Home > 8. The Dragons of Grammar, NN. Occasions > A Bouquet of Roses: The Dragons of Grammar & Gender

A Bouquet of Roses: The Dragons of Grammar & Gender

File:Evelyn Nesbit, seated, by Otto Sarony, 1901.jpg

Many a dragon pines for the high romance of former days. The defense of honor, the dramatic duel, the elaborate courtship–all have their advocates. And dragons are effusive in their many love letters and poems: “Yet in these thoughts myself surprising/Haply I think on DragonMiss’s estate/like to the fabled Salami at break of day arising/From silly earth, spouts flames at his rival’s gate…” one of their better known bards, Willozoom Dragonspear, penned these lines.

But the Dragons of Grammar, more than occasionally practical, if not downright prosaic, have taken the matter of dragons’ romantic impulses in hand. Yes, they are reminding their compeers of the many ways that grammatical gender can help them express their feelings.

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Grammatical gender is a classification system for nouns, usually by assigning it a gender; the gender may or may not be determined by the noun’s meaning or attributes; manliness, for instance, can be assigned the feminine gender.

Most languages have only four gender categories; male/neuter/femaleanimate/inanimate, and human/nonhuman are common distinctions. But some languages feature as many as 20 categories. And though many of us are familiar with gender distinction marked by definite articles and end inflections such as the Spanish words el plato (the dish) and la cancion (the song), gender can be marked by initial mutation (for instance, in Welsh).

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Why does the use of grammatical gender persist at all (other than out of habit)? At one level, it is an acknowledgment of the pervasiveness of gender in our experience–at its most profound, the feminine and masculine energies that surround us. But RT suspects that the root reason that gender persists in the structure of language is the subtle pleasure that it gives, the unconscious reminder of the world’s division along gender lines and the beauty, tensions, and desire that gender makes possible. And certainly in the courtship process, languages that have grammatical gender (and English is not one of them) allow their speakers to remind each other of the mysteries of love, nature’s most powerful answer (at least so far) to the certainty of death.

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RT is afraid that he has stolen the DoGs’ thunder on this issue…for without question Dragonish is one of the most gender-redolent languages out there (the Big Dragon has counted 35 gender categories so far in his native tongue).  No one would suggest that dragons are exactly hedonistic, but they know how to admire the red rose when it emerges…   RT (& happy Valentine’s Day!)

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Photo: Evelyn Nesbit holding a bouquet of roses; 1901 by Otto Sarony. WikiCmns; Library of Congress; Public Domain.

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