Noun Class - Noun Classes Versus Grammatical Genders

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Noun Classes Versus Grammatical Genders

Further information: Grammatical gender

The term gender, as used by some linguists, refers to a noun-class system composed with 2, 3, or 4 classes, particularly if the classification is semantically based on a distinction between masculine and feminine. Genders are then considered a sub-class of noun classes. Not all linguists recognize a distinction between noun-classes and genders, however, and instead use either the term "gender" or "noun-class" for both.

In languages with genders, the gender is a selective category for nouns. This means that all nouns must be assigned to a gender, and thus all nouns may be divided into groups, considering their gender. For instance, the Polish word ręcznik ‘towel’ is of inanimate masculine gender, whereas words for male human beings and animals belong to the personal masculine and animate masculine genders respectively; encyklopedia ‘encyclopaedia’ is of feminine gender, which includes words for female human beings and animals; and krzesło ‘chair’ is of neuter gender, which includes words for neuter animals and the word 'child'. The word "gender" derives from Latin genus, which is also the root of genre, and originally meant "kind", so it does not necessarily have a sexual meaning. For instance, in Swedish nouns are either of common or neuter gender; words for both males and females are assigned to common.

A language is mostly considered to have grammatical gender when changes in the gender of a noun necessarily induce morphological changes in adjectives and other parts of speech (such as verbs) that refer to that noun. For adjective and some other inflecting words, gender is an inflected category. It means that (in languages with genders) adjectives are inflected by genders, or change their forms depending on gender of the noun to which they refer. In yet other words, when a noun belongs to a certain gender, other parts of speech that refer to that noun have to be inflected to be in the same class. These obligatory changes are called gender agreement.

In Polish, the adjective which means ‘big, large’ has three forms (in nominative singular), one for masculine, one for feminine, and one for neuter gender: duży ręcznik ‘big towel’, duża encyklopedia ‘big encyclopaedia’, duże krzesło ‘big chair’.

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