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I have seen two versions:

a) *-ia ending actually derived from the collective number form, which also ends in *-ia. So the collective number first started to represent abstract things (compare Latin animalia, Greek zooia), and then came to mark feminine gender.

b) From Eurasiatic *haia, "mother", from Borean *haia, "mother" (see Nostratic etymology) which explains similar feminine *-ia endings in Semitic, IE and Altaic.

The account for Laryngeal theory is only compatible with version a) and cannot explain how Eurasiatic *-ia became PIE *-ih2.

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    most linguists do not accept the validity of genetic groupings higher than IE, but you might find someone familiar with the super-lumping hypotheses who will answer.
    – user483
    Jan 11, 2012 at 3:55
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    Good question! Just a side note: as far as I can tell, tetrapoda comes from Greek, not Latin. Jan 11, 2012 at 10:34
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    if the late PIE m/f/n gender system arose from an earlier two-way animacy system as is often conjectured, it seems like that presents an additional difficulty for option (b). But in support of (a), I have seen this theory of the collective ending leading to the feminine before, e.g. at the sci.lang FAQ #28 Jan 12, 2012 at 2:21
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    Looking at the link you posted, all I can see is Eurasiastic *ʔVjV ? and Borean *HVJV. Doesn't V there stand for an unspecified vowel?
    – Alex B.
    Jan 12, 2012 at 16:42
  • The last sentence looks like it's describing a difficulty for laryngeal theory, but if anything, it's describing a difficulty for the Euroasiatic theory.
    – TKR
    Dec 21, 2018 at 4:43

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It is impossible to really know for sure how a feminine marker "originated" in Indo-European, since the exact nature of gender there is unknown, since Hittite conveys only two genders (or states): animate and inanimate. Furthermore, "animalia" is a neuter plural. Nevertheless, it suffices to say that the Semitic ending in Arabic ة-/ية (-ah/iyah) is not at all related to the Indo-European one. Take for example a Berber word for "house": "tamdint"; the t-t indicates a feminine. The root is "mdn" like "مدينة" (medīnah, city) in Arabic, which becomes "مدينات" (medīnāt, cities) in the plural. Therefore the Eurasiatic theory is far-fetched. I might not have fully answered your question, but at least this hopefully narrows it. I think it is important to ponder this sort of thing, but the answer will likely never be known.

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