Heard on the Olympics broadcast

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Sun Aug 10 20:17:31 UTC 2008

Well, yeah, if one has never studied a major European language (other than
Modern English) of the past or present, one may find surprising the concept that
agreement-in-grammatical-gender overrides agreement-in-sex. But every high
school student who has ever studied German knows that a girl is neuter in that
language. And many a high-school boy has surely chuckled about the information
that in Spanish his hand takes a feminine adjective (despite the -o ending)
and that the pope is described with the feminine form of the adjective. Even
English has long been described prescriptively as a language in which one should
write of a generic high-school English teacher "the teacher ... he" even
though most such persons were women.

The arbitrariness of the linguistic sign is one of the first things taugtht
in Intro to Linguistics. Being horrified that Russian treats "chelovek" as
masculine even if the person is a woman would require a very high level of
linguistic naivete--or perhaps a very high level of slavophobia.

In a message dated 8/10/08 3:57:19 PM, hwgray at GMAIL.COM writes:

> What might be useful is a return the study of other languages as
> primarily an intellectual exercise. The fuller story is that only
> those students at the Language School who had not had any previous
> experience of a language with (true) grammatical gender had their
> minds blown by the fact that, in Russian, if a nominal has grammatical
> gender G, then all adjectives modifying that nominal must exhibit that
> same feature, even when the nominal is a Predicate Nominative of
> gender G referring to a Subject Nominative of gender H.

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