THE GENDER OF COFFEE.

A correspondent asked me about the gender of the Russian word for ‘coffee,’ and having copied out the very enlightening discussion on pp. 109-10 of The Russian Language in the Twentieth Century by Bernard Comrie, Gerald Stone, and Maria Polinsky (see these earlier LH posts: 1, 2, 3) I thought I’d share it here:

All the deficiencies of the neuter group notwithstanding, at least one word, and a very common one, has almost completed its shift from masculine to neuter; it is the word ко́фе ‘coffee’. Borrowed from English or from Dutch (koffie) in the beginning of the eighteenth century, the word originally had the form ко́фий or ко́фей, which allowed one to identify it as a masculine noun, by analogy with other nouns in -й. The form in -й is commonly found in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century language; SAR (1806-22) lists only the form кофей. The analogy with чай ‘tea’ was probably a contributing factor that added to the stability of кофей (кофий) in nineteenth-century language; the two words were sometimes juxtaposed in folklore (чаю-кофию). The form кофе, the rise of which is due to pronunciation reduction of the unstressed final segment, is cited as primary in SRJa (1895-1927); the word кофей (кофий) is explained by reference to кофе. In SSRLJa (1948-65), кофей (кофий) is still cited but as prostorečno [nonstandard colloquial]; other dictionaries (e.g. Ožegov (1972)) do not even mention it. The spread of the form кофе, which resembles other nouns in the neuter, created a conflict between the form and the earlier masculine gender of the word. As an attempt to resolve the conflict, кофе was increasingly used as a neuter noun in spoken Russian. Normative handbooks, however, were very slow and reluctant in acknowledging this change and stubbornly insisted on the masculine; the first mention of neuter, as a permissible variant alongside with masculine, occurs in the Academy Grammar (Русская грамматика 1980: i. 469); see also Zaliznjak (1980) and Borunova et al. (1983).

In this AskMetaFilter question about “What determines the gender of a neologism?” I mentioned the Russian word and told the following joke:

A Georgian goes up to the counter and asks for “один кофе” (odin kofe, ‘one coffee,’ using the masculine form of ‘one’). The woman behind the counter is (like most Russians with any education) a raging prescriptivist, who seethes over the fact that so many people think кофе is a neuter noun because of its ending and say одно кофе (using the neuter form, odno). She is thrilled that this fellow knows the correct gender, and compliments him effusively as she pours his cup. He then says “и один булочка” (i odin bulochka, ‘and one bun,’ again using the masculine form of ‘one’ but this time with the glaringly feminine noun булочка, proving that he simply uses один with every noun).


And while we’re talking about gender, I wasn’t going to post these depressing links because I dreaded the boring discussion of how feminism is out of date and we shouldn’t pay attention to gender but to what is said and yadda yadda yadda, but I think they’re important and I’m hoping that by sticking them at the end of a post about coffee and expressing my hope that comments will steer clear of that slough of boredom, I can magically avert it:
Literary magazines print far more reviews by men and of books by men.
Wikipedia articles are created and edited overwhelmingly by men.
This in the twenty-first century. I don’t know what the solution is, but it bums me out.

Comments

  1. And the two people that I know of, not spammers, who are no longer welcome to post here are both women. Feminism is by no means out of date.

  2. @John Cowan: Unsettling. On the other hand, for the one I know of, I didn’t picture her as a female until well after the affair is over.

  3. my hope that comments will steer clear of that slough of boredom
    It looks like an early commenter is waving everyone toward an even more miserable swamp. There aren’t enough hilariously bad jokes in the world to cheer that place up.

  4. And the two people that I know of, not spammers, who are no longer welcome to post here are both women. Feminism is by no means out of date.
    If you’re implying that their not being welcome has anything to do with their gender, you are insulting and wrong, and I’m surprised at you. Also, thanks a heap for starting the thread off that way.

  5. Now I can’t help but wonder what sorta dramadramadramadramadrama I’ve missed by not being a regular.

  6. So I don’t have to go and track down the references in C, S & Polinsky, what are the dictionary abbreviations SAR, SRJa and SSRLJa?

  7. Annoying behavior is attributable to persons, not to gender. But only grammarians attribute “gender” to parts of speech. Today’s “grammatical gender” is a misnomer, to which the expression “grammatical genus” would be preferable. Some Romans may have been oversexed, but not the grammarians.
    German men and women on the street don’t think of der and die as having anything to do with genitals, nor of das as being castrated. In fact they don’t think of der, die and das at all, except when, as they speak, they are briefly uncertain as to which case-marker to use with a particular word they’re about to utter.

  8. If you’re implying that their not being welcome has anything to do with their gender
    I am not, at all, implying that they’re unwelcome because they’re women. It’s obvious that there are women who are welcome here. But I do wonder if the community (unconsciously) held the two in question to a higher standard. “Equality is not when a female Einstein gets made assistant professor, but when a female shlemiel advances as a fast [if at all] as a male shlemiel.” There are obviously-male commenters here who express the same mixture of ignorance and intolerance and have it passed off as a joke, even a habitual joke, or simply ignored. Nor do I know if there were other deportees who were before my time here.
    However, repeatedly being at the bottom of a conversational pigpile, however justified by the facts, helps no one’s decorum. People at the bottom of the pile (and I very much include myself here) get defensive precisely when they see the need to defend themselves. Now as a tactic, defensiveness sucks, because it tends to lash out at people who weren’t part of the assault, and brings on universal condemnation. Humility is much better both tactically and strategically, but it’s damned hard to do for anyone. And I have been disturbed on a few occasions to see our host not breaking up the pigpile but adding himself to it.
    Anyway, I concede that I have derailed the thread, and I promise immediate amendment. My point, at least, is made.
    Sili: You remind me of this bit from wombat-list:
    Teen, in a library: You got any drama books?
    Librarian: The plays are over in Section B. You might be interested in [goes on for a while]
    Teen: No, I mean drama, like in baby mama drama.

  9. Grumbly: That’s plainly true with der, die, das, but the story with er, sie, es is not nearly so clear: there is plainly tension in the minds of German-speakers between grammatical and natural gender there.

  10. But only grammarians attribute “gender” to parts of speech.
    And language marches on! Not fifty years ago Theodore Bernstein in The Careful Writer was saying that “gender” was strictly a grammatical term and that your usage (and everyone else’s) was a barbarism. (I’d link to Google Books, but for some reason Google has been taking forever.)

  11. And I have been disturbed on a few occasions to see our host not breaking up the pigpile but adding himself to it.
    On the last occasion, I assumed that you had merely succumbed to genteel dismay, as a few others had. I remember your reproachful remark very clearly. Thing is, though, I have NEVER seen Steve adding himself to the pigpile. I myself have jumped on often enough, but he never has. It may help to recall that this is his blogsite, not a jackass reality show.
    But I do wonder if the community (unconsciously) held the two in question to a higher standard.
    I myself never hold women to a higher standard, because I don’t care one way or the other what “women” do. They are a matter of indifference to me. However, I do expect them as persons to maintain par when it comes to acceptable behavior.

  12. John Cowan: the story with er, sie, es is not nearly so clear: there is plainly tension in the minds of German-speakers between grammatical and natural gender there
    Only in linguistically reflective persons who have not reflected on their literal-mindedness with regard to terms such as grammatikalisches Geschlecht. To give only one simple example, no unreflective person I know (I know a lot of them) worries that das Mädchen has had a mastectomy.

  13. Paul Clapham says:

    I actually met one of those raging prescriptivists. Not in Russia, but in Zakopane, Poland.
    My wife and I went into one of the restaurants frequented more by the locals than by the tourists. On the menu was tomato soup, so I went up to the counter. “Dva pomidorowi” I said. “DVE pomidorowi” responded the woman behind the counter.

  14. das Mädchen
    Sorry, I didn’t make myself clear. Nobody worries about using the pronoun es to refer back to an occurrence of das Mädchen in a sentence. In Kölsch, dat is used to designate a girl even without an explicit prior occurrence of dat Mädche.

  15. Jim: … that “gender” was strictly a grammatical term and that your usage (and everyone else’s) was a barbarism.
    Note that I did not myself use “gender” in the way “everyone else” does nowadays, as in “gender studies”. In fact I never use the word “gender” at all except in the context of grammar – because it is a traditional term here. It’s only when folks start going on about this kind of “gender” having something to do with sex (and so “confusing” people) that I regret the very existence of the word “gender”. “Genus” would be less contentious.

  16. I do wonder if the community (unconsciously) held the two in question to a higher standard.
    I can’t speak for “the community,” but I myself hold everyone to the same standard, that of not repeatedly destroying intelligent and interesting conversation. I have no problem with derails, as everyone here knows, and I’m quite tolerant of occasional outbursts as long as the commenter generally has interesting things to say; furthermore, I am deeply reluctant to tell people to go away and always do my best to amend their behavior first, as I did in the cases in question. You can believe me or not.
    So I don’t have to go and track down the references in C, S & Polinsky, what are the dictionary abbreviations SAR, SRJa and SSRLJa?
    Sorry, I should have expanded them; I blame laziness brought on by a winter day and a blazing fire in the wood stove.
    SAR = Словарь Академии Российской
    SRJa = Словарь русского языка
    SSRLJa = Словарь современного русского литературного языка

  17. In the same sentence, no. After several sentences, sie reasserts itself. The same thing happens in French after les personnes, who can become ils rather than elles (remembering that ils can refer to mixed-sex as well as all-male groups) fairly soon if the context calls for it.
    Per contra, English singular they can be used even where the gender of the referent is known from context, provided the referent is indefinite.

  18. In the same sentence, no. After several sentences, sie reasserts itself.
    I will grudgingly admit that that is often the case – provided we are agreed that there is never any metaphyico-sexual uncertainty involved in any of this. If you insist that there is, then I retract my admission. I don’t want any taint of association with this particular wrong-headed eidolon of the study.

  19. metaphysico-sexual

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    Here in the 21st century, many people, I think, remain fairly unconcerned with the fact that some leisure activities are more preferred by one sex than the other. The subset of the population that likes watching football on television more than some threshold de minimis amount is well over 50% male. The subset of the population that affirmatively enjoys shopping for shoes more than some ditto is well over 50% female. I personally think that devoting lots of time to composing/editing wikipedia articles without getting paid for it is more akin to those sorts of no-accounting-for-taste voluntary interests than to, e.g., being admitted to medical school (reasonably close to 50/50 m/f at present in the U.S.).
    The “Gender” entry in the Cambridge Textbooks in LInguistics series (by Greville Corbett) is especially awesome, btw, with lots of interesting cross-linguistic examples of how recurrent tensions between grammatical gender and the gender-or-equivalent of real-world referents get resolved differently in different times and places.

  21. @J.W. Brewer: I agree, but the linked article also makes the point that, as a result of Wikipedia’s gender-skewed contributor-base, it also has gender-skewed coverage: Wikipedia provides much more information on televised football than on shoe shopping. (To make the point, it gives specific examples of distorted coverage. Whether or not all of these are directly due to the gender imbalance, or whether Wikipedia-editing correlates with various interests independently of the interests’ genderedness, I can’t say; but either way, it’s unfortunate. Wikipedia aims to be the sum of the world’s knowledge, and many people already see it as such. Does anyone really want women’s knowledge to be absent?)

  22. Pardon my layman interpretation of this grammarian vs non-grammarian view of gender in language but isn’t it possible that even though grammarians are the only ones who take notice of gender non-grammarians are still subconsciously affected by it? I’m pretty sure Lera Boroditsky, who I know is somewhat controversial among academics, has done experiments showing that people who speak languages that attach a gender to words like ‘chair’ or ‘coffee’ also give those objects the same associations that they give males and females. Of course, that’s completely moot if I’m misunderstanding the argument here.

  23. I personally think that devoting lots of time to composing/editing wikipedia articles without getting paid for it is more akin to those sorts of no-accounting-for-taste voluntary interests
    I don’t have such a charitable view. Wikipedia is not just people doing unpaid work. More often than not it’s just a hobby, at times people with an axe to grind finally getting the chance to tell the world how it really is, or otaku who want to inflict their hobby on everyone else, or just delinquents who want to go in and wreck things. That is not to deny that there is a huge amount of good stuff there, but if you go to talk pages to see the amount of time and effort spent arguing about ‘point of view’, and then look at articles so hacked and patched that they are no longer a coherent articles, you realise that there is a price for all that unpaid work. Maybe there are less women because there are fewer female otaku

  24. Maybe there are less women because there are fewer female otaku…
    I’m sure that’s part of it, but the point is that Wikipedia has to somehow change so that editing is made less otaku-specific. Like it or not, Wikipedia is the go-to source of general knowledge in the early 21st century, and the fact that it skews male is unambiguously a Bad Thing.

  25. Also, why the hell are the accents sitting over an empty space in my post, e.g. in ко́фе? Or do other people not see it that way? I’m running Firefox on Windows.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    I see only the blank squares, which I figured stood for accent marks.

  27. Yes, the accents are hanging over an empty space. Firefox on a Mac.

  28. The accents are right over the letters they are supposed to be over. Safari on a Mac.

  29. The accents are right over the letters they are supposed to be over. Chrome on a Mac.

  30. Lera Boroditsky, who I know is somewhat controversial among academics, has done experiments showing that people who speak languages that attach a gender to words like ‘chair’ or ‘coffee’ also give those objects the same associations that they give males and females.
    That is an English sentence by someone who thinks he/she is giving a neutral description of something that, I claim, cannot be adequately described with everyday English sentences. That something can be addressed only with technical English terminology, cautiously deployed – “grammatical gender”, used by the general public, is not an example of such terminology.
    The very image of Germans, say, “attaching gender” to “words like ‘chair’ or ‘coffee’” already reveals a English-language bias – and it’s only weaseling to complain in reply that “attaching gender” is an “analogy” or “metaphor”. Assuming a general knowledge of human physiology, I make bold to claim that it would be completely misleading to describe the human body as “a torso to which arms and legs have been attached”.
    Fact is, no English native speaker not also a fluent speaker of German or French etc. is in any way qualified to opine about such a question as “what is grammatical gender about ?”. The short answer to that question, from my point of view as a fluent speaker of German, is: “it’s not about anything at all nowadays, it’s just the way things are”.
    Maybe historical linguists could tell us surprising things about mythico-sexual ideas having played a role in the development of particular languages. But then biologists tell us surprising things about humans having developed from fish-like creatures, yet that does not mean it would be an adequate description of other people to call them “trout”.
    I have tried to find “male and female associations” for Stuhl and Kaffee, and have found none. Note that I “have not used the articles” in those two “words”- does anyone here know why ? I’ll tell you: it’s because that’s the way one discusses individual words in German. Ich habe versucht, für “Stuhl” und “Kaffee” männliche und weibliche Assoziationen zu finden, gefunden habe ich keine. “Gendered articles” are only case-markers in sentences where words are used, not mentioned.
    If the sentence quoted at the beginning of this post is a fair representation of what Boroditsky thinks, then I suggest that “ridiculous” is a more precise term than “controversial” for such thought.

  31. “attaching gender” to “words like ‘chair’ or ‘coffee’” already reveals a English-language bias.
    A new item of vocabulary, whether coined or borrowed, has to have a gender. Whether you talk of assigning a gender to it or figuring out what gender it should be inherently, the problem is still one of deciding what gender a genderless word should be.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    experiments showing that people who speak languages that attach a gender to words like ‘chair’ or ‘coffee’ also give those objects the same associations that they give males and females.
    We had a long discussion about “gender” here some time ago, where this problem came up.
    As Grumbly says for German, in a language with grammatical gender, like French or Spanish, speakers don’t think of “chair” or “coffee” as actually male or female (or neither), and don’t even imagine them that way in the normal concrete context. But in a context where those things are somehow humanized (playing roles in a fantasy piece, for instance, as in “The Nutcracker”), then associations suggested by the gender of the noun may come into focus. These potential associations become important when translating between one language and another.
    In French (and no doubt in other languages) there are a small number of cases where the same referent can be named by synonyms of opposite gender (for instance, a pumpkin can be la citrouille or le potiron), allowing alternate translations, but this is relatively rare. It is more common that a difference of gender for the same items between one language and the other causes translation problems because of the different cultural connotations of the two genders.
    As an example, in French there are two words for “seagull”, la mouette (the word I normally use) and le goéland (a word I know but would not use spontaneously). In the well-known book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”, the availability of those two words of opposite gender made it easy to choose the appropriate masculine word to translate the title as Jonathan Livingston le Goéland and to continue using the masculine noun for this male character. If only la mouette had been available, the translator would have had a problem, and the adventures of the character might have been more difficult to reconcile with the stereotypical feminine connotations suggested by the gender of the second noun (which, with the ending -ette, also suggests smallness).
    Conversely, for the Russian play known as “The Seagull” (a word which is feminine in Russian, as in French) in which the vulnerable, betrayed young woman sees herself as a mortally wounded seagull, the French title preserves the image with “La Mouette”, whereas the alternate designation “Le Goéland” would be quite inappropriate. English seagull is neutral, so that the image of the bird misses the specifically feminine connotations of the Russian and French words.

  33. And, of course, Chekhov would never have used a masculine-default bird such as “грач” or “ворон,” and it would never have occurred to his heroine to compare herself to one.

  34. Also, isn’t das Mädchen sort of a special case, since it’s only neuter because of the diminutive suffix? I certainly have weird gender-associations with all sorts of Russian words that are generally tied to their gender. There’s even a superstition: if you drop your fork while eating, you’ll get a female visitor; if you drop your knife, you’ll get a male. Since there isn’t really anything more feminine about a fork, I think the obvious explanation is that it’s based on the gender of the words.

  35. (i.e. feminine вилка and masculine нож.)

  36. In German, all nouns are gendriform. When a new noun X enters the language, it enters it as der X, die X or das X. There is no other way for X to become a German noun. It does not first become a genderless German noun, only later to acquire a gender after much discussion. There is no such thing as a genderless German noun.
    An English speaker can call this “attaching”, “assigning” or “intuiting” a gender, but he is misunderstanding the process if he thinks it is like attaching a price tag to an article for sale in a department store. The article does not need a price tag, though by (German) law it should carry one.
    There are several instances of loan words whose gender has not finalized, such as der/das Primat, die/das Review. But so what ? I am particularly annoyed by die Review (a variété show) when applied to a code review, so I say das Review – and the people I deal with fall into line. There is a leeway of action in German for which English speakers are not prepared.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    origin of gender
    In a number of languages, nouns are divided into classes which loosely correspond to concrete categories and usually “agree” (or rather “attract agreement”) with other categories such as articles, pronouns, etc. In the Bantu languages of Africa, for instance, there are categories such as humans, plants, round objects, long objects, containers, etc. Each of these categories is marked by specific sets of prefixes which attach to the noun and words that go with it (adjectives, etc). Of course, not everything can be fitted neatly into the major categories, so the category of many nouns seems arbitrary.
    In most Indo-European languages, the “gender” categories (originally masculine, feminine and neuter) place humans and domestic animals more or less obviously into the masculine and feminine “genders”, but there are also many exceptions, and inanimate objects or abstractions can also fall into masculine or feminine, otherwise German nouns would all be mostly neuter (as in English). The nouns, etc carry (or used to carry at a more remote period) some signs (usually a set of suffixes) which show which gender the noun belongs to, but with the passage of time (and the influence of another, separate noun-classification) the rationale for placing a noun in one gender category or the other has long been obscured. What often remains is the association of an ending with a gender, regardless of other considerations. For instance, in Latin words of the “1st declension” ended in -a and most of them were “feminine”. As a result, new words adopted or coined which happened to end in -a were considered to be “feminine”, and after a few centuries some plural neuters ending in -ia also became reinterpreted as feminine. Some derivational (word-creating) suffixes were also conventionally “feminine”, for instance the ancestor of the -tion suffix (that’s why similar words in French -tion, Spanish -cion, Italian -zione, etc are all still feminine in those languages). These sorts of things happened over a sequence of thousands of years, so except in clear-cut cases like the suffixes above, it is not usually possible to identify the reasons why a certain word is one gender or the other. As for German Mädchen ‘girl’ or Fräulein ‘miss, young lady’, these words are “neuter” because they include diminutive suffixes which cause whatever noun they attach to to be neuter, regardless of the gender of the basic noun (probably because originally the sex of a very young animal or child was functionally irrelevant).

  38. By the way, you won’t find das Review in Duden. That’s because I made it up: das Codereview. My German code review colleagues now use it that way. It meets a need, namely to distinguish code reviews from variété – even though it’s sometimes hard to tell the two apart.
    I suspect this kind of incentive would be inconceivable in French or Spanish. But German gives you a certain leeway, as I said – when you’re bold enough to take advantage of it.

  39. João Lucas says:

    This response to the Times article about Wikipedia’s gender imbalance is worth the reading: http://www.slate.com/id/2284501/pagenum/all/

  40. michael farris says:

    Paul Clapham: “”DVE pomidorowi” responded the woman behind the counter.”
    Illiterate hussy! That should be dwie pomidorowe (dvyeh pomidorOhweh).
    But yeah, the raging prescriptivist virus has totally infected Poland (though language experts in the media are by way of contrast very reasonable and linguistically aware).

  41. michael farris says:

    While here, IIRC the two female commenters were very welcome but took themselves away after making themselves less welcme with a lot of very intolerant comments. (outright racism has not been the norm here except for those two)
    (One of them also got herself banned from another site for repeated racist comments).

  42. Both have been kicked off other blogs. One from mine.
    How does the NY Times survey know the sex of all the Wikipedia contributors? They don’t, of course; my sex isn’t evident from either of the names I use there (not Crown). In internet discussions that involve feminism or sexism I have sometimes found it convenient and persuasive to imply that I am a woman. I don’t think it was intellectually dishonest.

  43. I don’t think it was intellectually dishonest
    Not intellectually, but maybe dishonest in some other respect ? Morally ? Nah. When you think of yourself as an author, then anything goes.
    What are the internet, facebook etc. but gigantic no-fee creative writing courses, without editors or agents to suppress the banality and ignorance of most of what is written ? That’s why so many people take part. Vanity publishing for free !

  44. If someone assumes that what I’m saying is okay only if I’m a woman then they are being sexist and deserve to be confused.

  45. Exactly. Whatever is said in the internet can only aspire to be a Modest Proposal. It’s not your fault when people expect you to be genuine and truthful. Banality and naiveté usually go hand in hand.

  46. (sputtering as head comes out of the water of massive amounts of work)… definitely missed some dramatic posts here… very interested in the Wiki question…but first, about kofe. There was a big bru-ha-ha here when the dictionaries started giving neuter and masc. as equally possible variants, mostly because 1)people thought they HAD to use the neuter and 2) if you are used to hearing one thing, it’s almost physically annoying to hear something else and 3) yeah, perscripticism is alive and well in Russia.
    And speaking of which… I found a sentence in the NYT that struck me as being wrong/weird/idiomatic usage, but then I wondered if I’ve just missed another sweep of language change. The sentence: “They were people who live in white apartments and people who collect art books by the myriad.”
    “by the myriad” — how does that strike youse guys?

  47. @Stu
    I expect that J Cowan meant that there is a tendency to use es to refer to inanimate nouns when the referent is physically remote in the stream of speech, whatever its gender is.
    Also, I’m surprised that no one has brought up Roman Jakobson, who spent a lot of time writing and lecturing about the effect of gender on the way the referents of nouns are treated in poetry. He did contrastive studies between words like sun whose gender is different in Slavic and Germanic, etc.

  48. mab, my first reaction was: “that’s wrong, it should be myriads”. Then I thought: “but it could be more elegant and novel to use the singular”. Then: “what does myriad mean anyway ?”.
    I found this in MW:

    Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective. As the entries here show, however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it.

  49. Grumbly, you can’t think there’s anything immoral about pretending to be a woman when you’re on the internet.
    If you write something you’re a writer, if you paint something you’re a painter, if you design something you’re a designer. The name doesn’t define you, or mean you’re any good at it, but it is a fact.
    Banality and naiveté usually go hand in hand.
    You’re going to have to be more direct in your criticism; otherwise I’m never going to understand what you think I’ve done.

  50. A first time poster, I just have to join the coffee discussion!
    I once met a foreign student (don’t remember his nationality) who was studying Icelandic at the University of Iceland. He found it puzzling that kók (Coke, the soft drink) is variously regarded as a neuter noun or a feminine one. I, a native speaker, had never noticed.
    Kók is decidedly a neuter noun, it is ‘kókið er volgt’ (the coke is warm), not ‘kókinn er volgur’(m.).
    Yet when you buy a coke you’d use the feminine form of the number: ‘Ein kók’, not the neuter ‘eitt kók’. ‘Tvær kók’, not ‘tvö kók’, etc.
    This discrepancy is not something that Icelanders would notice. But it seemed to me, upon reflection, that the word bottle (or can) is implied in the latter example. Both are feminine nouns. Kók, the neuter noun, refers to the black liquid. Kók, the feminine noun, means coke bottle or a can of coke.
    The same thing goes for kaffi (coffee). Kaffi is a neuter noun unless it’s cups of coffee we’re talking about. Cup (bolli) is a masculine noun so kaffi undergoes a gender change when it comes in cupfuls, from neuter to masculine. You order ‘einn kaffi’, not ‘eitt kaffi’. ‘Tvo kaffi’, nor ‘tvö kaffi’.
    Neither kók nor kaffi take a plural ending or form (in any gender). Kaffi is just too unIcelandic a word, it’s impossible to come up with a plural form. But kók is easy: the feminine plural would be kækur. I guess the word kækur is just too weird to be acceptable. Besides, it’s taken, it means tick (the movement disorder).

  51. Gary: I expect that J Cowan meant that there is a tendency to use es to refer to inanimate nouns when the referent is physically remote in the stream of speech, whatever its gender is.
    That’s true as regards the way ordinary Germans speak. However, I take the literary style of German philosophers and sociogists as my models, where there is no such tendency. Instead, one obtains here a heightened clarity of back-reference. Here an example from Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft:

    Der innere Reichtum der Begrifflichkeit dieser Tradition beruht vor allem darauf, daß sie sowohl stratifikatorische als auch Zentrum/Peripherie-Differenzierungen kannte, daß sie im Laufe ihrer Geschichte sowohl Stadt- als auch Reichsbildungen interpretieren mußte, daß sie sowohl in der Stadt lebenden als auch, im Mittelalter, auf dem Land lebenden Adel kannte und daß sie ihre Religion im Zuge der Christianisierung gewechselt hat mit der Folge, Traditionsgut ohne grundlegenden gesellschaftsstrukturellen Wandel neu interpretieren zu müssen.

    It may be that ordinary speakers usually refer more to individual people than academic writers do – indeed, the latter are usually aiming at an impersonal presentation. So in ordinary speech er and sie will tend to refer back to people, while es tends to refer back to non-people.
    The street and the study are merely two different traditions of discourse: neither has any pretensions to supersede the other.

  52. Crown: Grumbly, you can’t think there’s anything immoral about pretending to be a woman when you’re on the internet.
    I don’t think that. I wrote “Morally ? Nah.”
    If you write something you’re a writer … The name doesn’t define you, or mean you’re any good at it, but it is a fact.
    True. Anybody can write on the internet, including me and you. I’m not talking about you in particular.
    [Banality and naiveté usually go hand in hand.] … You’re going to have to be more direct in your criticism
    But I’m not criticizing you !! I’m pouring scorn on anybody who naively thinks that “AJP Crown (Mrs)” is a female commenter.

  53. “Wikipedia has to somehow change so that editing is made less otaku-specific. Like it or not, Wikipedia is the go-to source of general knowledge in the early 21st century, and the fact that it skews male is unambiguously a Bad Thing.”
    Is this really a problem? As long as there are no space limitations, why should I care that there 82 times as many words on Wikipedia dedicated to the Simpsons as there are to feminist film theory? I don’t need to read the Simpsons articles or the thousands of entries on Babylon 5. I think you need to make a case that the Otakus are making it difficult for women to post – that would be an issue.

  54. ATR: This discrepancy is not something that Icelanders would notice. But it seemed to me, upon reflection, that the word bottle (or can) is implied in the latter example. Both are feminine nouns. Kók, the neuter noun, refers to the black liquid. Kók, the feminine noun, means coke bottle or a can of coke.
    That is extremely interesting. I hope someone with more linguistic savvy than I have (zilch) will elaborate.

  55. vanya: I think you need to make a case that the Otakus are making it difficult for women to post – that would be an issue.
    That’s a good point, because it makes clear that there probably is no issue here. In Western societies, men on the whole like to band together and share their Viking costumes and other enthusiasms. Women on the whole don’t even want to be seen wearing the same dress as another woman.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t think AJP intends to fool anybody here by signing “AJP Crown (Mrs)”, which looks suspiciously old-fashioned anyway, but he might sign, for instance, “Julie Andrews” or “Zerbinette” in another venue.
    Like many others, I thought that “Noetica” was a woman, because of the Latin feminine singular suffix -a, but he explained that the suffix is the homophonous Latin neuter plural -a (which I mentioned earlier under “origin of gender”).
    Wikipedia as vanity publishing: how can this be, since the articles are anonymous, and likely to be rewritten by others (who are not necessarily more competent than the first writer)?

  57. marie-lucie says:

    myriad/myriade
    I have been puzzled by the proliferating use of “myriad” in English, usually as an adjective meaning simply “many”. In French there is the noun une myriade (de …) meaning a very large number (of ants in an anthill, or stars in the sky, for instance). It seems to me that in English the word usually refers to a much smaller number than in those examples.

  58. Gender issues aside, there is a problem with Wikipedia’s coverage. Not what’s there, or how much, but what isn’t, as soon as the assumption is that it’s reasonably comprehensive.
    There is no page for Albert Mayer, the original planner of Chandigarh and (with Whittlesey and Glass) a designer of several important modernist apartment buildings in Manhattan, and urban critic of the Mumford and Stein sort.
    Almost every artist on the New York School page should have their own page.
    I offer no suggestion for how to get people who know about such things to add them.

  59. For the record, other than here I don’t think I ever use a name that’s explicitly male or female. I prefer names like “Language Hat” (not that I’d ever use that one, I hasten to say).

  60. (me sputtering too, as head comes out of the water of massive amounts of family medical crisis and failure of house’s heating system)…
    “by the myriad” feels just a little off. Dictionaries seem to confirm my belief that standard usages would include
    1. he collected myriads [lots] of books
    2. he collected a myriad [a lot] of books
    3. (Archaic) he collected a myriad (10000) of books
    4. the number of his books was myriad
    In view of 1 and 2, I can’t think just why your phrase feels off. In any case I think that I find it such an attractive word, and such an oddball anyway, that I have a high tolerance for any eccentric behavior that it may exhibit.
    About sexism: I am aware that in spite of my best intentions I do sometimes treat men and women differently, and in particular that I may treat an internet acquaintance differently depending on what I imagine his/her sex to be.
    True story: Once upon I time I rejected a brief article submitted to an academic journal, judging as editorial-board member that it was too lightweight for us and that it would be well to skip the process of sending it out for an opinion. I thought, from the name, that the author was a woman. Years later I happened to learn that he was a man. This made me immediately aware that the rejection letter I had written had had an unintended faint tone of condescension. I found myself regretting having sent such a letter to anyone (of either sex) but it took this event to bring me to that conclusion.

  61. Oh, and I’m glad you’re not mad at me Grumbly. I was worried I’d caused you displeasure.
    I think it would be very nice if Wikipedia could strike a deal with the ODNB so that if you looked up say, Jack The Ripper, you would get a “See ODNB” link that would take you to their article. There is as much chance of this happening as there is of Stu becoming the next president of Egypt.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Ø: at least in linguistics, for many years the number of women whose articles were published was much less than could be expected from their percentage among linguists. Once the major journals and conferences requested articles and abstracts to be submitted anonymously, the number of women’s works published shot up.

  63. marie-lucie: Wikipedia as vanity publishing: how can this be, since the articles are anonymous, and likely to be rewritten by others (who are not necessarily more competent than the first writer)?
    I wrote “the internet and facebook”, not Wikipedia. In any case, vanity is its own reward.

  64. Unless I missed it, there seems to be no breakdown in that analysis of books and reviews by men versus books and reviews by women into fiction and non-fiction: given the known imbalance between men and women contributors on Wikipedia, and the suggestions as to why that is so, it would be useful to see how the gender balances for fiction and non-fiction reviews compared. Men are just so much more into boringly knowing about stuff. Women, correctly, mostly don’t care.
    Myriad – I suggest the use of “by the myriad” was the writer saying: “I know what ‘myriad’ meant originally, and you’re going to have to show your ignorance by looking it up to see if I used it correctly.” My bet would be that it was a male writer …

  65. zythophile: Men are just so much more into boringly knowing about stuff. Women, correctly, mostly don’t care.
    True enough. But now that you have addressed the same subject as I did above, I feel obliged to add certain qualifications regarding my own thoughts on these matters. 1) I have very little idea why things are this way on the whole; 2) I’m not convinced that they have to be this way; and 3) I am certain that much of this is nurtured, not natured.
    What marie-lucie and empty just related has reminded me that what I regard as my uncertainty could also be regarded as fence-sitting.

  66. Okay, I guess “by the myriad” is just fine, although I’m a myriad-as-adjective girl myself. (I think of it as meaning “multitude” and “by the multitude” doesn’t sound quite right to me either.)
    And speaking of myself (girl) and Wiki… I am sometimes embarrassed that I fall into the stereotypes, and this was true with Wiki. If an article annoyed me, it didn’t occur to me that I could change it. And then, when it did occur to me, I thought: but I’m not qualified. And then when I realized that I was probably more qualified than the teenagers writing the articles, I was intimidated by the coding etc. It took several days of sand box practice before I ventured on. And then I had wars about my edits with arrogant, know-it-all, hormone-spouting kids. True to stereotype, I hated the confrontational aspect of it and had a hard time keeping up the energy to fight them down. In that sense, the boys do keep the girls out. That is, the culture of Wiki seems to be in some ways (or with some categories of articles) young male oneupmanship, and if you are a woman who doesn’t like it/can’t handle it, you won’t get very far. It’s funny/odd because the how-to articles make Wiki sound like a multi-national summer camp with everyone singing Kumbaya and living by principles of Neutrality and Provable Facts, but the ethos of the contributors is far different.
    Re: different ways men and women are treated. Years ago I worked in a foundation as the editorial asst. Our little dept hired a man as a secretary. One day I got a letter addressed to me using an honorific and my last name. I realized that this was the first letter like that I’d ever gotten — everyone else just used my first name. I told our secretary, who said: “You’re kidding! Every letter I get is addressed to either Mr. or Dr. (last name)!”
    I rest my case.

  67. Actually, I don’t exactly know what case I was making.

  68. кофе
    I did my full university-level 5-year linguistic course in Russian in the 70s and ‘coffee’ was one example of my favourite ‘variance of the literary norm’ (вариантность норм литературного языка) – the professors (Tamara Shanskaya, Kalinina and Ilya Tolstoy, the writer’s grandson, among others) taught us to accept that live language is continuosly creating new norms, ie coffee as masculine to be considered as ‘norm’, but neuter to be accepted as a ‘new’ (alternative) norm. The joke you refer to was also cited.

  69. re importance of noun gender in translation: Nora Gahl, who translated ‘Le Petit Prince’ into Russian, insisted on the Fox being masculine Лис, unusual in Russian lore – not Лиса, because of the connotations – friendship, and la Fleur as Роза (rose) in feminine, because flower is masculine in Russian(цветок), but роза is feminine and любовь (love) is feminine.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    The Flower is actually a rose – she has thorns, and the author drew her as a rose.

  71. Hat: There’s a known bug in Gecko, the layout used by Firefox and some other browsers, that winds up placing combining marks on the wrong character. In general, neither IE nor Webkit-based browsers such as Chrome and Safari have this problem.
    Grumbly: It is beyond preposterous to assert that everything one says “on the Internet” should be treated as fictional including the identity of the speaker. Hat’s posts are as solidly factual as he can make them. If he uses a pseudonym, it’s transparent; his real name is easily learned. Claiming “it’s all just a fiction” is simply a way of claiming the privilege of absolute irresponsibility, and the fact that others are irresponsible doesn’t justify your being so.
    I myself, indeed, use my real name for all purposes on the Internet and elsewhere, because I’m an Internet-old-fart whose prejudice is that people posting under a pseudonym are poseurs and lightweights. I know that’s no longer always true, but I have to strive not to let it affect my thinking.
    mab: See the Male Privilege Checklist. It’s really remarkable how people (= men) in corporations tend not to know the surnames of their female coworkers at all. Even if they use first names generally, they can remember male surnames but not female ones.

  72. John Cowan: It is beyond preposterous to assert that everything one says “on the Internet” should be treated as fictional including the identity of the speaker.
    John, you may not have noticed that I did not use the word “fiction”, nor the word “identity”. Thus it may not have occurred to you that I had a particular reason for not using them: the reason being that I was not talking about “fiction” or “identity”. As an aside, I will mention that I never use either of these two words, for reasons impossible to explain in a few sentences.
    What I wrote was this:

    When you think of yourself as an author, then anything goes.
    What are the internet, facebook etc. but gigantic no-fee creative writing courses, without editors or agents to suppress the banality and ignorance of most of what is written ? That’s why so many people take part. Vanity publishing for free !
    Whatever is said in the internet can only aspire to be a Modest Proposal. It’s not your [Crown's] fault when people expect you to be genuine and truthful. Banality and naiveté usually go hand in hand.

    Your comment continues:
    Hat’s posts are as solidly factual as he can make them. If he uses a pseudonym, it’s transparent; his real name is easily learned. Claiming “it’s all just a fiction” is simply a way of claiming the privilege of absolute irresponsibility, and the fact that others are irresponsible doesn’t justify your being so.
    In what repect am I said to have been irresponsible ? What is it I must answer for ? I don’t remember signing any undertakings over the past few years.

  73. Try saying what you want to say without using the words “fiction” and “identity”. Would that be difficult ? If so, why ? Are the notions of “fiction” and “identity” so clear-cut and self-evident in their meaning that you can’t imagine doing without them ?

  74. Kári Tulinius says:

    ATR: Kók is decidedly a neuter noun, it is ‘kókið er volgt’ (the coke is warm), not ‘kókinn er volgur’(m.).
    Yet when you buy a coke you’d use the feminine form of the number: ‘Ein kók’, not the neuter ‘eitt kók’. ‘Tvær kók’, not ‘tvö kók’, etc.
    This discrepancy is not something that Icelanders would notice. But it seemed to me, upon reflection, that the word bottle (or can) is implied in the latter example. Both are feminine nouns. Kók, the neuter noun, refers to the black liquid. Kók, the feminine noun, means coke bottle or a can of coke.
    The same thing goes for kaffi (coffee). Kaffi is a neuter noun unless it’s cups of coffee we’re talking about. Cup (bolli) is a masculine noun so kaffi undergoes a gender change when it comes in cupfuls, from neuter to masculine. You order ‘einn kaffi’, not ‘eitt kaffi’. ‘Tvo kaffi’, nor ‘tvö kaffi’.
    Neither kók nor kaffi take a plural ending or form (in any gender). Kaffi is just too unIcelandic a word, it’s impossible to come up with a plural form. But kók is easy: the feminine plural would be kækur. I guess the word kækur is just too weird to be acceptable. Besides, it’s taken, it means tick (the movement disorder).
    I’m also an Icelandic-speaker. I’d like to disagree slightly. Most people consider kók a neuter noun, like most Icelandic loanwords which don’t fit the Icelandic declension system, but some people consider it a feminine word, like bók (book). Some people always use kók in the feminine. But I agree with ATR in the example where people ask to buy ‘ein kók,’ there they’re eliding the feminine word ‘dós’ (can) or ‘flaska’ (bottle).
    As to why kók doesn’t have plural, I’d say that it’s a mass noun, like hveiti (wheat). Why Icelanders don’t use kækur comes down to that, I think, rather than it sounding especially weird. Like in English, the word vatn can mean either ‘water’ or ‘body of water’ (the latter meaning generally restricted to lakes in Icelandic). In the latter meaning, it has a plural form, vötn, but you’d never ask for a three vötn in a restaurant, it would sound very strange.
    Kaffi is a bit more complicated. I ask for ‘eitt kaffi’ and ‘tvö kaffi,’ not ‘einn kaffi’ and ‘tvo kaffi.’ But I would feel linguistically strange asking someone ‘hve mörg kaffi drakkstu’ (how many coffees did you drink), I’d phrase it ‘hve marga bolla af kaffi drakkstu’ (how many cups of coffee did you drink).
    As to the sad VIDAweb survey, Ruth Franklin of The New Republic posted a response which points to something even sadder: Publishers publish fewer books by women than they do by men.
    I’m a published writer in Icelandic. My novel has some orthographic peculiarities (some chapters are without punctuation). My editor, who is a woman, said to me at one point that I would never get away with this if you were female, that reviewers were much harsher towards female writers than male, especially when they deviated from standard orthography. I don’t know for sure if it’s the same in the US, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  75. Myriad <= Greek “ten thousand” (as in Russian <=Mongol тьма “ten thousand warriors”). In English the numeric nature would normally make it an adjective, but in Russian it would be very specifically a numerical, pretty close to a full fledged noun… And of course “The Myriad” (proper known) is a publicly traded company in the US?

  76. It seems to me that, on a population basis, Icelandic speakers are overrepresented on Languagehat.

  77. I may be a bit naive, but I do find it disturbing when people take advantage of the anonymity of the medium to present themselves as something they are not.
    Many years ago I knew a young, single, politically aware Japanese woman who would write letters to the editor posing as a ‘mother of four’. I was disturbed by this dishonesty because obviously a person who speaks as a ‘mother of four’ is not only likely to have different views from a younger woman (liberal or radical views would, for example, stand out far more forcefully than if expressed by a younger woman with less responsibilities) but also have her views taken more seriously by society. From that time on I made a mental note not to place too much credence by letters to the editor.

  78. “They were people who live in white apartments and people who collect art books by the myriad.”
    Sounds a bit odd but not something I would necessarily edit out; it feels like reasonable exploitation of the possibilities of English rather than simple misuse (even from a prescriptive/editorial point of view).
    From that time on I made a mental note not to place too much credence by letters to the editor.
    A wise decision in general, regardless of parental status.
    I’d like to thank the Icelandic speakers for a fascinating discussion of Coke!

  79. marie-lucie: Let me add that I am sure that my opinion of the article’s (lack of) merit was not affected by my belief about the author’s sex; what was affected was the manner in which I expressed this opinion.
    And I want to broaden the point I am making by saying this: I cannot deny that my feelings about some commenters here are (in spite of my best intentions) at least slightly affected by my perceptions of who is a man and who is a woman. I say this not (I hope) with the intention of stirring up any trouble but to set an example for others who might want to examine their own attitudes.

  80. marie-lucie says:

    Ø, I know that your case was not the same as the one I mentioned, but the two were related.
    I cannot deny that my feelings about some commenters here are (in spite of my best intentions) at least slightly affected by my perceptions of who is a man and who is a woman.
    I don’t think that anyone can be totally “objective” in this respect. But we should not have to apologize for reacting slightly differently to people that we perceive as just like us (= having the same or similar physical attributes and/or background and experiences) or not quite like us in some respect(s) – as long as we don’t deny any resemblance between “them” and “us” on the basis of a single criterion and automatically put the two sets at opposite extremes of whatever measure of difference we invent.

  81. Marie-Lucie,
    but the word rose is not mentioned in the story, Exupery must have had something against it. I mentioned that example to show how word gender is important for practical purposes of a writer or a translator – it affects the reader’s perception of the narrative.
    Fox in French is masculine, but generic Russian for fox is feminine, so il est rusé comme un vieux renard would be хитрая [как] лиса (clever as a she-fox for both men and women).
    There is a lesser known example for borrowed words gender change: with French placenames (feminine). I was surprised to see Marseille – Марсель declined as feminine in Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done? (1860s) Today placenames follow masculine pattern, because of the gender of the word gorod (town) even when the ending suggests neuter (Bordeaux) or feminine (Marseille).
    And another one: kangaroo. Russian dictionaries mark it as masculine, even though every child knows Mayakovsky’s line: Кенгуру смешная очень. Руки вдвое короче. Но за это у ней ноги вдвое длинней. ([she]kangaroo is very funny, has hands twice shorter, but for that her legs are twice longer). And Kanga in Winnie the Pooh is a she.

  82. michael farris says:

    Getting here late – “by the myriad” sounds awful to me, not exploring stylistic possibilities but plain word misuse.
    If I were a copy editor I’d want to check with the author if that’s what they really wanted or if they had a brain fart.
    I could be convinced it’s okay, I guess, but my first reaction was very negative.

  83. I meant to write this earlier: comment to Grumbly: istn’t the variété show usually written “Revue”?

  84. The tone of the whole article in which “by the myriad” appeared is rather fey. So I think my final evaluation is “grammatically possible but stylistically unattractive.”
    On the other topic — when I post on several political blogs I use a name that is not clearly male or female and try to conceal that I’m a woman. The other posters are almost all men and they either don’t take women seriously, or attack them, or condescend to them. In that forum I’m not trying to change their attitude towards women, I’m trying to change their attitude to whatever subject we’re discussing, and that works better if they think I’m a man. I don’t know if that’s dishonest or cowardly or creepy. But one of the first rules of persuasion (communication 101) is that you concentrate on one message and don’t try to change more than one thing.

  85. I am more puzzled by ‘white apartments’ than the myriads. Myriads of art books seems to be a fairly clear metaphor, but what are ‘white apartments’?

  86. michael farris says:

    Sashura, I’m not 100% sure but I assume it’s referring to an apartment where the walls and ceiling are conspicuously white.
    Things like wallpaper are regarded as hopelessly proletarian by the kinds of people who collect art books and are written about in the New York Times.
    Put ‘white apartment’ into google images and you’ll get an idea of the sense of taste involved.

  87. bruessel: I meant to write this earlier: comment to Grumbly: istn’t the variété show usually written “Revue”?
    You’re right, I expressed myself badly. What I meant was that die Codereview sounds like die Coderevue. Duden says about die Review:

    2. (Videotechnik) das Mithören od. -sehen beim schnellen Rücklauf von Ton- od. Videobändern zur raschen Auffindung bestimmter Stellen.

    I’ve never heard die Review used in that sense, but then I’m not a sound engineer. It must be a specialized use. The generally familiar word is die Revue.
    There’s no higher intelligence involved with my introduction of das Codereview. Often the neuter form is used for loan words that don’t suggest a German word (in contrast to die Email, say, because of die Post). In the case of das Codereview, I’m using the neuter form to cancel out the association with die Revue.

  88. @ATR: That is very interesting about the shifting gender in Icelandic. Is this common with other nouns as well (not just loan words)?
    I wonder if this change occurs in other languages.

  89. Michael, I think that white apartments with glass-shelved art libraries are most probably the stylistic progeny of the NY “white” architects of the 60s -70s: Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, Charles Gwathmey & (early) Michael Graves, who in turn were acolytes of Le Corbusier. I question that white-apt owners think wallpaper is proletarian. There are as many class associations of wallpaper as there are class associations of British accents, it’s just that wallpaper’s not much used by the modern movement.

  90. marie-lucie says:

    but the word rose is not mentioned in the story, Exupery must have had something against it.
    I don’t see why Saint-Exupéry would have something against the word rose but not against the picture of a rose, which is what he drew. Although the rose as a comparison for a beautiful young woman is prevalent in 16th century poetry, its conventional associations are more specifically with virginity, and in the French language it is fleur which is more generally associated with the description of a woman: une femme fleur refers to a decorative, self-centered woman who is almost exclusively preoccupied with her beauty and with the power it gives her to manipulate men, like the stereotypically feminine fleur loved by the Little Prince.

  91. une femme fleur refers to a decorative, self-centered woman who is almost exclusively preoccupied with her beauty and with the power it gives her to manipulate men
    all of which would have been lost had the translator stuck to the original and used цветок (flower, stylistically neutral, grammatically masculine). Thanks for une femme fleur – I’ll try it out tonight, it’s not too pejorative?

  92. AJP: but I took it that the phrase contrasts those in white apartments and those with a myriad of art books? or are they the same tribe? If I say ‘yellow lego blocks’ Brits here would immediately understand what I am refering to, I’m curious as to what this ‘white apartment’ is in the obviously figurative sense. Michael, thanks, I googled it but after several pages am still non the wiser. Could it be plain white walls, no books, no pictures, no personality? and myriads of art books – superficial, showing-off arty-fartiness without real knowledge or interest in cultural subjects?

  93. Siganus Sutor says:

    John C., I’m just left wondering who the second one could be.

  94. J. W. Brewer says:

    The Icelandic coke/coffee data is a tribute to the distinctiveness of LH (there are presumably lots of places where one could get different people’s takes on the causes and consequences of the sex ratio of wikipedia contributors, although no doubt many of them would be less civil than this forum). In English, there’s a somewhat similar distinction between “coke” and “coffee” as mass nouns meaning the-liquid-in-question and the same (?) words as count nouns, meaning cans/bottles/cups/approximately-standard-servings of the-liquid-in-question. The same holds with “beer” and probably other beverages not immediately leaping to mind. We don’t have to think a lot about whether these are different-but-related words or different meanings of the same word. If English nouns obligitorily bore gender and the genders differed, that might shed some light on that question. Although the suggestion that an elided NP could/would take the gender of the piece that’s been omitted (“X of Y” takes gender of X rather than Y, and so does Y understood in context as meaning X of Y) is quite interesting. Does that happen in other contexts in Icelandic?

  95. Sash, It’s some guy writing a jokey NY Times article about dusty apartments in New York, and he asks “where does dust come from?”, and then he says: So I compiled my own advisory panel of lay experts. They were people who live in white apartments and people who collect books by the myriad. The future is looking like a dustier place, I said. What can we do to prepare?
    So, you’re right, he’s contrasting the books with the white apartments (which seem a pretty reasonable building type, in this context). The “art” books on glass shelves accrued to the phrase thanks to Michael and me (mostly me). Let’s just hope we never have to give evidence.
    I still say that the white apartments in NY, the ones with the shiny white ceilings and natural wood or grey-carpeted floors, also have a lot of books – most of them art books.

  96. Siganus: I have no clue what you mean by “the second one”.
    Grumbly: To speak is to act, and to act is to bear responsibility for one’s actions. A signature is not necessary.

  97. J. W. Brewer says:

    Just one empirical linguage use datapoint slightly contra John Cowan on “male privilege.” It was historically the case in the U.S. during the 20th century that male names were less dispersed than female names. For example, in Americans of my cohort (born 1965) the 20 most common boys names cover (very approximately, this is eyeball / back of envelope math not checked by excel or anything) approximately 41% of the total male population while the 20 most common girls’ names cover approximately 24% (same caveat) of the total female population. So remembering surnames of male colleagues would be ceteris paribus somewhat more salient for disambiguation, questions of power and social hierachy aside. (Naming has gotten significantly more dispersed in general more recently, but the sex difference persists to some degree – comparable numbers for the top 20 names for 2009 might be 16% coverage for boys vs. 12% for girls. Also, since popular girls’ names go in and out of fashion more dramatically decade-to-decade than boys’ names, a mixed-age group will tend to show even more skew in terms of percentage coverage of top X male names v. top X female names.)
    There’s also the fact that it’s in my experience very unusual for the practice of referring to someone in direct address or third-party reference by surname without an honorific (“what do you think we should do, Johnson?” “was Johnson on the conference call?”) to be used with females as opposed to males, at least in a work environment. I would say that that is probably a less respectful form of address that using first names, in that it is substantialy more likely to be used face to face from a superior to subordinate than vice versa, whereas at least in some settings first-name address may be used symmetrically between superiors and subordinates.
    (Of course, one can tell a coherent story about how treating female colleagues with more formal linguistic politeness than one treats male colleagues can itself be as exclusionary as treating them with less formal linguistic politeness.)

  98. In the Russian translation of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, the character of Death is called Смерть (Smert’), which is a feminine noun, but treated as a masculine for verbs and modifiers. This is because Death is masculine on the Discworld – and Susan’s grandfather. This can confuse Russians… and learners (especially those who aren’t familiar with Pratchett) even more.

  99. J.W. Brewer: I think you are quite right in general. If someone in my department refers to Matt, there is a hard ambiguity, and people know generally to say Matt V—- or Matt J—- (names suppressed for privacy reasons), or to use the initial of the surname. However, I have been on the inquiring end of many, many conversations like this:
    Interlocutor: “Talk to Carol about that.”
    JWC/Bones: “Okay, I’ll send her an email. What’s her last name?” (from which email addresses in the company can be guessed with high reliability)
    Interlocutor: “Jeez, dunno.”

  100. j. del col says:

    This reminds of the Calvin and Hobbes strip in which Calvin demands to know why he is not being taught the gender of furniture.

  101. @Sashura
    “(clever as a she-fox for both men and women)”
    I’d say vixen instead of she-fox, it’s a word we don’t get to use often enough.

  102. J.W. Brewer: “Although the suggestion that an elided NP could/would take the gender of the piece that’s been omitted (“X of Y” takes gender of X rather than Y, and so does Y understood in context as meaning X of Y) is quite interesting.”
    That is a good analysis. I thought of Egyptian Arabic with coffee (F) and tea (M) and tried some samples with my best informant (and spouse). The (X) of Y works for size and type but not temperature:
    1. I want a cup-M of coffee-F big-M hot-F
    2. I want one coffee-F big-M hot-F
    So, here the gender of the size refers to the container, even when elided. And, the gender of the temperature refers to the contents also when elided.
    However, when referring to the type of coffee, the adjective doesn’t agree in gender for some reason:
    3. I want one coffee-F Turkish-M (even though Turkish or whatever can be masculine or feminine)
    This requires more samples and analysis than she was willing to endure at the time (waiting to go for a long walk on a nice day). And, I don’t have a native-speaker intuition about all of this.

  103. @GeorgeW 06:38:
    “That is very interesting about the shifting gender in Icelandic. Is this common with other nouns as well (not just loan words)?”
    Kaffi and kók are the only ones that I can think of. But it’s not as if I’ve thought about this much and I’m not a linguist.
    @J.W.Brewer 12:31 PM:
    “In English, there’s a somewhat similar distinction between “coke” and “coffee” as mass nouns meaning the-liquid-in-question and the same (?) words as count nouns, meaning cans/bottles/cups/approximately-standard-servings of the-liquid-in-question.”
    Exactly. In English you can ask for two coffees, meaning two cups of coffee. And some people take three sugars in their tea (teaspoons then, or packets). The Icelandic loan words kaffi and kók (when they serve as count nouns) don’t take a plural ending for some reason; kók ought to (because it fits the declension system) but doesn’t.
    “The same holds with “beer” and probably other beverages not immediately leaping to mind.”
    Speaking of beer:
    Bjór (beer) is masculine, both as a mass noun and count noun. There is no gender shifting. You order tveir bjórar (in plural form). The serving container has no effect on the gender: glass is neuter, bottle is feminine and can is feminine.
    But bjór can also mean beaver (also masculine). Perhaps that’s why there’s this perception that the word is firmly masculine and shouldn’t be bent :)
    Wine, milk, water, juice, broth — none of these words function as count nouns in Icelandic. Perhaps juice does in English.

  104. gastric juices, creative juices

  105. marie-lucie says:

    But those juices are not dispensed in containers in standard sizes. As with the other words ATR mentions, the plurals refer to varieties of these liquids, not quantities (eg milks for goat’s milk and cow’s milk, not pints or quarts of milk).

  106. John Cowan: To speak is to act, and to act is to bear responsibility for one’s actions. A signature is not necessary.
    What reponsibility do you imagine you are taking on by uttering those two sentences ? Are you shouldering a burden of proof ? Then shouldn’t you prove your claim, rather than just stating it baldly ?
    Are you instead shouldering a burden of truth ? Perhaps you mean something like: “every act of speech warrants the hearer to rely on that act expressing the truth” ? But is that true when the speech acts are only questions, as with this-here comment ?
    The thing you refer to as “fiction” dispenses from responsibility, doesn’t it ? Where is the court before which I am answerable for composing smart-ass comments ? The court of public opinion ? Ha ha, they’ll have to catch me first – remember we’re on the internet ?

  107. Grumbly: To tell the truth; no; no; yes; yes, but truth != facts; form is only partly relevant; no, not at all; mine; yes; that is not the case.

  108. Nice answer ! But your combination of “One should always speak the truth” with “truth != facts” makes me tremble for your epistemological soul. Not because I believe that “truth” is based on “facts”, but because you seem to think that saying something is so makes it so – as if earnestness were a warrant for plausibility, or at least a downpayment on it. “Consider the intellectual fate of Habermas”, as Luhmann cattily remarks towards the end of Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft.
    Your scheme of things doesn’t appear to allow for dissent – even though everything anyone says is equally liable to excite disagreement as agreement. On your line of thinking it seems – if I may exaggerate for a moment – that whoever doesn’t agree with you on the subject of “speech as responsibility” is wrong or dishonest. On my line of thinking, whoever disagrees with me merely disagrees with me – and that moves me to reach for the quip rather than the whip.

  109. I don’t think anything of the sort, and how you can think that I think it is beyond me altogether. What I meant by the overly terse “truth != facts” is that one may lie by stating the facts, or on the contrary, tell the truth with no facts at all.

  110. one may … tell the truth with no facts at all
    Uh-oh. With no facts at hand, what good is “truth” ? Perhaps we can agree that one may be amusing and instructive without recourse to facts or truth.

  111. Siganus Sutor says:

    John: I have no clue what you mean by “the second one”.
    I was referring to your first post.

  112. “Consider the intellectual fate of Habermas”, as Luhmann cattily remarks towards the end of Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft.
    You intrigue me. Could you expand on this a bit, just enough so that someone with no knowledge of Habermas beyond the label “well-known German philosopher” could have a sense of what is being said? What was his intellectual fate (in this context)?

  113. I’ll answer that this evening. At the moment I’m being gobbled up by filthy-lucre-producing work.

  114. Work! Work! (as my favorite boss used to say as he wandered up and down the aisles of the proofreading department, pretending to crack a whip)

  115. David Marjanović says:

    Haven’t had time to catch up with this thread, so I apologize for any repetition.

    Nobody worries about using the pronoun es to refer back to an occurrence of das Mädchen in a sentence. In Kölsch, dat is used to designate a girl even without an explicit prior occurrence of dat Mädche.

    Remarkable.
    I find it very difficult to consistently use es with das Mädchen. I specifically remember the awful book Das siebte Kreuz for being mercilessly consistent with this. Usually I switch to sie when the sentence is over, I think.

  116. Usually I switch to sie when the sentence is over, I think.
    I do too, but the Kölsch lower classes don’t always. I can’t maintain the es for long, but probably not for the same reasons as you – my English roots, ya know. I couldn’t finish Das siebte Kreuz, although I tried twice – maybe that was due to unreasonable pronoun deployment ?

  117. Could you expand on this a bit, just enough so that someone with no knowledge of Habermas beyond the label “well-known German philosopher” could have a sense of what is being said?
    OK, here goes. Just bear in mind that it’s not habilitationsreif, and that I will not be chary with the chutzpah – my warrant consisting in having slogged through large portions of Habermas’ Theorie des Kommunikativen Handelns (1981) [Theory of Communicative Action]. Erkenntnis und Interesse (1968) [Knowledge and Human Interest], and Faktizität und Geltung (1992) [Facticity and Validity]. The most important source of my insight into Habermas’ ideas, however, is a pro/contra book with long essays by Habermas and Luhmann under the title Theorie der Gesellschaft oder Sozialtechnologie published in 1971, before two of the three Habermas books just mentioned, and before Luhmann’s Soziale Systeme (1984). Here one can see the major themes of each author coming into focus. Luhmann’s arguments are so lucid and crushingly convincing that I wonder Habermas didn’t retire to the farm soon after.
    Of course I mention all that heavy reading in order to scare off any faint-hearted person who, themselves not having actually read Habermas but only the secondary literature, might take it into their head to challenge my assessment of him. I mean, goddammit, having killed off so many synapses with that turgid stuff I feel entitled to some kind of prepotence.
    Anyhoo, the Theorie des Kommunikativen Handelns is usually called Habermas’ first major work. It elaborates at great length (two tomes apparently not translated into English) on, among other things, his conviction that Reason(ableness) is attainable when Pointless Conversation leads to Consensus in a Gummint-free (herrschaftsfrei) Atmosphere. Pointless Conversation is a type of “non-instrumental action”. “Instrumental action” is action directed towards a goal – so unreasonable, my dears !
    So Habermas is developing a theory of society as a description of the world as it is – but not really, because according to him it’s also a “counterfactual” world. It’s a world that should be better than it is. There reasonable people get together to practice disciplined thought leading to Consensus – and the unreasonable people are told to leave. This is really true – I vividly remember a sentence to this effect in Faktizität und Geltung (I think it was). The people of the New Frankfurt School (of Critical Theory), which is Habermas’ baby, are infamous for their straighten-up-and-fly-right tendencies. So in Habermas’ society people are permitted to agree to disagree, but not to disagree about agreement being the bee’s knees.
    Now there’s nothing wrong with agreeing and disagreeing, we do this all the time. The trouble is that Habermas is trying to erect a theory of society on an exalted I’m-right-you’re-wrong attitude. Habermas cannot give an account of dissent, but can only cast dissenters into outer darkness. Luhmann, by contrast, constructs a theory of society in which agreement/disagreement is only one of many distinctions that can be made. His theory shows how we can consider, for instance, what is being distinguished by an agreement/disagreement distinction – what is the “unity of the difference” – and then reflect on who can can consider such a thing, and does such consideration impart objective knowledge. Answers: a “second-order observer”, and “no”.
    On page 1116 of the second volume of the stw paperback edition of Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, Luhmann cattily remarks on the fact that Habermas’ theory of agreement has met with so much disagreement. This is his “intellectual fate” as one of the most recent thinkers “in the grand bourgeois tradition of crisis and critique”.

  118. Luhmann cattily remarks on the fact that Habermas’ theory of agreement has met with so much disagreement.
    Very much in the spirit of the philosopher with the pipe at Columbia, the “Who do you think you are, Kant?”-guy, whose name I’ve forgotten.
    Stu, you are the man. Baz 1, Habermas 0. Very interesting!

  119. Thanks, Stu! I now understand your earlier remark, and as a bonus could make cocktail-party conversation about Habermas, if I ever went to cocktail parties.

  120. marie-lucie says:

    On page 1116 of the second volume of …
    My mind boggles. Better you than me, Grumbly.

  121. Page 1116 of the second volume
    Actually the work has about 1130 pages. The page I mention is toward the end of the second volume, whose pagination continues that of the first volume – like one fat tome chopped into two paperbacks. So it’s not that daunting.

  122. Sutor: Nijma and Read.

  123. Siganus Sutor says:

    John, I thought about Tatyana first.

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