Re: [tied] Plural of nouns

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 4195
Date: 2000-10-09

----- Original Message -----
From: Harald Hammarstrom
Sent: Monday, October 09, 2000 6:41 PM
Subject: Re: [tied] Plural of nouns

Harald wrote: ... I was wondering how the -h2e acquired a feminine (natural gender) meaning. It indeed dit, because things of natural feminine gender take a -h2e ending on any -us (or gr. -os sanskr. -as etc) adjective. Are there any ideas on how the step from collective to feminine was taken? Piotr ?
Hi, Harald
The development of a three-gender system with obligatory gender agreement is a somewhat puzzling process. God only knows why it took place at all. Gender is a "marked" thing, as linguists say. It only exceptionally arises as a grammatical category and is much more readily lost than introduced. PIE nouns were classified into animate/inanimate (or rather active/passive) and reasonable people should have been content with that.
By the way, quite a few thematic adjectives in Greek (e.g. barbaro-, he:sukho-, nuktero-, pauro-) had only two sets of endings, neuter (-n) and masculine/feminine (-s). This was the rule in composite adjectives like a-thanato-, a-sopho- or philo-logo-. Sanskrit, likewise, had non-obligatory feminine marking in composite adjectives. In the Rgvedic dialect simplex feminine forms of adjectives in -u- and -i- varied freely between variants in -i:- (< *-ix- [my x = h2]) and variants identical with the corresponding masculines (e.g. tanu- 'thin': neuter tanu, masculine tanuh., feminine tanuh. /tanvi:).
Such phenomena show that the process of generalising -ax- (or -i-x-) as a feminine ending was not yet complete by historical times. Perhaps the obligatory use of -ax- in adjectives began as a way of resolving the ambiguity of "genus commune" in nouns: so ekwos 'he-horse' versus sa:x ekwos 'she-horse' = 'mare' (Greek ho hippos versus he: hippos).
Just why the collective suffix *-(a)x- became a marker of femininity (either on its own or in combination with *-i-) has been a hotly debated question for many decades. Some IEists argue that the process started with the word *gW(e)na:x 'woman', in which *-ax- was interpreted as a mark of sex and then of gender. There is some Anatolian evidence for the root noun *gWon- 'woman' (Hittite SAL-[an]za, Gen. SAL-nas), the expected collective of which would be *gW@...:x or *gWena:x, exactly as attested. Was 'womanfolk' reinterpreted as 'woman'? The semantic process involved isn't quite clear to me.
On the other hand, masculines in *-ax- often refer to members of collectivities (Gk. Skuthe:s 'a Scythian', polite:s) or occupations involving team work (Lat. nauta). Perhaps the initial development leading to *-ax- feminines was the kind of singularisation symbolised by *ekwa:x 'a group of horses' > 'mare' (beside *ekwos of either natural gender) -- gregarious animals typically form herds of females and young, led by a matriarch or accompanied by a single male.