Analyzing the Grammar of English

By Richard V. Teschner; Eston E. Evans | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Some Components of the Noun
Phrase: Forms and Functions

Person and Number

Nouns (and to a certain extent pronouns) resemble each other in that they can be described in terms of the following concepts: person, number, gender, case, and definiteness. Person nd number have already been used to discuss verbs' morphology and syntax (see chapter 2) but bear reviewing here:

person: either first, second, or third

first person: the persons speaking, viewed from their own vantage point—how
they would refer to themselves: I, we

second person: the person being spoken to, viewed from the vantage point of
the first person: you

third person: the erson/thing/concept being spoken about: he, she, it, they

number: either singular or plural. Singular means [one (person, thing, con-
cept, etc.) and only one.] Plural means [more than one.]


Gender

The concept of gender is new to this chapter and refers either to natural gender or to arbitrary gender. Natural gender is sex-characteristic-derived gender. For a noun to be governed by natural gender, it must denote an animal that manifests identifiable sex characteristics, either male or female. (In practice, such [animals] are limited to human beings and larger mammals—cows, horses, pigs, elk, moose, etc.) So in natural gender, a noun's is grammatically masculine or feminine depending on whether the animal the noun denotes is male or female. In languages that assign gender using arbitrary gender criteria, a noun is assigned a gender—masculine, feminine, and sometimes neuter—for reasons that have nothing to do with its sex since nouns not naming animals cannot manifest sexual traits.

In modern English, only natural gender applies, but only the pronoun system is affected by considerations of natural gender. Compare, for example, the way English is affected by gender to the way a language like Spanish is. In Spanish, grammatical gender of both kinds—natural and arbitrary—plays a critical governing role, as figure 5a shows. Note that while each of the Spanish sentences tells us quite redundantly (no fewer than five times!) that the head noun maestro/ maestra is masculine or feminine, each English sentence does so only once—with

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