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CB27
866466.  Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:59 pm Reply with quote

Ever used the expression "If you think that, you have another thing coming"?

If you have, then like me and most people*, you've not used the proper sentence.

It should really be "If you think that, you have another think coming". It basically means you should rethink, and makes more sense.

* My qualification for saying "most people" is because of having heard other people say it that way, and that when you google "you have another thing coming", you get nearly 2.5m hits, and "you have another think coming" gets less than 430k.

 
Moosh
866506.  Wed Nov 23, 2011 5:13 am Reply with quote

Surely "if you think that, you have another thought coming"? Think isn't a noun.

 
mckeonj
866527.  Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:43 am Reply with quote

Moosh wrote:
Surely "if you think that, you have another thought coming"? Think isn't a noun.

In the context of humourous sayings, 'think' for 'thought', is correct.
Here's another idiom with 'think':
Quote:
I think, I think,
I smell a stink,
From Y.O.U.!

which is quite well constructed poesy.

 
mckeonj
866528.  Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:52 am Reply with quote

Another idiom that fascinates me is 'I might have', usually used by someone during forensic examination.
---
"Did you, on the night of the 14th October, break into and enter the premises of Messrs. Goldfarb & Company?"
"I might have, your honour."
---
"Did you, or did you not, scribble crayons on the lounge wall?"
"I might have, Mummy."
---
It seems an attempt to separate the person from wilful action.

 
tchrist
868904.  Tue Dec 06, 2011 1:07 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
What was also puzzling to me is that idioma is a masculine noun, when the vast majority of Spanish nouns in -a are feminine. But this is because it's from Greek via Latin - and Spanish nouns with that history have mostly preserved their original Greek genders. (Or become masculine if they were neuter in Greek, as indeed was ιδίωμα.)

A bigger mystery than el idioma is el planeta, which I’ll get to in a moment.

By the way, the Spanish word for what we in English call an idiom or idiomatic expression is a modismo. I’ve always thought the word modismo to be more related to la moda (from French la mode) as something in vogue for a certain period of time, then simply to el modo, meaning only the mode.

As for the gender of el idioma in Spanish, Spanish almost always maintains the historical gender of words that came to it through Latin. That’s why la mano, las manos is still feminine in Spanish (as is la main in French), coming from the Latin fourth declension feminine manus, manūs. Italian, Galician, Portuguese, Catalan, and Asturian all also keep mano as a feminine noun, although the Asturian plural is les manes just as you would expect for a feminine, and not (l)as manos as it is in the others (well, le mani in Italian, but still clearly feminine).

Latin students learn the PAIN mnemonic of poeta / acricola / incola / nauta, all of which are first declension masculines in Latin, and where appropriate (e.g., poeta) remain so in Spanish. Other English mnemonic acronyms for the same thing are PAINTS for poeta / agricola / incola / nauta / tata / scriba and APPIAN for agricola / poeta / pirata / incola / auriga / nauta, all of which are masculine in Latin.

Somewhat similarly, Spanish students are taught to watch out for -ma/pa/ta words deriving from Greek as likely masculines. There really are quite a huge whole lot of these, including such common and easily translated words as anagrama, analema, anatema, aroma, atleta, axioma, bigrama, carcinoma, carisma, cinema, clima, cometa, crucigrama, diagrama, dilema, diploma, dogma, drama, eccema, emblema, enema, enfisema, enigma, esmegma, esquema, estigma, fantasma, fibroma, fonema, glaucoma, hematoma, idioma, idiota, indígena, israelita, lema, lexema, magma, mapa, melisma, morfema, panorama, papiloma, pijama, pirata, planeta, plasma, poema, poeta, problema, profeta, programa, quiasma, reuma, sema, síntoma, sistema, sofisma, telegrama, tema, teorema, trigrama, and zeugma (also written ceugma) are all masculine in Spanish, as too are tranvía, día, and mediodía. That’s too many for a new student of Spanish to remember as unexplained exceptions, so the Greek thing is usually tossed to them, this even though they almost never have any Greek at all, nor probably any Latin, either. Oh well.

However, despite el tranvía from English tramway, la vía itself is feminine (from Latin first declension feminine via, viae), as is rata, since it didn’t come from Greek.

Spanish uses la coma from Latin feminine comma, commae when talking about the punctuation mark, but el coma from the Greek neuter κῶμα, κώματος when referring to the comatose state of unconsciousness. Those two just look like the same word, but they really aren’t.

Professions ending in -ista are masculine in general, but can be feminine when referring to a female individual. Guardia, guía, and policía occur in both masculine and feminine forms, where the masculine form is for a generic or male individual, and the feminine form is for either a female individual or the entire force: so la guardia or la policía is all of them, but el guardia or el policía is just one of them. The acronym el SIDA (i.e., AIDS) is masculine because it begins with el síndrome.

In Latin, virus was a second (or perhaps fourth) declension neuter, and humus a second declension feminine. Both entered Spanish as recent borrowings instead of through the normal course of linguistic evolution, and so have been reëvaluated as masculines. Venus, however and rather thankfully, does retain its irregular feminine gender in Spanish as it enjoyed as a second declension feminine in Latin.

Because Spanish has only masculine and feminine genders for concrete nouns, nouns that were neuter in Latin had to choose one or the other in Spanish. A few can be found in both forms, like el mar and la mar both coming from Latin mare/maris, a third declension neuter. The masculine form is the more common flavor, whereas the feminine one is more poetic, as in the idiom en alta mar for on the high seas. French just has la mer there, and makes no concrete-vs-poetical distinction that I am aware of. Italian has il mar.

The Latin fifth declension diēs, diēī could actually occur in both masculine or feminine in the singular (think of the phrase in die illa tremenda from the Latin mass where it is clearly a feminine), but was always masculine in the plural and indeed remains masculine in Spanish no matter whether speaking of el día or los días.

The Latin third declension masculine color, coloris is normally masculine in Spanish (but feminine in French la couleur), although can be occasionally be found as a feminine la color in some rustic Spanish speakers, where it’s considered an archaic form. Italian has il colore. Spanish now uses only el calor as a masculine, with the feminine again considered archaic; it derives from the Latin third declension masculine, calor, calōris.

The mysterious one is the Spanish masculine el planeta. Latin had it as a regular feminine of the first declension, so planēta, planētae. However, Greek had πλανήτης, πλάνητου as a masculine in the first declension, and Spanish seems to have maintained the Greek gender instead of the Latin one, which is somewhat surprising. There may be some interference from astra planeta, and Spanish would write los Astra Planeta today.

French, however, has a feminine la planète there, but Italian again has it as a masculine in il pianeta, i pianeti. Portuguese and Catalan are the same as Spanish in that they have planeta as a masculine, but Romanian has planetă as a feminine. Occitan seems to usually have planeta as a feminine per French, but from what I can tell, it can also sometimes be a masculine per Catalan. I don’t know whether the distinction is due to the various langue d’oc dialects, or whether it is a concrete/metaphorical one as in Spanish.

Latin was sometimes ambiguous in the gender of its Greek loanwords. Its cētus, cētī for sea monster (whence English cetacean) was usually construed as a second declension masculine, even though in Greek it was κῆτος, κήτους, a third declension neuter, which is why you sometimes find cētos as a Latin neuter. Spanish uses los cetáceos in the masculine for members of the Cetacea order. On the other hand, Latin pelagus, pelagī (whence English pelagic) was a second declension neuter, not a masculine as one might think, having also been neuter in Greek πέλαγος. Spanish has el piélago there as a masculine, since it can’t have concrete neuters. Other nautical terms that stay masculine in Spanish and Latin include Spanish el pirata, from the Latin masculine pīrāta, pīrātae, from Greek πειρατής, which is masculine.

I don’t know why it’s el planeta in Spanish, taking the Greek gender instead of the Latin one. All I can think is that perhaps the Romans may have kept using planēta, planētes in imitation of the Greek in some portions of the Empire, instead of the more normal planēta, planētae, and that one of those places was Hispania, the ancient Iberian peninsula, where the masculine gender stuck around.

EDIT: for typos


Last edited by tchrist on Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:20 pm; edited 1 time in total

 
suze
868923.  Tue Dec 06, 2011 2:49 pm Reply with quote

Thanks, tchrist - I'm going to copy your post into my files.

Interesting that mar can be masculine or feminine with no difference in meaning. Not as confusing as German, where die See means "the sea", but der See means "the lake"!

As you'll be aware, the language I have learned as an adult has been Polish - and while Polish has stacks of grammar, genders are rarely difficult.

There are few inanimate nouns which are not the gender that their ending would suggest - for instance, there are precisely two feminine nouns which you'd confidently predict as masculine. (Apart from abstract nouns in -ść which are all feminine, and nouns from Latin in -um which are all neuter, nouns ending in consonants are masculine - and there are only two exceptions.)

It does get a little tricker when we consider animate nouns - masculine animate nouns are declined differently than animate nouns, and so practically constitute a fourth gender. But there is a list of masculine inanimate nouns which are declined as though they were animate. The only two which are common are papieros (cigarette) and złoty (unit of currency).

All female given names in Polish end in -a. I do not believe that any other European language has no exceptions to such a principle.

 
tchrist
868964.  Tue Dec 06, 2011 4:28 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Thanks, tchrist - I'm going to copy your post into my files.

Best make sure you fix my corrected la mano goof, then.

suze wrote:

Interesting that mar can be masculine or feminine with no difference in meaning. Not as confusing as German, where die See means "the sea", but der See means "the lake"!

I wouldn’t quite say that la mar and el mar are interchangeable. They have a different nuance. The masculine is the more concete, more discrete version, and the feminine is the larger, broader, and more abstract version. If you went down to the sea to look for shells, you'd use the masculine, but if your brother went to sea at age 15, you might use the feminine.

In a way, that’s not so different from German using the feminine die See for the larger body, if you squint at it long enough.

In the other situations where both masculine and feminine are still admitted in modern Spanish, the feminine is the general group — or that person’s wife! This is a problem when you want a single police officer who is female, which was never a problem previously since women did not have professions. So sometimes you see la señora policía or una mujer policía. They used to use the feminine with a masculine word to represent that person’s wife, as in la alcalde for the wife of el alcalde, or la presidente for the wife of el presidente. This obviously doesn’t work any longer now that women can also hold those posts.

Another interesting dilemma is what to do with a female letter carrier. The cartero is the postman because he carries your cartas, your letters. You can’t call a female letter carrier a cartera, because that already means billfold or wallet, so you have to do the same dance as with policía, producing a la/una señora/mujer cartero. It’s not a very good system. Sometimes you do see la presidente or even la presidenta for a female president, rather than for the president’s wife. Mostly they improvise until they find something that makes enough sense to get the meaning across, and not everyone does the same thing.

Unlike French, Spanish actually does have abstract neuters: ello, esto, eso, and aquello are neuter forms respectively meaning it, this, that, that yonder. That is, ello is the neuter third person singular pronoun in the nominative (subject) case that goes along with él for he and ella for she, and the others are the three demonstratives corresponding to the three grammatical persons.

These cannot refer to a single concrete thing, but only to "all of it/this/that", somehow. Todo ello might mean all of it or all of that business, especially in writing, whereas in regular speech todo eso would be more common. Like saying that Caesar came, he saw, and he conquered, and that all of it he did in a season. You could use "todo ello" or "todo eso" there for all of it, because there is no discrete antecedent; it’s the whole affair as an abstract group.

You can also nominalize any adjective by using lo as the neuter article, so lo difícil is the hard thing about it, or lo más sencillo would be the easiest thing. This is a really common construct, and one where French would use the masculine but Spanish does not.

The only other Romance language I know of that does something like that is Asturian, which extends it to adjectives that are modifying a noun to allow a neuter adjective to concord with the abstract version of that noun no matter whether the noun is masculine or feminine, but forces masculine or feminine if you are talking about any particular instance of it.

So a neuter adjective makes the noun no longer be concrete, and they use a threefold gender distinction in adjectives, with -u, -os for masculine singular and plural, -a, -es for feminine singular and plural, and -o for their abstract neuter (and which has no plural version). In Asturian, lleche is a feminine noun meaning milk, so would normally take feminine adjectives. But lleche frío is cold milk in the abstract, yet back to the normal lleche fría when used more concretely, such as saying that this particular milk happens to be cold. It’s the so-called “neutru (de) materia”.

I can’t find any good references to it that are not themselves written in Asturian, although there are plenty of those if you Google that phrase and can wade through it. For example, here’s one that explains it pretty well, albeit with the proviso that “Dende un puntu de vista científicu nun se pue dicir que'l neutru seya un xéneru, sinón una categoría independiente del xéneru y del númberu. Por razones pedagóxiques vamos caltener la definición tradicional que lu considera un xéneru,” which reads “From a scientific point of view, one cannot say that the neuter is a gender, but rather a category that’s independent of gender and number. For teaching purposes we’re going to retain the traditional definition that considers it a gender.”

It’s a fairly interesting distinction to a linguist so I thought I’d mention it for you, but I’m not sure non-specialists would care. I twice spent a week in Oviedo among rustics, so had cause to pay attention to it a bit.

In general, modern Romance does not have neuter gender, but you can find some semblance of it if you poke around a bit in Spanish or especially Asturian. It just doesn’t work like neuter does in German or Latin. It’s a different kind of thing, representing a non-discrete-ness quality.

 
Norman Castle
876246.  Sun Jan 08, 2012 2:25 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Au contraire. If the expression was current in your dad's schooldays in the early years of the twentieth century, that's worth knowing.


Unfortunately, someone on a message board claiming that his now deceased father told him that the phrase was common at a certain time iosn't considered an authoritative cite.

Quote:
The earliest citation known at present is from The Observer of 19 Jun 1932. It's in a book review which doesn't care for the style of the book under review, and notes that the reader may not be "temperamentally akin to a writer who exclaims 'Bob's your uncle!' and 'Aha says I!'."


Bob's Your Uncle: A Musical Farce
Austin Melford, 1930.

found in Google Books

 
suze
876247.  Sun Jan 08, 2012 2:39 pm Reply with quote

Norman Castle wrote:
Unfortunately, someone on a message board claiming that his now deceased father told him that the phrase was common at a certain time iosn't considered an authoritative cite.


No it isn't, but it's a start.

A claim that an expression was current earlier than the books does, at the least, raise a question. If that claim had not been made, we'd believe what the books say - and it may be that they are wrong.

 
Spud McLaren
876248.  Sun Jan 08, 2012 2:41 pm Reply with quote

Norman Castle wrote:
Bob's Your Uncle: A Musical Farce
Austin Melford, 1930.
Blimey! I had no idea that musical was so old.

Some rather good songs in it, too.

 
Serafín
899474.  Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:36 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
Because Spanish has only masculine and feminine genders for concrete nouns, nouns that were neuter in Latin had to choose one or the other in Spanish. A few can be found in both forms, like el mar and la mar both coming from Latin mare/maris, a third declension neuter. The masculine form is the more common flavor, whereas the feminine one is more poetic, as in the idiom en alta mar for on the high seas. French just has la mer there, and makes no concrete-vs-poetical distinction that I am aware of.
I've actually seen le mer in Old French texts (Demoustre nous le parolle diu / E refai nos ames des divers miracles que tu as veus en le mer, source), in the masculine. No idea when it started to become feminine only as it is today tho...
tchrist wrote:
Unlike French, Spanish actually does have abstract neuters: ello, esto, eso, and aquello are neuter forms respectively meaning it, this, that, that yonder. That is, ello is the neuter third person singular pronoun in the nominative (subject) case that goes along with él for he and ella for she, and the others are the three demonstratives corresponding to the three grammatical persons.
Nope, French has ça, ceci and cela, which can be used just in the way you mention.
Quote:
These cannot refer to a single concrete thing, but only to "all of it/this/that", somehow. Todo ello might mean all of it or all of that business, especially in writing, whereas in regular speech todo eso would be more common. Like saying that Caesar came, he saw, and he conquered, and that all of it he did in a season. You could use "todo ello" or "todo eso" there for all of it, because there is no discrete antecedent; it’s the whole affair as an abstract group.
French also has tout ça, tout ceci and tout cela.
Quote:
You can also nominalize any adjective by using lo as the neuter article, so lo difícil is the hard thing about it, or lo más sencillo would be the easiest thing. This is a really common construct, and one where French would use the masculine but Spanish does not.
Why do you consider French to use the masculine while Spanish "the neuter", when they do the very same thing?

I think the problem here is a confusion between a synchronic and a diachronic analysis of the language, something traditional to the linguistic practices in both languages. That is, in Spanish these usages are called "neuters" because they involve elements that descend directly from the Latin neuter and have remained distinct from the masculine and feminine (lo vs. el/la, eso vs. ese/esa, etc.), while in French these neuter pronouns don't descend from Latin, and this use of le isn't distinguished from the regular masculine definite article, and so it's called masculine.

Or is it that in Old French such abstractions with adjectives appeared as li + adjective when they were used as the subject of a verb? (Li was the nominative of the definite article back then.) I don't know...
Quote:
The only other Romance language I know of that does something like that is Asturian, which extends it to adjectives that are modifying a noun to allow a neuter adjective to concord with the abstract version of that noun no matter whether the noun is masculine or feminine, but forces masculine or feminine if you are talking about any particular instance of it.

So a neuter adjective makes the noun no longer be concrete, and they use a threefold gender distinction in adjectives, with -u, -os for masculine singular and plural, -a, -es for feminine singular and plural, and -o for their abstract neuter (and which has no plural version). In Asturian, lleche is a feminine noun meaning milk, so would normally take feminine adjectives. But lleche frío is cold milk in the abstract, yet back to the normal lleche fría when used more concretely, such as saying that this particular milk happens to be cold. It’s the so-called “neutru (de) materia”.
That's amazing!


Last edited by Serafín on Fri Apr 06, 2012 6:06 pm; edited 5 times in total

 
'yorz
899479.  Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:57 pm Reply with quote

Chapeau, Serafin. That's a enfer of an entrée. Welcome :)

 
tchrist
899636.  Sat Apr 07, 2012 1:25 pm Reply with quote

NB: For all you “tl;dr” people, just skip down to the last paragraph for the sexy bits.

Serafín wrote:
I think the problem here is a confusion between a synchronic and a diachronic analysis of the language, something traditional to the linguistic practices in both languages. That is, in Spanish these usages are called "neuters" because they involve elements that descend directly from the Latin neuter and have remained distinct from the masculine and feminine (lo vs. el/la, eso vs. ese/esa, etc.), while in French these neuter pronouns don't descend from Latin, and this use of le isn't distinguished from the regular masculine definite article, and so it's called masculine.

Perhaps you’re right.

I think you really do have to look at some of these things diachronically, because they just don’t make any sense otherwise. A fine such example is why in Spanish it’s la blanca águila but el águila blanca. It would be wrong to say that the former uses a feminine article and the latter a masculine one. Both are feminine articles in this instance, as adjectival concordance proves. To see why this is truly so, and why it makes perfect sense without being some sort of oddball irregular, you cannot escape looking at it diachronically.

You have to understand how Vulgar Latin ila⁀aquila came to be pronounced in proto-Romance (if not before). The unstressed a at the end of ila was fully assimilated into the stressed a at the beginning of aquila. That’s because duplicate adjacent vowels always fuse (there is no hiatus or glottal stop), which is why la acción is a two-syllable phrase pronounced /lakˈθjõn/, often just [laˈθjõ]. And in seseo speakers, it’s /lakˈsjõn/, often just [lakˈsjõ], where it becomes identical to French l’action.

This article swapping even extends to contractions, so al águila blanca or del águila blanca for to/of the white eagle, which is of course always still feminine (as its adjective reveals) despite the al or del, which here cannot be analysed as somehow being “masculine” contractions. They aren’t. They’re feminine.
    DIVERSION: This isn’t a general Iberian trait, by the way; the Spanish do this, but the Portuguese do not. Indeed, those Portuguese I’ve spoken to about it inevitably think it’s crazy of the Spanish. For the Portuguese it’s always a águia branca; the feminine a article would never become o. Again, this has to do with history, and the historical Portuguese lenition of intervocalic l and n. So for example where Spanish has la luna, Portuguese is left with only a lua.

    I’m going out a limb here, but I think this is another example of greater Spanish mutability in (re-?)spelling for euphonic reasons contrasted with its absence in Portuguese. The Spanish for “and” is just y (pronounced i), unless it comes right before the same sound, in which case it changes to e instead. Similarly, for “or”, which is normally just o but before another o sound becomes u. Ice and water is hielo [b]y agua but the other way around must be spelled (and pronounced) agua e hielo. Likewise, six or seven is seis o siete, but seven or eight must be siete u ocho.

    In contrast, the Portuguese always just keep e (albeit pronounced i because it’s unstressed) and ou no matter what the following sound is. What the Spanish do here is really no different from how in English we say "a banana" but "an apple", or pronounce the word the differently when it precedes those two words.
Hm, I think I may just have accidentally argued myself into accepting that French le difficile is not really a masculine use of le, since clearly el águila is not a masculine use of el, but rather a feminine one. Still, Spanish tradition teaches that lo difícil uses a neuter article because it descends from a neuter not a masculine in Latin, whereas I don’t recall French grammars ever talking about neuters in French. I need to think about this more.

Spanish also distinguishes the relative pronoun lo que in the abstract from the inflected el/los/la/las que in the specific. Both mean “that” or “which” in English, but the fine five-way concordance is much more useful in Spanish.

This distinctive five-way inflexional concordance, which is somewhat limited in Spanish and more extensive in Asturian, is a big departure from the four-way concordance found in other Romance languages like French. Although may very well call French ça/ceci/cela rather like Spanish esto/eso (although French doesn’t distinguish “2nd-vs-3rd-person” eso-vs-aquello), the French versions are merely “notionally” neuter at best, not morphologically so: there is nothing of inflexional morphology to them.

In contrast, there is an inflexional morphology at work in the Spanish forms, both here and in the other occurrences of an inflexional neuter, as with the five-way “1st person” (≡near to me, not near to thee nor near to him) demonstrative pronouns esto, éste, éstos, ésta, éstas. French has no notion of a morphologically neuter form; Spanish and Asturian do.

Besides the Spanish use of lo + ADJECTIVE to nominalize that adjective, in which the adjective is left in the masculine singular and which corresponds to the French le + ADJECTIVE for the same purpose, there exists another common and perhaps even odder lo construct. This is lo + ADJECTIVE + que. It roughly translates how ADJECTIVE (that). The interesting thing is that the adjective now has full concordance with whatever substantive applies. For example:
  • «Esto demuestra lo espabiladas que son las mozas de la comarca» (Beltrán Pueblos [Esp. 2000]), meaning approximately "This shows how lively the area girls are."
The Portuguese and the French don’t have a construct that’s exactly like the Spanish one for this, but the Catalans do. However, it is notable that for this construct the Catalans here use the regular masculine article el where the Spanish use the “it-ifying” neuter article (or should that be particle?) lo.

So Spanish Lo más sencillo es no hacer nada en absoluto (ie, “the easiest thing is to do nothing at all”) becomes in Catalan El més senzill és no fer res en absolut. (Note the vestigial Latin res for (no)thing!) As with French, Catalan also lacks a neuter article / it-ifying particle, and so resorts to the masculine here.

For the inflected adjective construct, the Catalans again use an el here where the Spanish use a lo, and do so no matter what the concordance is of the adjective. They do not inflect the article in the normal el/els/la/les way. So where for beautiful area girls in Esto demuestra lo bellas que son las mozas de la comarca for Spanish, we have in Catalan Això demostra el belles que són les mosses de la comarca. Beautiful girls would be les belles mosses in Catalan just as it would be las bellas mozas in Spanish, but this is a different sort of thing.

Serafín wrote:
tchrist wrote:
So a neuter adjective makes the noun no longer be concrete, and they use a threefold gender distinction in adjectives, with -u, -os for masculine singular and plural, -a, -es for feminine singular and plural, and -o for their abstract neuter (and which has no plural version). In Asturian, lleche is a feminine noun meaning milk, so would normally take feminine adjectives. But lleche frío is cold milk in the abstract, yet back to the normal lleche fría when used more concretely, such as saying that this particular milk happens to be cold. It’s the so-called “neutru (de) materia”.
That's amazing!

I agree, and I’m glad you think so, too. I wish I had English-language references, or even anything that could be fed to Google translate so that anybody else here besides me or Boris would stand much chance of reading it, but unfortunately all the best stuff I’ve found on it is in Asturian. This native speaker explains it well:

An Asturian speaker wrote:
Nun se muncho de filoloxia, pero soi falante maternu y el neutru de materia o como los filologos quieran llamalo, ta mui vivo na mio zona. Cuento qu'onde mas de too Asturies. La verdá ye que tube lleéndo un poco per riba el testu, y anque ensin ser filólogu, nun se si alguién que nun conoza da primera mano l'asuntu puea enteder la rapaza ésta. yo cuando me topo con xente que nun sabe que ye, pongoi un par d'exemplos y queda bastante claro. Nun creo que sea cuestión de xeneru masculin o femenin, si non de si se refier a una o delles coses en concreto o si se ta falando del productu o materia en xeneral. Mas o menos como lo de los contables y los nun contables. Anque munches coses nun correspuenden con esta regla que digo, pero pa casi too val.

In other words, it’s not about something being masculine versus feminine, but about being concrete or general, such as with count nouns versus mass nouns. This is a brand new class for Romance, at least as far as inflexional morphology is concerned. That’s what makes it such a fascinating topic: it shows the development of a completely novel class of gender/class/category inflexion than was ever present in Latin. It just happens to use the Latin(ish) neuter, but means something altogether new and different. (BTW, the odd lo in lo de los contables in the Asturian passage above could also occur in just the same way in Spanish, but not in any other Romance language to my knowledge.)

It’s traditionally analysed as a neuter, but in truth it is a different grammatical class/category than traditional masculine-vs-feminine gender. It really is related to Spanish ello / esto / eso / aquello. By being a contrastive trait representing abstract-vs-concrete, or generic-vs-specific, it show that what we historically call gender is just a more general sort of grammatical category.

In some ways it would be much better to teach these as "Type I" vs "Type II" nouns, or "Type A" vs "Type B" nouns, or some such thing, since it more readily extends to other categories than does a dichotomous masculine-vs-feminine grouping. English monoglots learning these languages too often get hung up on equating grammatical gender with physical sex, and therefore scoff at the notion that (say) a window is feminine, but a building masculine. Non–Indo-European languages often have numerous non–sex-related “genders”, really just noun classes, and so it is better to call them “categories” than genders.

However, one problem with that is the way that when sex is considered, gender almost always follows it in the normal fashion. Females take feminine gender, males take masculine gender. Well ok, except in German, with das Mädchen in the neuter for (presumably virginal) maidens.

But the general principle for sexed beings really does follow. Just as a man in PT/ES/FR/IT is um homem / un hombre / un homme / un uomo but a woman is uma mulher / una mujer / une femme / una donna, so too is the horse o cavalo / el caballo / le cheval / il cavallo but the mare is a égua / la yegua / la jument / la giumenta. So gender and sex do go together here. That only works for critters of course, including us hominid critters.

In English, gender really does denote sex, sex, and nothing but sex :), not abstract grammatical category. Speaking of the mare’s offspring we would say her foal, but of her mate’s offspring, we would say his foal. We don’t know the gender of the foal, just of its owner.

But in Romance, the personal adjectives take the grammatical gender of substantives they’re applied to, not the physical sex of the possessor as they do in English. You can’t tell whether the owner’s sex is male or female in French son nom vs sa langue any moreso than you could with ton père and ta mère. In English or German, you could in the 3rd-person scenario (his name for the boy’s name, vs her tongue for the girl’s tongue) but not the 2nd-person one.

So even in Romance languages, which are comparatively easy for English-speakers to learn, the notion of “gender” does not mean the same thing as it does in English. Alas, this is seldom correctly communicated to early learners. That’s why I have at times wished we could teach grammatical genders in those languages as general categories instead. But a few thousand years of historical education goes against you here, plus you bump into the overlap with actual sex.

Teachers take note: Adding sex always makes even a boring class more interesting.

Speaking of which, you do get these strange apparent gender-benders for certain common nouns in Romance, at least from an English-speaking perspective. A classic one would be how in Spanish it’s el pene and la vagina — which seems to make sense — versus coarse slang la polla and el coño respectively for the same pair of items, which seems contradictive to our English-language sex-based gender system. That’s because it’s not sex-based at all. Romance doesn’t use sex-based genders except for male and female animals, so it isn’t actually anything like the shocking contradiction it might appear to be to an Anglophone.

--tom

    PS: I’m pretty sure I remember suze giving that same set of “sexy” examples for French, where it works the same way, but just right now I can’t find her posting about it to link to. Just wanting to give credit where due.

 
Jenny
899687.  Sat Apr 07, 2012 5:15 pm Reply with quote

Welcome Serafín - we have a lot of people who love linguistics on this forum. Can't think why... :-)

 
Serafín
902007.  Sun Apr 15, 2012 10:23 pm Reply with quote

tchrist wrote:
I think you really do have to look at some of these things diachronically, because they just don’t make any sense otherwise. [...]

Although may very well call French ça/ceci/cela rather like Spanish esto/eso (although French doesn’t distinguish “2nd-vs-3rd-person” eso-vs-aquello), the French versions are merely “notionally” neuter at best, not morphologically so: there is nothing of inflexional morphology to them.
Yeah, my argument would be that they're "notionally" neuter in French, if anything. Or at least, pronouns that exist beyond the masculine/feminine noun classes (or "genders/sexes", right? :p ).
Quote:
I’m going out a limb here, but I think this is another example of greater Spanish mutability in (re-?)spelling for euphonic reasons contrasted with its absence in Portuguese. The Spanish for “and” is just y (pronounced i), unless it comes right before the same sound, in which case it changes to e instead. Similarly, for “or”, which is normally just o but before another o sound becomes u. Ice and water is hielo y agua but the other way around must be spelled (and pronounced) agua e hielo. Likewise, six or seven is seis o siete, but seven or eight must be siete u ocho.
Actually, *"agua e hielo" is wrong. Hielo doesn't begin with an /i/ sound, but /ɟʝ~ʝ/, so you do say agua y hielo /ˈagwaj ˈɟʝelo/.

Also, explaining morphological curiosities as existing for "euphonic" reasons is one of my pet-peeves: stuff like this doesn't usually happen because something sounds more beautiful than another choice. I believe we could call this y~e o~u biz an example of typical dissimilation (Old Spanish e/ed/et evolved into y except before an /i/ sound where it remained /e/, and on the other hand, Old Spanish o/od/ot developed an alternative u variant before an /o/ sound. Speakers perhaps felt a strong drive to keep them clearly separate from the next word they affected. Though I should point out there's many speakers today who don't really do the alternation.)

 

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