Why do languages have gendered words? (VIDEO)
Have you ever wondered why some languages have grammatical gender? Newsy’s Lauren Magarino spoke with an expert to find out.
Jennifer Dorman is the head of User Insights at Babel. It’s an online language learning platform and a bit of a language expert.
“Grammatical gender is a classification system for nouns,” Dorman said.
She says gendered grammar most likely evolved to reduce ambiguity in our speech and to increase the effectiveness of communication.
We can’t determine exactly when languages started doing this, but it’s been going on for a long time.
“We can go back in time thousands and thousands of years to sort out the parent, the proto language which is called Proto-Indo-European, which we are pretty sure had something like the grammatical gender. Most likely , she classified nouns as animate, so alive — and inanimate, so object-like,” Dorman said.
Today, Dorman says 44% of languages have grammatical gender systems, which can help make communication easier for people who speak and understand a language.
“From a very practical point of view, grammatical gender produces markers on nouns and on words associated with nouns, such as their articles or their ending to their adjectives. Thus, in normal conversation, we can use some of these additional markers to immediately specify exactly what we’re talking about. So I don’t have to say, can you pass me the knife? I can just say, can you pass it to me? And in grammatical gender language, s ‘there’s a lot of other stuff around, saying it with the right gendered article or gendered pronoun will immediately disambiguate it, making it much easier to know exactly what we might be talking about,’ Dorman said.
English has words associated with gender, but it has no real grammatical gender system.
“English had grammatical gender. We started losing it as a language around the 11th century. When we lost it, we started to evolve into what would be called a natural gender language. And what I mean by that is that we have references that we tend to associate more with the biological gender: actor, actress, for example. Waiter, waitress; steward, stewardess. .
Missing from English, but present in thousands of other languages, gendered grammar will define nouns for generations to come.
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