5 Responses to “Conlangery SHORTS #16: Gender Assignment”

  1. wm.annis

    Another great book is Aikhenvald’s Classifiers: a Typology of Noun Categorization Devices is also very interesting, and rolls gender into the broader systems of noun classification. It has a lot of good stuff a conlanger can make good use of.

  2. Jyri

    There’s also fluid gender assignment where the gender of a noun depends on the type of semantic reference it’s used in. A good example comes from the Skou language. This language has a simple feminine vs. non-feminine gender system which largely correlates with semantic features (female vs. male human or higher animate; association with women’s activities vs. men’s activities; small objects vs. large objects; round objects vs. long thin objects etc.). In some cases this natural assignment goes so far that a single noun can appear in either of the genders depending on which kind of activities is happens to be associated with in the ongoing discourse.

    One such word which Mark Donohue discusses in his Skou grammar is hòe (“sago”). It triggers non-feminine agreement when it’s growing as a plant or being chopped down as harvesting it is considered a male activity.

    Hòe nì=fue.
    sago SG1=see.NFEM
    “I saw the sago (eg. as it’s being chopped down).”

    Once its processing proceeds to stages associated with female activities, like washing or cooking it, it switches to triggering feminine agreement.

    Hòe nì=fu.
    sago SG1=see.FEM
    “I saw the sago (eg. as it’s being processed into flour).”

    It’s important to note that this gender swapping isn’t properly derivational in function as it only depends on the type of external association while the referent itself (sago as a plant or food item) stays the same. Also more prototypical derivational use of gender can be found in nearby areas of New Guinea. It’s common for the area to associate the feminine gender with small or squat things and the masculine gender with large or tall thing. For some languages it’s documented that a certain extent of masculine agreement can be used with female humans in an augmentative function and conversely feminine agreement can be used with male humans in a diminutive function.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.