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Why "werman" (OldEnglish man as male) became simply Man (human) and "wifman" (OldEnglish man as female) became woman?

Man in English (man, human) Homme in French (man, human) Mann in German (man, human) Homo in Latin (man, human)

What in history influenced this formation of language? I know it's called androcentrism. But I would like to understand what in history formed the concept of man (human) as a man (male).  Why did these common words for both sexes, meaning “human,” narrow down to the concept of “man” (male)?

Did the Bible influence this (spread texts about the first man as a man (male) into the languages ​​that were then being formed), or did the language already exist like this before the Bible?  Or were languages ​​formed independently of the Bible? And so it was formed simply because of wars and patriarchy?

Thank you.

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  • German has two words, Mensch is the usual word for human, but Mann ist "man, male" only. Also, the usual classical Latin word for "man, male" was vir, not homo. Sep 8, 2023 at 11:57
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    You say, “in almost all languages”, but you only really give two examples: Latin (and its descendants) and Common Germanic (and its descendants), which are close to each other geographically and were in each other’s sphere of influence. There are tons of languages where this didn’t happen, even in the same region: Celtic languages have reflexes of *gdoni̯os ‘human’ (cognate with Latin homō) vs u̯iros ‘man’; Greek has ἄνθρωπος ‘human’ vs ἀνήρ ‘man’. Further afield, Chinese and Japanese 人 rén / hito, -jin is exclusively ‘human’ (男 nán / otoko, dan- is ‘male’), etc. Sep 8, 2023 at 12:03
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I'm interested in why this narrowing and exclusion of women happened?
    – Orii
    Sep 8, 2023 at 12:31
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Linguistics Meta, or in Linguistics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 25, 2023 at 21:36

1 Answer 1

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Proto-Indo-European *mónus and its cognates, from which English "man" is supposedly derived, originally meant exactly male person, so there is no apparent narrowing.

The word for "human" in PIE was *dʰǵʰémōn, from which derived the word "human", so no narrowing as well.

In Balto-Slavic "man" is *mangjás, supposedly cognate with English "man", so in modern Russian it is "muzhchina" or (archaic) "muzh".

It seems, we can see narrowing only in some Romance languages.

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  • I’m interested in why it turns out that the entire language is always masculine? for example "human and HIS rights" in English. In the Russian language, the masculine gender is accepted as generally accepted (neutral). Studenty (all group) and Studentki (only women). In dictionaries, words are always in the masculine gender (krasnyi (red) not krasnaya). Feminine gender marked. In French they are a man and a woman are Ils and not Elles, and two women are Blles. For what reason do languages ​​develop this way? Because of religion?
    – Orii
    Sep 8, 2023 at 13:04
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    PIE *mon- absolutely also means ‘human being’, not just ‘male person’, as evidenced by its reflexes as far apart as Indo-Iranian and Germanic. Whether the double meaning represents a narrowing-down or a broadening-out, and whether that process happened in the proto-language or later is anyone’s guess. At any rate, there was certainly a narrowing-down within English, where OE mann almost exclusively meant ‘human being’; and the absence of the meaning ‘human’ in Balto-Slavic must also be a narrowing-down. Sep 8, 2023 at 13:07
  • @Anixx Thank you. I’m interested to know why the masculine gender was chosen as the main gender in the language? "human and HIS rights", "the person and HIS opinion". always masculine when we do not know the gender of the person. In Russian, a group of people is called by the masculine gender. female gender marked. Why did it happen?
    – Orii
    Sep 8, 2023 at 13:19
  • @JanusBahsJacquet and indeed the generic sense of *man- in Germanic is retained in the German pronoun man and in Icelandic maður (the -ður in the nominative singular is the regular, albeit unintuitive reflex of an earlier -nnr obscuring its cognacy)
    – Tristan
    Sep 8, 2023 at 13:23
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    @Anixx No. The meaning ‘human’ is widely attested. The derivation of Amazon from this root is far from certain, for one thing; but even if it is related to *mon-, it is from a derived form with an obscure *-gʷi̯o- extension, just like the Balto-Slavic form. There is no evidence that the specific derivation *mongʷi̯o- ~ mn̥gʷi̯o- meant anything but ‘male person’, but there is ample evidence that the root *mon- itself also, probably primarily, meant ‘human being’ – logical if it is indeed the same root as *men- ‘think, cogitate’. Sep 9, 2023 at 2:17

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