Monday, August 23, 2010
Grammatical gender in a language is an interesting phenomenon in that in a language one is personally very interested in it's fun to have, while in other languages it can be an annoyance, especially considering how gender does not always (or even usually) match up between languages. An object that is masculine in one language may be feminine or neuter in another.
Actually, there are probably four types of languages with respect to grammatical gender:
1) Languages with GG and little or no way to guess at the gender of a noun. German is an example here. Besides a few types of nouns (those ending with -keit, or diminutives, a number of other types as well) the lucky student gets to learn the gender along with the noun.
2) Languages with GG but a way to determine the gender most of the time. Spanish and Bulgarian are here. Spanish has two genders and Bulgarian three, but since most of the time the student can guess at the ending the student's task then becomes simply watching out for the exceptions. A language of type #2 is much, much easier to use properly than #1. Then we get to something similar:
3) A combination of #1 and #2: Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are here. Though endings won't tell you the gender of a noun, nouns in these languages are usually the common (en) gender and thus the student's task is once again to watch out for et nouns as opposed to keeping an eye on the ending plus watching out for exceptions as in #2. And then of course:
4) Languages without grammatical gender, or just remnants of it (referring to ships as she in English for example). When not exceptionally motivated to learn a language or if resources are scarce / I have little time, I usually prefer one of type #4. Indeed, if German happened to be spoken by just a few hundred thousand people in a corner of Europe with few resources to learn it I doubt I ever would have touched it. Armenian is an example of an Indo-European language without gender, and so is Bengali. (Eastern) Armenian is one that I've been personally interested in for a while and I recently acquired a textbook so lucky me, and I've also been meaning to start learning a language spoken in India (or more specifically, one that uses a Brahmic alphabet) for a while and taking a look at Bengali it also lacks grammatical gender while being spoken by some 230 million people, so I have tentative plans to find a textbook for that this year or the next. Bengali also has noun counters as in Persian and a ton of Asian languages (including Japanese and Korean) as well as varying levels of politeness, so nothing new there.
Other irregularities (irregular plurals, verbs) can also make a language with few resources difficult to learn, but Armenian and Bengali don't seem to be a problem here either.
So expect posts on Armenian and Bengali here in the future. I'm still looking for samples of Armenian with recordings to accompany them, as there aren't any on Librivox, the Armenian Wikipedia, etc. I even emailed the people that made this video but there is no script for Armenian just yet. Bengali is a much more recent interest so I haven't had time to do any searching for resources but I'm sure they are much easier to find. Something like those found here would be ideal.
Finally, the Armenian keyboard is very easy to learn. As it's almost entirely mapped to Qwerty, the student's task is simply to memorize the location of about a dozen or so other characters scattered to the right and above the keyboard in the number section. Very convenient. Whether this works well when typing the language at high speed though I can't say.