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In linguistics, grammatical gender is a specific form of noun class system in which the division of noun classes forms an agreement system with another aspect of the language, such as adjectives, articles, pronouns, or verbs. Whereas some authors use the term "grammatical gender" as a synonym of "noun class", others use different definitions for each; many authors prefer "noun classes" when none of the inflections in a language relate to sex. Gender system is used in approximately one quarter of the world's languages. In these languages, most or all nouns inherently carry one value of the grammatical category called gender;[1] the values present in a given language (of which there are usually two or three) are called the genders of that language. According to one definition: "Genders are classes of nouns reflected in the behaviour of associated words."[2][3][4]

Overview

Common gender divisions include masculine and feminine; masculine, feminine, and neuter; or animate and inanimate. In a few languages, the gender assignment of nouns is solely determined by their meaning or attributes, like biological sex,[5] humanness, or animacy.[6] However, in most languages, this semantic division is only partially valid, and many nouns may belong to a gender category that contrasts with their meaning (e.g. the word for "manliness" could be of feminine gender).[7] In this case, the gender assignment can also be influenced by the morphology or phonology of the noun, or in some cases can be apparently arbitrary.

The grammatical gender of a noun affects the form of other words related to it. For example, in Spanish, determiners, adjectives, and pronouns change their form depending on the noun to which they refer.[8] Spanish nouns have two genders: masculine and feminine, represented here by the nouns gato and gata respectively.

In languages with grammatical gender, each noun is assigned to one of the classes called genders, which form a closed set. Most such languages usually have from two to four different genders, but some are attested with up to 20.[2][9][10]

The division into genders usually correlates to some degree, at least for a certain set of nouns (such as those denoting humans), with some property or properties of the things that particular nouns denote. Such properties include animacy or inanimacy, "humanness" or non-humanness, and biological sex.

Few or no nouns can occur in more than one class.[2][9][10] Depending on the language and the word, this assignment might bear some relationship with the meaning of the noun (e.g. "woman" is usually feminine), or may be arbitrary.[11][12]

Gender is considered an inherent quality of nouns, and it affects the forms of other related words, a process called Common gender divisions include masculine and feminine; masculine, feminine, and neuter; or animate and inanimate. In a few languages, the gender assignment of nouns is solely determined by their meaning or attributes, like biological sex,[5] humanness, or animacy.[6] However, in most languages, this semantic division is only partially valid, and many nouns may belong to a gender category that contrasts with their meaning (e.g. the word for "manliness" could be of feminine gender).[7] In this case, the gender assignment can also be influenced by the morphology or phonology of the noun, or in some cases can be apparently arbitrary.

The grammatical gender of a noun affects the form of other words related to it. For example, in Spanish, determiners, adjectives, and pronouns change their form depending on the noun to which they refer.[8] Spanish nouns have two genders: masculine and feminine, represented here by the nouns gato and gata respectively.

In languages with grammatical gender, each noun is assigned to one of the classes called genders, which form a closed set. Most such languages usually have from two to four different genders, but some are attested with up to 20.[2][9][10]

The division into genders usually correlates to some degree, at least for a certain set of nouns (such as those denoting humans), with some property or properties of the things that particular nouns denote. Such properties include animacy or inanimacy, "humanness" or non-humanness, and biological sex.

Few or no nouns can occur in more than one class.[2][9][10] Depending on the language and the word, this assignment might bear some relationship with the meaning of the noun (e.g. "woman" is usually feminine), or may be arbitrary.[11][12]

Gender is considered an inherent quality of nouns, and it affects the forms of other related words, a process called "agreement". Nouns may be considered the "triggers" of the process, whereas other words will be the "target" of these changes.[11]

These related words can be, depending on the language: determiners, pronouns, numerals, quantifiers, possessives, adjectives, past and passive participles, articles, verbs, adverbs, complementizers, and adpositions. Gender class may be marked on the noun itself, but will also always be marked on other constituents in a noun phrase or sentence. If the noun is explicitly marked, both trigger and target may feature similar alternations.[9][11][12]

Functions of grammatical gender

Ibrahim identified three possible functions of grammatical gender:[13]

  1. In a language with explicit inflections for gender, it is easy to express the natural gender of animate beings.
  2. Grammatical gender "can be a valuable tool of disambiguation", rendering clarity about antecedents.
  3. In literature, gender can be used to "animate and personify inanimate nouns".

Among these, role 2 is probably the most important in everyday usage.[citation needed] Languages with gender distinction generally have fewer cases of ambiguity concerning, for example, pronominal reference. In the English phrase "a flowerbed in the garden which I maintain" only context tells us whether the relative clause (which I maintain) refers to the whole garden or just the flowerbed. In German, gender distinction prevents such ambiguity. The word for "(flower) bed" (Beet) is neuter, whereas that for "garden" (Garten) is masculine. Hence, if a neuter relative pronoun is used, the relative clause refers to "bed", and if a masculine pronoun is used, the relative clause refers to "garden". Because of this, languages with gender distinction can often use pronouns where in English a noun would have to be repeated in order to avoid confusion. It does not, however, help in cases where the words are of the same grammatical gender. (There are often several synonymous nouns of different grammatical gender to pick from to avoid this, however.)

Moreover, grammatical gender may serve to distinguish homophones. It is a quite common phenomenon in language development for two phonemes to merge, thereby making etymologically distinct words sound alike. In languages with gender distinction, however, these word pairs may still be distinguishable by their gender. For example, French pot ("pot") and peau ("skin") are homophones /po/, but disagree in gender: le pot vs. la peau.

Gender contrasts

Common systems of gender contrast include:[citation needed]

  • masculine-feminine gender contrast
  • masculine–feminine–neuter gender contrast
  • animate-inanimate gender contrast
  • common-neuter gender contrast

Masculine-feminine contrast

Nouns that denote specifically male persons (or animals) are normally of masculine gender; those that denote specifically female persons (or animals) are normally of feminine gender; and nouns that denote something that does not have any sex, or do not specify the sex of their referent, have come to belong to one or other of the genders, in a way that may appear arbitrary.[11][12] Examples of languages with such a system include most of the modern Romance languages, the Baltic languages, the Celtic languages, Indo-Aryan languages, and the Afroasiatic languages.

Masculine–feminine–neuternoun is assigned to one of the classes called genders, which form a closed set. Most such languages usually have from two to four different genders, but some are attested with up to 20.[2][9][10]

The division into genders usually correlates to some degree, at least for a certain set of nouns (such as those denoting humans), with some property or properties of the things that particular nouns denote. Such properties include animacy or inanimacy, "humanness" or non-humanness, and biological sex.

Few or no nouns can occur in more than one class.[2][9][10] Depending on the language and the word, this assignment might bear some relationship with the meaning of the noun (e.g. "woman" is usually feminine), or may be arbitrary.[11][12]

Gender is considered an inherent quality of nouns, and it affects the forms of other related words, a process called "agreement". Nouns may be considered the "triggers" of the process, whereas other words will be the "target" of these changes.The division into genders usually correlates to some degree, at least for a certain set of nouns (such as those denoting humans), with some property or properties of the things that particular nouns denote. Such properties include animacy or inanimacy, "humanness" or non-humanness, and biological sex.

Few or no nouns can occur in more than one class.[2][9][10] Depending on the language and the word, this assignment might bear some relationship with the meaning of the noun (e.g. "woman" is usually feminine), or may be arbitrary.[11][12]

Gender is considered an inherent quality of nouns, and it affects the forms of other related words, a process called "agreement". Nouns may be considered the "triggers" of the process, whereas other words will be the "target" of these changes.[11]

These related words can be, depending on the language: determiners, pronouns, numerals, quantifiers, possessives, adjectives, past and passive participles, articles, verbs, adverbs, complementizers, and adpositions. Gender class may be marked on the noun itself, but will also always be marked on other constituents in a noun phrase or sentence. If the noun is explicitly marked, both trigger and target may feature similar alternations.[9][11][12]

Ibrahim identified three possible functions of grammatical gender:[13]

  1. In a language with explicit inflections for gender, it is easy to express the natural gender of animate beings.
  2. Grammatical gender "can be a valuable tool of disambiguation", rendering clarity about antecedents.
  3. In literature, gender can be used to "animate and personify inanimate nouns".

Among these, role 2 is probably the most importa

Among these, role 2 is probably the most important in everyday usage.[citation needed] Languages with gender distinction generally have fewer cases of ambiguity concerning, for example, pronominal reference. In the English phrase "a flowerbed in the garden which I maintain" only context tells us whether the relative clause (which I maintain) refers to the whole garden or just the flowerbed. In German, gender distinction prevents such ambiguity. The word for "(flower) bed" (Beet) is neuter, whereas that for "garden" (Garten) is masculine. Hence, if a neuter relative pronoun is used, the relative clause refers to "bed", and if a masculine pronoun is used, the relative clause refers to "garden". Because of this, languages with gender distinction can often use pronouns where in English a noun would have to be repeated in order to avoid confusion. It does not, however, help in cases where the words are of the same grammatical gender. (There are often several synonymous nouns of different grammatical gender to pick from to avoid this, however.)

Moreover, grammatical gender may serve to distinguish homophones. It is a quite common phenomenon in language development for two phonemes to merge, thereby making etymologically distinct words sound alike. In languages with gender

Moreover, grammatical gender may serve to distinguish homophones. It is a quite common phenomenon in language development for two phonemes to merge, thereby making etymologically distinct words sound alike. In languages with gender distinction, however, these word pairs may still be distinguishable by their gender. For example, French pot ("pot") and peau ("skin") are homophones /po/, but disagree in gender: le pot vs. la peau.

Common systems of gender contrast include:[citation needed]

  • masculine-feminine gender contrast
  • masculine–feminine–neuter gender contrast
  • animate-inanimate gender contrast
  • common-neuter gender contrast

Masculine-feminine contrast[11][12] Examples of languages with such a system include most of the modern Romance languages, the Baltic languages, the Celtic languages, Indo-Aryan languages, and the Afroasiatic languages.

Masculine–feminine–neuter contrast

This is similar to a s

This is similar to a systems with a masculine–feminine contrast, except that there is a third available gender, so nouns with sexless or unspecified-sex referents may be either masculine, feminine, or neuter. There are also certain exceptional nouns whose gender does not follow the denoted sex, such as the German Mädchen, meaning "girl", which is neuter. This is because it is actually a diminutive of "Magd" and all diminutive forms with the suffix -chen are neuter. Examples of languages with such a system include later forms of Proto-Indo-European (see below), Sanskrit, some Germanic languages, some Slavic languages, some Romance languages. Marathi, Latin and Greek.

Animate–inanimate contrast

Here nouns that denote anima

Here nouns that denote animate things (humans and animals) generally belong to one gender, and those that denote inanimate things to another (although there may be some deviation from that principle). Examples include earlier forms of Proto-Indo-European and the earliest family known to have split off from it, the extinct Anatolian languages (see below). Modern examples include Algonkian languages such as Ojibwe.[14]

  • In Northern Kurdish language (Kurmanji), the same word can have two genders according to the context. For example, if the word dar (meaning wood or tree) is feminine, it means that it is a living tree (e.g. dara sêvê means "apple tree"), but if it is masculine, it means that it is dead, no longer living (e.g. darê sêvê means "a

    Here a masculine–feminine–neuter system previously existed, but the distinction between masculine and feminine genders has been lost (they have merged into what is called common gender). Thus nouns denoting people are usually of common gender, whereas other nouns may be of either gender. Examples include Danish and Swedish (see Gender in Danish and Swedish), and to some extent Dutch (see Gender in Dutch grammar). The dialect of the old Norwegian capital Bergen also uses common gender and neuter exclusively. The common gender in Bergen and in Danish is inflected with the same articles and suffixes as the masculine gender in Norwegian Bokmål. This makes some obviously feminine noun phrases like "a cute girl", "the well milking cow" or "the pregnant mares" sound strange to most Norwegian ears when spoken by Danes and people from Bergen since they are inflected in a way that sounds like the masculine declensions in South-Eastern Norwegian dialects. The same does not apply to Swedish common gender, as the declensions follow a different pattern from both the Norwegian written languages. Norwegian Nynorsk, Norwegian Bokmål and most spoken dialects retain masculine, feminine and neuter even if their Scandinavian neighbours have lost one of the genders. As shown, the merger of masculine and feminine in these languages and dialects can be considered a reversal of the original split in Proto-Indo-European (see below).

    Other types of division or subdivision of gender

    Some gender contrasts are referred to as classes; for some examples, see Noun class. In some of the Slavic languages, for example, within the masculine and sometimes feminine and neuter genders, there is a further division between animate and inanimate nouns—and in Polish, also sometimes between nouns denoting humans and non-humans. (For details, see below.) A human–non-human (or "rational–non-rational") distinction is also found in Dravidian languages. (See Noun class. In some of the Slavic languages, for example, within the masculine and sometimes feminine and neuter genders, there is a further division between animate and inanimate nouns—and in Polish, also sometimes between nouns denoting humans and non-humans. (For details, see below.) A human–non-human (or "rational–non-rational") distinction is also found in Dravidian languages. (See below.)

    How gender contrasts can influence cognition

    Although

    Although the idea that language can constrain or significantly impact thought has been largely disregarded by modern linguistics, a number of minor cognitive effects of features including grammatical gender have been consistently demonstrated.[15] For example, when native speakers of gendered languages are asked to imagine an inanimate object speaking, whether its voice is male or female tends to correspond to the grammatical gender of the object in their language. This has been observed for speakers of Spanish, French, and German, among others.[16][17]

    Caveats of this research include the possibility of subjects "using grammatical gender as a strategy for performing the task",[18] and the fact that even for inanimate objects the gender of nouns is not always random. For example, in Spanish, female gender is often attributed to objects that are "used by women, natural, round, or

    Caveats of this research include the possibility of subjects "using grammatical gender as a strategy for performing the task",[18] and the fact that even for inanimate objects the gender of nouns is not always random. For example, in Spanish, female gender is often attributed to objects that are "used by women, natural, round, or light" and male gender to objects "used by men, artificial, angular, or heavy."[17] Apparent failures to reproduce the effect for German speakers has also led to a proposal that the effect is restricted to languages with a two-gender system, possibly because such languages are inclined towards a greater correspondence between grammatical and natural gender.[19][17]

    Another kind of test asks people to describe a noun, and attempts to measure whether it takes on gender-specific connotations depending on the speaker's native language. For example, one study found that German speakers describing a bridge (German: Brücke, f.) more often used the words 'beautiful', 'elegant', 'pretty', and 'slender', while Spanish speakers, whose word for bridge is masculine (puente), used 'big', 'dangerous', 'strong', and 'sturdy' more often.[20] However, studies of this kind have been criticised on various grounds and yield an unclear pattern of results overall.[16]

    A noun may belong to a given class because of characteristic features of its referent, such as sex, animacy, shape, although in some instances a noun can be placed in a particular class based purely on its grammatical behavior. Some authors use the term "grammatical gender" as a synonym of "noun class", but others use different definitions for each.

    Many authors prefer "noun classes" when none of the inflections in a language relate to sex, such as when an animate–inanimate distinction is made. Note, however, that the word "gender" derives from Latin genus (also the root of genre) which originally meant "kind", so it does not necessarily have a sexual meaning.

    Noun classifiers