23 January 2012

Is there a system to French gender assignment?

There is, apparently, a system -- albeit complex -- to gender assignment in French. Australian linguist Margaret à Beckett of Monash University has laid claim to the discovery in a radio interview and podcast at ABC/RadioNational/LinguaFranca. (Transcript at ABC/RadioNational/LinguaFranca.)

For further information on Margaret à Beckett's book, Gender Assignment & Word-final Pronunciation in French - Two Classification Systems, see here.

At the end of the radio interview, Dr à Beckett explains how minuit changed from feminine to masculine when the sense changed historically from an extended period of time to a precise time thanks to the arrival of clocks. I wonder how she explains the fact that in modern French un espace corresponds to 'space' in the general sense while une espace corresponds to a 'space' in the typographical sense (i.e. a space between two words, etc.). The first is extensive, the second closer to a point, or the opposite of what happened with minuit.

Dr à Beckett's book, published by academic publisher Lincom, sells for €89.90, which really is quite a lot of money. I might have purchased a copy had she published with  an online publisher like Lulu  in electronic format for, say €10, rather than an expensive academic publisher like Lincom.

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