[LMB] Why English doesn't have genders

Andrea Charlton selinde2 at gmail.com
Mon Sep 15 02:25:57 BST 2008


Ooh, I know this, I know this!
Elizabeth asked "The question I find interesting is: why did English drop
this, when all the other languages kept it?"

It's because for a period in the late Dark Ages, Britain was occupied by
several language groups, whose languages were quite similar but not the
same.  Notably, Saxons (Germanic group) and Vikings (Scandinavian group).
 When they wanted to trade, or had other political dealings, the root words
(nouns, verbs, word order etc) sounded a lot alike, but the grammatical
decorative bits (like gender markers) didn't make sense.  So they got
dropped.  Since writing was an uncommon skill, and not required even for
legal dealings, there was no force acting against the oral simplification.
 English is a trading patois that grew up and got written down at just the
right moment ('scuse pun).

Thanks to Jim Parish for the recommendation, I'm looking into buying "Guy
Deutscher's _The Unfolding of Language_." - Amazon has it with a
SearchInside sample chapter.

I commend a BBC series "The Story of English" for a nicely-judged discussion
of this and other issues.

Please excuse me if someone else has already posted this - I've only got up
to Vol 40 Issue 95 so far.

Andrea
In Canberra



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