Cognitive categories and grammatical gender from Latin to Romance

The way in which the evolution of Latin gender has been presented most of the time makes an interesting case, proving -- once again -- that confusing ‘real properties' (as perceived by a certain cultural community) and linguistic semantic features, either extensional or intensional, can lead to inappropriate descriptions of linguistic phenomena. If studies of non Indo-European languages pointed to the fact that the scale of "Animacy" differs from one culture to another (see Dahl 2002), historical grammars of Romance languages have interpreted the distribution of genders in Latin according to Western culture, as a way of encoding a ‘primitive type of animism'. But the remotivation and even the loss of neuter gender in Romance languages cannot be explained if one fails to account for the fact that Latin non-neuter nouns could also refer to forces of nature and even to things: comp. masculines such as ventus ‘wind', ignis ‘fire', scopulus ‘crag, promontory', lapis ‘stone, landmark', rupes ‘cliff' or feminines such as terra ‘earth', aqua "water', fornix ‘vault', ruga ‘wrinkle', etc. However [±Animacy] equated with [±Living] has been a feature ingrained in historical accounts of I.E. languages for so long that it has been almost impossible to accept that it should be redefined according to the culture it encodes. In fact, according to several ancient and even contemporary cultures (as reflected or not in religious beliefs), every entity has a soul, a spirit, a special type of energy, as the link with their Creator (or with the Universe). Consequently, the hypothesis of a ‘primitive animism' cannot explain the fact that nouns such as saxum ‘stone, rock', malum ‘apple', mare ‘sea', melos ‘tune', are neuter. As Antoine Meillet (1937) pointed out long ago, the gender subclassification of IE nouns encoded ‘Agency' (namely the difference between ‘être agissant' and ‘non agissant') rather than ‘Living'. More recently, in order to explain the evolution of I.E. grammatical gender, Luraghi (2009) added to ‘Animacy' such features as ‘being in control' and ‘the capacity of manipulating'. The present contribution brings arguments in favor of the hypothesis that the gender subclassification of nouns in Latin was rooted in an earlier Mediterranean culture, in which the cognitive category of ‘Efficacy' reflected a perception of the ‘(in)capacity of doing, affecting other beings' as an inherent property of objects (see Aristotle's Metaphysics). In consequence of different if not even contradictory cultural, civic, social and religious characteristics of the peoples that came into contact at various times within the Roman world, this ‘(in)capacity of being effective' ceased to be encoded in an inherent semantic feature in Romance languages, whereas a feature such as ‘being an Agent' remained a contextually assigned role. The ‘Efficacy' hypothesis has a higher explanatory power than other current hypotheses because it can be the starting point for explaining a whole sequence of changes in various Romance grammatical categories such as gender, voice and aspect.

Key words: animacy, efficacy, feminine, masculine, neuter, natural/grammatical gender

References

Acquaviva, Paolo (2002). Il plurale in -a come derivazione lessicale." Lingue e linguaggio. 2: 295-326.

Agard, Frederik (1953). Noun Morphology in Rumanian. Language. 29: 134-142.

Andersen, H. (ed.) (1995). Historical Linguistics 1993. Selected papers from the 11th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Los Angeles. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins

Aranovich, Raoul (2009). Rom ESSE to SER: Diachronic Mismatches in the selection of perfect auxiliaries. In Reinheimer Rîpeanu, Sanda ed.  Studia linguistica in Honorem Mariae Manoliu. Bucharest: Editura Universităţii din Bucureşti: 21-35.

Ball, Rodney (2000). Colloquial French Grammar: A Practical Guide.       Oxford, UK/ Malden, Mass: Blackwell.

Beaugrande, Robert de & Dressler, Wolfgang Ulrich (1963). Introduction to Text Linguistics. London/New York: Longman [Longman Linguistics Library.26]

Bonfante, Giuliano (1961).. Esiste il neutro in italiano? Quaderno dell"Instituto di Glottologia (Università di Bologna): 103-109.

Brugmann, Karl (1897). The Nature and Origin of the Noun Genders in the Indo‑European Languages; a lecture delivered on the occasion of the sesquicentennial celebration of Princeton University, trans. by E. Y. Robbins.[Princeton Lectures]. New York: C. Scribers' sons.

Bubenik, Vit, Hewson, John & Rose, Sarah eds (2009). Grammatical Change in Indo-European Languages. Papers presented at the Workshop on Indo-European Linguistics at the XVIIIth International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Montreal, 2007. Amsterdam/  Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Cameron, Debbie (1985). What has Gender got to do with Sex? Language and Communication 5.1: 19‑27

Comrie, Bernard (1980). Agreement, Animacy and Voice. in Brett Schneider, Gunter & Lehmann,Christian eds. Wege zur Universalien Forschung: Sprachwissenschwaftliche Beiträge zum 60. Geburstag von Hansjakob Seiler:, Tübingen: Narr: 229‑234

Comrie, Bernard (1991). Language Universals and Linguistic Typology.

Oxford: Blackwell.

Corbett, Greville G. (1991).  Gender, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Corbett. Greville G. (2006). Agreement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Craig, Colette ed. (1986). Noun classes and categorization: Proceedings of a Symposium on categorization and noun classification, Eugene, Oregon, October [Typological studies in language 7]. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: J. Benjamins.

Dahl, Östen (2000 a). Animacy and the notion of semantic gender. 99-115. In Unterbeck, B., Rissanen, M.i, Nevalainen, T. & Saari, M. (eds): 99-115.

Dahl, Östen (2000b). Elementary gender distinctions. In Unterbeck, B., Rissanen, M., Nevalainen, T. & Saari, M. (eds): 577-593.

Dragomirescu, Adina (2010). Ergativitatea. Tipologie, Sintaxă şi Semantică, Bucureşti: Editura Universităţii din Bucureşti.

Eisler, Riane (1995). The Chalice and the Blade. Our History, Our Future, New York: Harper-Collins.

Ernout, Alfred & Thomas, François (1993). Syntaxe latine. 2e ed, 8e tirage, Paris: Klincksieck.

Fernández-Ordóñez, Inés (2009). The development of mass/count distinction   in Indo-European varieties. In Bubenik & Hewson (eds): 55-68.

Fodor, István (1959). The Origin of Grammatical Gender. Lingua. 8: 186-214

Foley, William. A. & van Valin Jr., Robert D. (eds). (1984). Functional Syntax and Universal Grammar, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gimbutas, Marija (1991).The Civilization of the Goddess. The World of Old  Europe, edited by Joan Marlen, San Francisco: Harper.

Givón, Talmy (1984). Syntax. A Functional Typological Introduction. Vol.1.Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Givón, Talmy (1990). Syntax. A Functional Typological Introduction. Vol. 2. Amsterdam, Philadelphia

Givón, Talmy (1986). Prototypes:  between Plato and Wittgenstein. In C. Craig   (ed.):   77-102.

Graur: Graur, Al. (1957). Discuţii în jurul genului neutru. VR. 10.5: 147‑150.

Haase, Martin (2000). Reorganization of a gender system: The Central Italian   neuters.. In Unterbeck, B; Rissanen, M.; Nevalainen, T.; Saari, M. (eds.) Part I: 221-236.

Härmä, Juthani (2000). Gender in French: A diachronic perspective. In Unterbeck, B.; Rissanen, M.; Nevalainen, T. & Saari, M. (eds). Part II:  609-619.

Hock, Hans H. (2009). Default, animacy, avoidance: Diachronic and synchronic agreement variations with mixed-gender antecedents. In Bubenik, V.; Hewson, J. & Rose, S. (eds): 29-42.

Hursakainen, Arvi (2000). Noun classification in African Languages: In Unterbeck, B.; Rissanen, M.; Nevalainen, T & Saari, M. (eds). Part II :  665-687.

Ibrahim, Muhamed Hassan (1973). Grammatical Gender. Its Origin and Development, The Hague:  Mouton.

Jakobson, Roman (1963). Essais de linguistique générale,    trans. by Nicolas Ruwet, Paris: Minuit.

Kirwan, Christopher (1993).  Aristotle's Metaphysics. Books Γ, Δ, and Ε.  (translated with notes). 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kleiber, Georges (1990). La sémantique du prototype. Catégories et sens lexical [Linguistique nouvelle]. Paris: PUF.

Koch, Peter (1995). Aktantielle ‘Metataxe' und Informationsstructur in der romanischen Verblexic (Französisch, Italienisch, Spanisch im    Vergleich).' In Dahmen, Wolfgang et al. (eds.). Konvergenz und Divergenz in den romanischen Sprachen. Tubingen: Narr: 116-137

Lakoff, George (1987). Women, fire, and dangerous things: what categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, Ronald W. (1987). Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Langacker, Ronald W. (2008). Cognitive Grammar. A Basic Introduction, Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Lehmann, Winfred P. (1979). On earlier stages of the Indo-European nominal inflection. Language. 34: 179 -202.

Luraghi, Silvia (1995). Prototypicality and agenthood in Indo-European. In Andersen, H. (ed.): 259-268

Luraghi, Silvia (2009). The origin of the feminine gender in PIE: An old

Problem in a new perspective. In Bubenik, V.; Hewson, J. & Rose, Sarah (eds.):   3-13

Lyons, John (2001). Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maiden, Martin; Robustelli, Cecilia (2000). A Reference Grammar of Modern Italian. Chicago: NTC Publishing Group.

Mack, Burton, L. (1995). Who Wrote the New Testament. The Making of the Christian Myth, San Francisco: Harper.

Malkiel, Yakov (1983). Gender, sex and size as reflected by the Romance languages. In From Particular to General Linguistics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins: 155-175.

Markale, Jean (1999). The Great Goddess. Reverence of the Divine Feminine from the Paleolithic to the Present. Translated from French by Jody   Gladding. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions. (1st ed. in French: La grande déesse: Mythes et sanctuaires, Paris: Albin Michel, 1997).

Martin, Robert (1983). Pour une logique du sens, Paris : P.U.F.

Matasovic, Ranko (2004). Gender in Indo-European. Heidelberg: Winter.

Meillet, A[ntoine] (1921). Linguistique historique et générale [Tome 1], Paris: Champion.

Meillet, A[ntoine] (1937). Linguistique historique et générale [Tome 2], Paris: Champion.

Muller, Henri François (1945). L'époque mérovingienne: essai de synthèse de philologie et d'histoire [Publications de l'Ecole libre des Hautes Etudes], New York: S. F. Vanni.

Ojeda, Almerindo (1993). Linguistic Individuals. Stanford: Center for the study of Language and Information. [CSLI lecture notes, 311].

Ojeda, Almerindo (1995). The semantics of the Italian Double Plural. Journal of Semantics. 12: 213-237.

Pomino, N. & Stark, E. (2009). Losing the ‘neuter'. Probus. 21:217 - 247.

Rosetti, Alexandru (1968). Sur le neutre en roumain. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique. 13.1: 3‑10.

Siller-Runggaldier, Heidi (2012). Sogetti, pronomi espletivi e frasi present-ative: un confronto interlinguistico. Revue de Linguistique Romane. 76: 5 -38.

Spitzer, Leo (1941). Feminización del neutro. Revista de filología hispánica. 3: 339-373.

Stathi, K.; Gehweiler, E.; König, E.; Stark, E. & Pomino, N. (eds.) (2010). How the Latin newer pronominal forms became markers of non individuation in Spanish, Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Tøgeby, Knud (1953). Le neutre en roumain et en albanais. CSP. 2.2: 121 ‑ 131.

Unterbeck, Barbara, Rissanen, Matti  Nevalainen, Terttu & Saari, Mirja (eds).     (2000). Gender in Grammar and Cognition. Part I  Approaches to Gender, ed. by Unterbeck, Barbara; Part II Manifestations of Gender, ed. by Saari, Mirja [Trends in Linguistics. Studies Monographs 124]. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter

Wolfe, Susan J. (1980). Gender and Agency in Indo‑European Languages. Papers in Linguistics 13. 4: 773 ‑ 794.

Download

Download full text of the article as PDF