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I'm quite sure I remember that in one class, while we were talking about aboriginal languages, the professor said that one language or more languages, classify nouns in the two categories from the question. So, for example, "man" would belong in the "upright" category and "woman" in "lying" category.

I need this information just for the "fun-factness" of it.

Thanks

  • This immediately makes me think of Dyirbal's famous gender system, which is now better-known among linguists than among native speakers (the language is nearly extinct). But that has four genders, not two. – Draconis May 18 '19 at 19:54
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    A number of Papuan languages have noun classifier systems like you describe, could that be what you're remembering? – Gaston Ümlaut May 19 '19 at 7:33
  • It's also present in some Mayan languages IIRC. – WavesWashSands May 20 '19 at 16:46
  • It reminds me of my recurring problem with German, of failing to correctly state that objects are sitting, standing or lying when I give their location, and of mixing up the verbs that translate to 'put' for the various types of objects behaviours... I still sometimes mistakenly tell people I have 'gestellt' something into its location, only to discover it's not the kind of object that stands and I should have 'gesetzt' or even 'gelegt' it instead. – Alex England May 22 '19 at 13:38
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The language you're thinking of could be Enga.

It's got all these existential verbs, depending on the referent!

kata- occurs with subject NPs whose typical referents are judged to be tall, large, strong, powerful, standing or supporting, e.g. ‘men’, ‘house’, ‘tree’, ‘sun’, and ‘leg’ (lexical meaning ‘to stand’).

pita- occurs with subject NPs whose typical referents are judged to be small, squat, horizontal, or weak, e.g. ‘woman’, ‘possum’, ‘insects’, and ‘pond’ (lexical meaning ‘to sit’).

sa- occurs with subject NPs whose typical referents are orifices, locations, or crawling or aquatic beings; e.g. ‘eel’, ‘door’, ‘ground’, ‘shovel’, and ‘mouth’ (lexical meaning ‘to lie’).

pala- occurs with subject NPs whose typical referents are internal or subterranean, e.g. ‘worm’, ‘heart’, ‘liver’, and ‘sweet potato’ (lexical meaning ‘to lie inside’).

lya- occurs with subject NPs whose typical referents are hanging or protruding objects, e.g., ‘wasp’, ‘bee’, ‘moss’, ‘mushroom’, ‘fruit’, ‘seed’, ‘flower’ (lexical meaning ‘to hang’).

ipa- occurs with subject NPs whose typical referents are judged to be intermittent, capable of growth, liquid or gas; e.g., ‘river’, ‘rain’, ‘hair’, ‘blood’, and vine used for rope (lexical meaning ‘to come’).

manda- occurs with subject NPs whose typical referents are reproductive, e.g., ‘penis’, ‘vagina’, and ‘testicles’ (lexical meaning ‘to carry’).

(see The Linguistics of Sitting, Standing and Lying, p. 180)

So in Enga you'd say things like

Koné akáli dóko andá-ka   ká-ly-a-pe
red  man   the  house-loc be-prs-3sg-q

‘Is the European man at home?’ or ‘Is the European man standing in the house?’ (Lang 1975:ƒ42)

or

Koné énda  dóko andá-ka   pí-ly-a-pe
red  woman the  house-loc be-prs-3sg-q

‘Is the European woman at home?’ or ‘Is the European woman sitting in the house?’ (Lang 1975:ƒ43)

And if you use the "wrong" existential verb:

Koné akáli dóko andá-ka   pí-ly-a-pe
red  man   the  house-loc be-prs-3sg-q

‘Is the European man sitting in the house?’ (Lang 1975:ƒ42)

This sentence cannot mean ‘Is the European man at home?’.

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The language you're thinking of could be Yuchi. It has a complex gender system, involving animacy, biological sex, and uprightedness of inanimate objects.

(But it does not coalesce biological sex and uprightedness. And it is not spoken anywhere near Australia.)

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