Monday, February 25, 2008

Die Buch, Die Tisch, Die Stuhl

I never took grammatical gender seriously when I studied German. I just made everything feminine ‘cause, ya know, that was the easy one. The rest of my German was so bad, I figured it didn’t really matter anyway, right? (I frikkin LOVED studying Mandarin Chinese because, ya know, who needs morphology?)

Now Heidi Harley has convinced me I was right all along. She blogs about Dalila Ayoun’s research on French gender:

…native French speakers don't agree on the genders of French nouns. They really don't agree. Fifty-six native French speakers, asked to assign the gender of 93 masculine words, uniformly agreed on only 17 of them. Asked to assign the gender of 50 feminine words, they uniformly agreed only 1 of them. Some of the words had been anecdotally identified as tricky cases, but others were plain old common nouns.
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… second language speakers of French, take heart! Make your grammatical gender agreement mistakes with confidence. There's a chance that your native-speaker interlocutor will agree with your version!

Danke, Heidi! Viel Danke!


Pssst, I should note that David Zubin has done a variety of cognitive linguistic studies on German gender. Most recently, this one:

Köpcke, Klaus-Michael and David A. Zubin 2003. “Metonymic pathways to neuter-gender human nominals in German”. In Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing, Panther, Klaus-Uwe and Linda L. Thornburg (eds.), 149–166.

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