[b-greek] Gender...What!?

From: Wayne Leman (wleman@mcn.net)
Date: Tue Mar 27 2001 - 15:32:16 EST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jim Darden" <jim@dardenhome.com>

> What am I missing here. Should I totally disregard gender for
> everything other than concord?

Jim, when a language has a gender system, many words do have a "logical"
relationship of some kind to biology (sometimes that relationship is
according to culturally contextualized logic). But there are also many words
which cannot be logically categorized on the basis of biology, so speakers
of that language agree to assign gender of one category or another. That
gender assignment is arbitrary in terms of biology. So, for instance,
Spanish 'pencil' is 'el lapiz' (masculine) but the related writing tool,
'pen' is 'la pluma' (feminine). There is nothing intrinsic to a pencil or
pen that would cause one to be grammatically masculine and the other

It is the same with Greek. Words for biologically feminine entities (woman,
girl, etc.) are grammatically feminine, and words for biologically masculine
entities are grammatically masculine. But then there are many words for
entities which have no biological gender which get assigned gender
arbitrarily. At that point gender is simply grammatical, just as you
correctly learned. For example, here are Greek words with purely grammatical
gender (arbitrarily assigned during the linguistic history of the Greek

NOMOS law (masc.)
NOSOS disease (fem.)
OIKOS house (masc.)
PISTIS faith (fem.)
DIKAIOSUNH righteousness (fem.)
DIKAIWMA righteous deed (masc.)

Wayne Leman
Translation site: http://www.mcn.net/~wleman/translation.htm

B-Greek home page: http://metalab.unc.edu/bgreek
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