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> Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2012 14:08:07 -0700
> From: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: Ot: Language Envy and Language Pride
> To: [log in to unmask]
 
> --- On Fri, 6/15/12, Douglas Koller <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
 
> > > For what it's worth, I don't much care for grammatical
> > > gender either, nor do I see much point in having it.
 
> > Why must there be a point?
 
> No one ever said there did!

Oh, *you* said that. Sorry. From a pragmatics perspective, I took "I don't see much point in having (here, gender)" as an invitation to the listener to rebut. Here, say, with, "Well, actually, it's useful for keeping track of arguments within and across propositions" or some such, which we heard earlier in the discussion. ( la A: "I don't see much point in the human appendix." B: "Well, actually, it was quite useful for digesting leaves..."// A: "I don't see much point in having moisturizer separately packaged as hand cream *and* foot cream. B: "Well, actually, ..."// A: "I don't see much point in washing the car if it's going to rain tomorrow." B: "True, but...")
 
And indeed, grammatical gender *can* be useful to keeping track of arguments (as Mach just pointed out as I type this), and may get confusing if you're used to having it and are suddenly deprived of it (more on this below). But as for whether any grammatical feature has a *point* or not kind of depends on one's native natlang sensibilities and whether you're a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of guy. And as McWhorter, who I'm rarely in the habit of citing, points out: Yeah, feature X may make a seemingly delightful distinction, but it's hardly necessary. Other languages do without and survive, and so could you if you had to. So, if grammatical gender offends thee, smite it in your conlang project (this is not Padraic's argument, so I am neither rebutting nor setting him up as my straw man). But as for natlangs, the point is moot if you care to think there is a point to there being a point about such things (which is all I was saying). You can rail against it all you like like you can rail against the human appendix. Good luck with that.  
 
And from a pragmatics perspective, "I (or "no one") ever said that." means the pragmatics, which is often the first thing to go in an argument, is beginning to falter, and you have to wend your way back, more literally, to a point of common understanding. Hence my now overly winded explanation
 
> For my part, I'm just saying that I see no reason to distinguish between 
> los maestros and las maestras. That Spanish does so is really of no great
> import to me, so coping is not an issue at all. 
 
If it were, I'm sure you'd cope masterfully.
 
> As you say, it's just a feature. Anyway, can just say les maestres and have done with!
 
In English, we could just use Hungarian "" (morphed to phonetically fit, of course) for "he, she, it" and have done with it. But we don't. And it's hardwired into the grammar. I remember a conversation I was having with a woman in Japan. She was talking to me in English about her brother, sister-in-law, and some clothing, and there was so much linguistic cross-dressing and confusion on my part as to who said what to whom and whose what was whose, that it was rather frustrating. Keeping track of the arguments? Hah! She wasn't used to doing it that way. Along the lines of: "Then she said,..." "Your sister-in-law?" "No, my brother! (looks at me like I'm a schmuck) Then he gave her his shoe." "Your brother's shoe?" "No, (rolled eyes, mild sigh) my sister-in-law's!" You get the picture. Life would have been quantum leaps easier had the conversation, or at least parts of it, taken place in Japanese. But no, I was foreign, I *would* be spoken to in English. And speaking English and not playing by English rules is not very sporting, is it? ;)
 
At any rate, in Andrew's concerns over grammatical gender, I don't recall his suggesting scrapping gender at the third person singular pronoun level. I may be wrong, but that suggests to me that what he was really saying is that he doesn't mind scrapping it for inanimates and animals where we haven't "checked under the hood." But as a native speaker of English, he also doesn't seem to mind marking his mother as "she" (rather, he didn't specifically mention that aspect of gender marking being a drag). I don't know without his confirmation, but I suspect he would find marking gender on first and second person pronouns unnecessarily complicated. Nor do I know if any of this is even on his radar. Again, not trying to build a straw man here, just saying that if one finds grammatical gender a bugaboo, you can move the ball even further down the field and do away with it altogether.
 
> > One also doubts that untrained native speakers of English
> > readily perceive words like "pure", "nice", and "they" as
> > imports from foreign soil. 
 
> Honestly, I would nt expect an untrained native speaker to make such a
> distinction. Have had some experience in this area, where the native
> speaker speaks a language that borrowed heavily from Spanish, and did not
> realise that "puerta" and "lamesa" are actually nt native words!
 
> I think that most reasonably well educated English speakers would at least
> be aware that certain words are in some way related to words from other
> languages -- a lot of scientific terminology and the like. That doesn't
> mean they would know what language it's from, or what the ancient roots
> mean or what the words look like in their native element.

> Padraic

Again, I cannot plumb the depths of Andrew's mind, but I surmise that Andrew is suggesting that he wishes for words like "pyromania", an obvious loan, to be rendered something like "fireoverlyloveillness", whereas a word like "nice" might get a free pass 'cause it's been around a while and looks and feels pretty darned English to native speakers. And "they" is a pronoun, for goodness sake. My sense, perhaps flawed, was that these were less of a concern if a concern at all for Andrew.
 
I do think I did set up a straw man with my crack about "chutney" and "karate", because I believe I found in review later that he doesn't mind loans coming in for concepts that may not have yet existed in the vocabulary/culture. But bring on the Kingly Wolken Might.
 
Kou