive pronouns (his/hers) and in reflexive pronouns (himself/herself).

 The natural distinctions reflected in such pairs as brother/sister, nephew/niece , and king/queen have no consequence for grammar.  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.

 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 abbot abbess bachelor spinster, maid czar czarina duke Francis hero heroine monk nun tiger duchess Frances tigress Masculine Feminine actor actress buck doe drake duck earl countess gander goose lion lioness ram ewe wizard witch

The category of gender can be said to be based on the functional oppositions of three categorical forms.

 These oppositions can be presented in the following way: neuter masculine feminine

Gender Classes

  

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/ parent mother father child daughter son

Nouns with both semantic features for

sex in binary opposition +/-male  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/

 Sometimes the speaker employs combinations of words to make the information clear: boyfriend doctor

noun + noun

– girlfriend – lady doctor student – woman student buck-rabbit – doe-rabbit turkey-cock – turkey-hen frog – female frog

adjective + noun

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 economic power

, it can be substituted with the personal pronoun

she

: or 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.

b. names of vessels, machinery or toys

 they are usually treated as

inanimate nouns

: We were watching

a ship

in the distance.

It

sluggishly from side to side.

was rolling  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

.

Personification

 showing

particular qualities

,

emotions

or

the elements of Nature

in the form of

a person

 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)  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 hypothetical individual

. or  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?