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French has that rule that whenever a masculine entity is part of a group, the whole NP will default to masculine as far as agreement goes. My native language, German, also defaults gender to masculine, whose forms are usually the least marked, though plural may also be analyzed as a separate, fourth gender. However, I wonder how common defaulting mixed-gender groups to masculine is crosslinguistically (especially outside of Standard-Average-European) if there's also e.g. a neuter category.

  • What exactly do you mean by "default to masculine"? E.g. in Polish, where three to five genders are distinguished, the adjective and the verb both inflect for gender, and do so in a somewhat complicated way I would say. Strictly masc. suffixes are relatively rare, e.g. mixed masc. + fem. people will indeed require a masc. suffix with the verb, but masc. + fem. objects (even pure masc. objects, actually), will already require a fem. one. – kamil-s Mar 27 '12 at 13:24
  • Well, for example mes sœurs et mon/mes frère(s) 'my sisters and my brother(s)' would be referred to as ils 3PL.MASC in French. As far as I know, an adjective referring to that NP would also take the masculine plural form, e.g. jolis nice-MASC-PL, not *jolies nice-FEM-PL. Hm well, I suppose it's just a matter of preferring the least marked form, which is, in this case, the masculine one. – Jipí Mar 27 '12 at 13:31
  • I think the default masculine is pretty universal in Indo-European (although apparently it is more complicated in Slavic, as Kamil says?). Latin and Greek have it too. But not in all constructions. For example, a man and a woman were seen would probably be vir et mulier visa est ("man and woman seen is", where visa "seen" is feminine singular, because mulier is the last noun. But where a group is referred to without specific nouns, the plural will be masculine. The same when a singular person of unknown sex is referred to. – Cerberus Mar 27 '12 at 13:41
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    Default masculinity is not as universal in Indo-European as one might think. It is pretty widespread but e.g. Icelandic and Faroese switch to neuter in these cases. The other North-Germanic languages lost their gender distinction in the plural, however. – jcm Mar 27 '12 at 19:38
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See Corbett's contribution to Shopen et al. ed. Language Typology and Semantic Description (2nd ed.), esp pp.268--73, where he discusses default genders.

Oneida has three genders (Masculine, Feminine, Zoic) in the singular, but only two (Zoic, Masculine) in the plural (groups of all females are marked as Zoic). Mixed groups default to Masculine (Lounsbury: 1953:52).

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  • Thanks for the pointers to those articles! Now I need to read them sometime. – Jipí Mar 28 '12 at 21:54
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Hebrew (and, I guess, Semitic languages in general) defaults to masculine too for a mixed group. But it doesn't have neutral.

Hebrew has four genders: male, female, male plural, female plural. For the plural form, if there is so much as a single male in a group of people, then the group is addressed as male. A hairsplitting example would be in literature aimed at women: despite the fact that a man could read such a magazine, the audience is in fact referred to in the plural female gender.

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    Hello Yaroslav, welcome to Linguistics SE! The answer was expanded by another user, but if you can add more info, the better! Check this post about some guidelines on proper post writing. :) – Alenanno Mar 27 '12 at 16:55

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