Ed Heil wrote: "Genders are (as someone else explained well) one subtype of
noun classifier system.  [snip] Proto-Indo-European had a very small
classifier system, with three categories, Masc., Fem., and Neuter (perhaps
originally only two, Animate and Neuter), whose prototypical subcategories
were men, women, and inanimate objects respectively."

I just thought I'd add my 2 cents in here. In English we call these
grammatical categories of words 'gender' because Indo-European
*grammatical* genders are identified with mammalian *sexual* genders. So in
French, for example, le maison [the house] has the 'gender' (grammatical
category) that most identifiably male creatures do. The old
Proto-Indo-European system clearly originally was not associated with MALE
and FEMALE, but rather ANIMATE and INANIMATE, the system that Hittite has
[Hittite branched off very early from PIE, and has many 'archaic' features
not found in other IE languuges]. PIE animates were words referring to
persons, while inanimates were animals, the natural world, and other
'objects.' Of course, there were exceptions to this split, but basically it
was a PEOPLE - OBJECT split. If it's not a word that refers to people, it
is inanimate in gender.

Later in the PIE period, some time after Hittite speakers split, the split
was probably reanalysed as ANIMATE [MALE or FEMALE] or INANIMATE, a system
which we find in other PIE languages. This latter system is closest to the
system of early Latin. In many PIE languages like Latin, the words in the
NEUTER gender are inanimates as opposed to the two animate genders of
masculine and femininte. As time passed, this system became reanalysed as
male-female-neuter (the GENDER of words was recognised as complying to
SEXUAL genders), and words began to shift around in their categories. Late
vulgar Latin finally lost the old animate-inanimate split completely; the
old 'neuter' nouns were randomly assigned to the male or female gender
categories, making 2 genders again.

Gender didn't really make sense to me deep down until I learned this
explanation in college, even though I could *use* it just fine in French
and other languages. I thought this might help people on this list who were
trying to think about grammatical gender, so that's why I posted this
[late] addendum to this Birds & Bees discussion.


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