Just when you think you’ve seen everything:

Can sexist ideologies be reflected in inflectional classes? On the basis of a detailed discussion of the Russian a-declension, the present paper answers this question in the affirmative. More specifically the central claims are:
— The a-declension reflects the Idealized Cognitive Models of “women as the second sex” and “woman as Madonna and whore”.
— Cognitive linguistics provides an adequate account for the category structure in terms of schematicity and metaphorical extension.

As Alexei, from whom I swiped this absurdity, says, it’s “an abstract of a paper in what’s called Cognitive Linguistics… Yes, the author is a man: Tore Nesset is a male professor at the University of Tromsø, Norway.” He is “tempted to suppose this piece appeared in an April 1 issue of a linguistics journal,” but I’m afraid it’s just another example of academic silliness run amok.


  1. Michael Farris says

    Not having read the article I don’t think it’s quite as silly as it sounds except for the whore/madonna stuff (posssibly deliberately added just to attract attention).
    But, the Slavic languages are set up so that the feminine gender gets shorted much of the time. In none is this more so than in Polish. There’s the virile/non-virile declensions in the plural (women are classed with things and animals while men have their own class). There’s also a contrast between the loving care given male (esp. animate) declensions (with some nice expressive categories) vs. the off-handed way that feminine declensions are handled (sometimes losing endings altogether).
    I love Slavic languages, but it’s hard to claim their not structured in a sexist way. You can argue how important that is in regards to cultural ideology but it’s there on the surface of the languages ime.

  2. Reg Cæsar says

    Forgive a snide, off-topic question, but do these male feminists ever get any action?
    Young women are much more drawn to study languages then are young men, and almost every other Indo-European tongue is more “sexist” than is English. If anything, they seem to be drawn to those which are more so. Nature talks…

  3. Bill Poser says

    The author’s conclusion that the a-declension nouns denoting human beings fall together in the class of “other” seems to me quite dubious. First, intimates and exponents of negative characteristics may be categories that “stand out”, but they are by no means the only categories that “stand out” (exponents of admirable characteristics for instance are equally members of this category), so “otherness” in this sense is not a defining property. Second, I see no real relationship between “otherness” in the sense of standing out and “otherness” in the sense of being of the opposite sex. The claims about the association of sin and cuteness with women seem to fall afoul of the fact that by the author’s reasoning we should also associate sin and cuteness with each other.

  4. Cognitive linguistics provides an adequate account for the category structure in terms of schematicity and metaphorical extension.
    Somebody translate this for me, please.

  5. Preferably into English that I can understand, ie simple.

  6. Allan Beatty says

    If the Language Guesser was responding, I’d ask it what the quoted passege is. 🙂

  7. Eliza: A plain-English translation of that would probably take several pages. Heck, I understand a good portion of that (due to having re-started reading some Eco dealing with cognitive types and schematism), but I woudln’t feel up to trying to explain it in plain English.
    Suffice it to say that unless you’re a cognitive scientist or semiotician, it almost certainly doesn’t matter in the slightest. I know I don’t care, and I’m reading on the subject for fun.

  8. Robin Turner says

    Eliza – it’s not as abstruse as it sounds. Cognitive linguistics rests on three theoretical foundations: categorisation, image schemata and metaphor. The first looks at different types of category (prototype categories, radial categories, folk vs. expert categories etc.). An image schema is a very basic pre-linguistic concept that derives from our physical experience. Examples are CONTAINER, UP-DOWN, SOURCE-PATH-GOAL. Metaphor in cognitive linguistics is rather broader than in literature; for example, “I see what you mean” is a metaphorical statment deriving from the conceptual metaphor KNOWING IS SEEING. Metaphorical extension is simply extending the meaning of a word using metaphor. For example the meaning of “over” in “I’ll go over your essay” is an extension.

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