SV: Paired Horse and PIE breakup

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Tue Nov 10 21:02:23 UTC 1998

      Interesting. Is it an accepted view that animate/inanimate(A-I)
      classification is *prior* to the 'evolution' of the three genders?
      I was curious about the animate/inanimate because Sumerian
      has this (A-I)feature and Tamil and some of the indian languages
      have this feature, but not many IE languages seem to have
      this feature. Now, of course, English and a few other
      modern IE languages are 'evolving into' this state of
      'losing masculine/feminine gender', gramatically speaking,
      I don't know how many IE languages have (or had) this
      animate/inanimate feature.

An interesting feature of the Indo-European gender system is the fact that the ending for feminine nom is the same as the nom/voc/acc ending of the neutre plural. This has spawned the theory that the ending originally simply meant a collective (like -heit in German Mensch-heit). Notice that neutre nominative plurals in Greek have their verbs in the singular! This would mean that these suffixes were reinterpreted, giving either neutre plurals or feminine singulars: e.g. Latin bona (fem. good) or bona (neut. plur. good things). There is no need to assume a sexist attitude developing in society. 

Today, Norwegian, German and the slavonic languages have three genders, the Romance languages have the feminine and the masculine, Danish and Dutch have the masculine and the neutre, which in a way is reverting to the old animate/inanimate system. 

Best regards,

Lars Martin

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo
Phone: +47 22 32 12 19
Fax:      +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at

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