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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Accidence—The Table Manners of Language   113
marians mean by gender extends far beyond the simple rules which
suffice as a guide to correct Anglo-American usage We get a clue to
its vagaries in poetry and m local dialects, when she stands for the
moon or for a ship This custom takes us back to a feature of English as
spoken or written before the Norman Conquest, when there was no
universal rule about the proper use of the pronoun Any general rules
which could be given to a foreigner who wished to learn the English of
Alfred the Great would have had more to do with the endings of
names than with the sex or natural class to which an object belongs. If
English had preserved this complication, we might call distress feminine
because it has the same ending as actress^ and tractor masculine because
it has the same ending as actor. We should then have to say: "his
distress was so great that he could not speak of her" or "the manage-
ment has inspected the tractor and has decided to buy him "
These fictitious illustrations do not fully convey the flimsy con-
nexion between biological realities and the classification of words as
masculine, feminine, or neuter when such terms are applied to Latin
and Greek or German and French nouns Most nouns have no ending
to recall anything which is recognizably male, like actor, or female, like
actress Names of common animals of either sex may belong to the
so-called masculine and feminine categories in most European lan-
guages Whether it has ovaries or testes, the French frog (la grenouille)
is feminine In French or in Spanish, there are no neuter nouns, and the
foreigner has to choose between two forms of the pronoun respectively
called masculine and feminine. Danish and Swedish have two classes of
nouns, respectively called common and neuter. The Scandinavian child
like the Scandinavian or German sheep is neuter A quotation from
Mark Twain (A Tramp Abroad) illustrates how much unnecessary and
useless luggage this adds to the memory. "I translate this," he says,
"from a conversation in one of the Geiman Sunday-school books."
Gretchen:    Where is the turnip?
Wilhelm;     She has gone to the kitchen.
Gretchen:    Where is the accomplished and beautiful maiden? e
Wilhelm*     It has gone to the Opera
Greater feats of memory imposed on the beginner by the gender-
concord of the adjective complicate the effort of learning Aryan lan-
guages other than English or modern Persian. Since we have no sur-
viving vestige of this, we have to fall back on a fictitious illustration or
rely on examples,from another language, First, suppose that we had