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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

H4                The Loom of Language
six forms couesponding to the two this and these three singular, thor
(to go with words of the actor class), thes* (to go with words of the
act* ess class), tint (to go with words like pit), and three corresponding
plurals than, thessc^, and tints This gives you a picture of two out of
three sets of disguises m the waxdrobe of the Old English adjective
The foreigner who tried to speak Old English correctly had to choose
the right gender as well as the right number form of a noun, and many
so-called masculine, feminine, or neuter nouns had no label like die
-or of actor> the -ess of actress, or the -it of pit to guide the choice.
Below K> an illustration of the four forms of the French adjective.
GOKKE&PQNDING                                  CORRESPONDING
PRONOUN                                            PRONOUN
le giard homme         il                le grand mur         il
the great man              he                the big wall             it
la grande lemme        elle             la grande table      elle
the great woman           die               the big table            it
Because sex is all that is left of gender in English we must not fall
into the nap of assuming that the chaotic system of labelling nouns,
pronouns^ and adjectives as masculine, feminine, common, or neuter
forms HI other languages arose because of animistic preoccupation with
sex at a more primitive level of culture. This is not hkely A more
plausible view will emerge when we have learned something more
about the languages of backward peoples such as the Australian abori-
gines, Trobnand Islanders, or Bantu. Meajawhile, let us be dear about
one thing Although many nouns classified by grammarians as masculine
and feminine may shaie the same suffixes (or prefixes) as ntttve? names
(e.g actor-actress) for males and females, the older sex pairs of the
Aryan languages, such as father-mother, bull-cow^ hone-mare* boar-
sow, ram-ewe in English, carry no sex label Even when they stand for
adult human beings, the so-called masculine and feminine iorms of
the pronoun do not invariably replace nouns of the class which their
name suggests Thus the German word Wctb (woman) is neuter, i e, the
pronoun which takes its place is the neuter e$y not the feminine sie (sJhe).
Since names for objects carry no gender label such as the ~e$s m
actress m most Aryan languages, gender flexion is not necessarily a
characteristic of the noun as such. It is the trade-mark of the adjective.
When there is no gender flexion, as in English, comparison is the only
basis for a clear-cut distraction between adjective and noun. Since we
can indicate which adjective refers to a particular noun by its position
immediately before (English) or after (French) the latter, it jjoes