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44 votes

Since when did Indo-European languages start associating noun genders with male/female sexes?

Short answer: the association between the grammatical genders and sociological genders happened very early in Indo-European, but it was an association rather than an equivalence and had many ...
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36 votes
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Are there languages without words for "father" or "mother" but only "parent"?

The only such language I know about is Pirahã, the indigenous language of the isolated Pirahã people of Amazonas, Brazil. It is minimalistic in many ways, having the least number of phonemes (only 11),...
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22 votes

Since when did Indo-European languages start associating noun genders with male/female sexes?

The association was certainly firmly in place already during the time that ancient Greek and Latin grammarians were writing about grammatical gender, so the fact that genus can be translated as "...
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16 votes
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Is a language possible without verbs or without nouns?

It is not possible for there to be a human language that does not have a way of referring to entities, or to predicate states and actions of an entity. If that is what you mean by "noun" and "verb", ...
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14 votes

Since when did Indo-European languages start associating noun genders with male/female sexes?

Some time after the middle of the 4th millenium BC. As discussed in this article by Luraghi, IE did not develop sex-based gender distinctions until the Anatolian branch split off, which is typically ...
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14 votes

Is there a name for the type of word that the word, “scarecrow,” is? (a transitive verb conjoined with its object)

This is a specific subtype of exocentric compound. An exocentric compound is one which doesn't inherit the type of either of its constituents: a scarecrow is neither a type of crow nor a type of ...
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12 votes

Who was the first to call noun classes "genders"?

It depends on whether you mean strictly English (since gender is an English word) or do you include the historical antecedents in other languages. The origin of the concept and term is Aristotle in ...
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12 votes
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Which came first in Greek: λήθη, or Λήθη the proper noun?

Unfortunately we have no hard evidence one way or another, because Homer uses both, and that's the oldest Greek we have. (Mycenaean inscriptions sometimes help us go farther back, but they're no help ...
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12 votes

Why the words for pineapple sound so similar in Hebrew and in German?

Ananas is not from Hebrew. It is from a South American language, Old Tupi, from the same area where the fruit is native – the Amazon rainforest, not the Middle East. Tupi natives called the fruit ...
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10 votes
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What is the function of a gender distinction in nouns?

Assigning nouns to a certain noun class, with other words taking various forms by agreeing with that noun class (e.g. adjectives, determiners, or verbs marking the noun's gender) allows you to spread ...
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8 votes
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Does any linguist honestly believe that nouns and verbs are not universals?

One has to be careful how the words Noun and Verb are understood, if one wants a good answer. Semanticists talk about Entities and Events, and leave Noun and Verb as formal categories, dependent on ...
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8 votes

Why do languages have gendered nouns?

Properties of individual languages don't necessarily solve problems. Spanish children learn gender of nouns because it would be wrong to say "el aguo", and they learn what their parents say, who in ...
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8 votes

Why the words for pineapple sound so similar in Hebrew and in German?

Melissa and user6726 addressed the word Ananas quite nicely. But to respond to this part of your question: Since Hebrew should be older than German as it was spoken Adam and Eve and there should be ...
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8 votes

Is there a name for the type of word that the word, “scarecrow,” is? (a transitive verb conjoined with its object)

There are actually several of these words in English: "rattlesnake", "crybaby", "scatterbrain", "killjoy", "tattletale", "tumbleweed", etc. ...
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7 votes

Languages with masculine nouns for various female entities, or feminine nouns for male entities

In German, diminutives are almost always neuter, even when they refer to humans, like Mädchen "girl". In Ancient Greek, similarly, παιδίον "child". German also has some non-diminutive neuter words for ...
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6 votes

The suffix -er in English: Why is this derivational?

-er a derivational suffix because it changes the word class to which the entire expression belongs. That is what defines derivational affixes. bake is a verb, but bak-er is a noun. (I assume the ...
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6 votes

Who was the first to call noun classes "genders"?

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, states the following. [Middle English gendre, from Old French, kind, gender, from Latin genus, gener-. See genə in Appendix I....
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6 votes

Is there a technical term for the phenomenon of two usual nouns A and B such that the concatenation A B denotes neither an A nor a B?

This is a good question, but your example is not a good one. An “electron cloud” is indeed not a cloud in the original sense of the word “cloud” (in the atmosphere), but it is a “cloud” in the ...
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6 votes
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Why some verbs have -tion while others don't, when being nounified

Would be good to know if this is just because of the fact that English is messy, or there is some other reason. Yes and yes. Yes, because English is messy. The -tion examples are of course all ...
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6 votes
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How did these feminine mutations originate in Welsh?

Long ago many words ended in sounds which were for some reason lost. It was those now lost sounds that triggered different kinds of assimilation and other consonant changes in the words that followed ...
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6 votes

What is the difference between plurality and gender?

In general, gender is an inherent property of a lexeme, while number is something that can easily be changed. For example, Latin mensae "tables (plural)" is a perfectly normal inflection of ...
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6 votes
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What is (or was) the exative case?

With the reference given by Matthew Fulton, the Exative is the case denoting the the direction from, i.e., in more standard terminology, the Ablative. The word exative was an ad-hoc invention of ...
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5 votes

Why did English lose declensions while German retained them?

I always thought that English lost its cases as a result of Viking settlement. Although the root words were quite often the same, the inflections were different. However, it was found that if the ...
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5 votes
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Why is there no Ancient Greek noun whose stem ends in an "i"-ending diphthong (like "-ai")?

Only in a few cases you can find a meaningful answer to a question asking "why there is something lacking in a language". Normally, there is simply no answer. For example, why did not Ancient Greek ...
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5 votes

Are there languages without words for "father" or "mother" but only "parent"?

To approach this from a different angle, I am married to a Xhosa woman. There may be no word in her language for 'parent' in the sense of a biological parent. Rather, mothers and fathers are those who ...
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5 votes

What do you call what a noun phrase refers to?

The term for what a nominal refers to is referent.
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5 votes
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What is the exact meaning of 'common' in 'common noun'?

I agree that this is a question better posed elsewhere, but a quick answer in point form: Note that "noun" and "name" are to be considered synonymous here, as a result of Latinate languages' ...
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