Re: Help Systems & Gender Differences

Subject: Re: Help Systems & Gender Differences
From: Andreas Ramos <andreas -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Sat, 9 Apr 1994 14:43:04 -0700

On Sat, 9 Apr 1994, Karen Kay wrote:
> As a linguist, I always wondered about gender for words in Latin
> and French. And then in graduate school, I found out that these
> were ascribed arbitrarily, that they could have used numbers in
> the way that Bantu languages do (w/ 17 noun classes or so, you'd
> run out of genders real fast, even if you're a trekkie). That
> helps me to put what Brad said into perspective. It's an arbitrary
> classification system.

It doesn't seem to me to be so arbitrary. When I was learning German, it
would amaze the non-Europeans that every German has "memorized" the
genders of words (masculine or feminine)(and neuter). Much later, as I
became intuitively fluent in it, a foreigner would ask me a gender for a
word which I'd never heard, and I could tell what gender it should be.
Children did this too; I'd ask them the gender of words which they'd
certainly never heard (technical words, etc.), and they knew the genders.
There are some deep grammar rules at work here.
Once, with an American family, the parents told me that English had no
genders. I asked their daughter, a ten year old, if their car was a boy
or a girl. She quickly said "oh, she's a girl." In English, we tend to
suppress the gender of nouns, esp. since feminism, since we pretend that
hurricanes are both Alice and Bobs. (however, the one that wiped out
Florida was definitely a Calvin, that little scamper!)
It may be arbitrary that we only have three genders (male, female,
neuter) vs. seventeen in other langauges, but there are genders,
nevertheless, or perhaps "personality types".
What gender is your computer?

Andreas Ramos, M.A. Heidelberg Sacramento, California

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