Without movable type, would the Romance languages have lost gender inflection?

I guess the question explains itself, but to elaborate a little: It has been said that movable type codified languages that were in flux, fixing them into more or less their current form.

I’m not sure what the process was that caused the major Romance languages to lose Latin’s neuter gender, but I wonder if, had movable type not come into play, they might have also absorbed one of the remaining genders into the other. AFAICT, gender serves no purpose, and it obviously is not necessary since English and Finnish, just to give two examples, do just fine without it.

Just curious to know what those with a better linguistics background than mine think of this.

I’m not so sure it’s movable type specifically, but better communication and recording in general that slows linguistic change. And I’m not a linguist, so I’m as interested in this as you are.

One thing I’ve noticed though is that in the 19th and 20th centuries, our communications and information storage capabilities grew to encompass pictures, movies and sounds as well as written words, and we’re beginning to see a slowdown in those aspects of our culture. For example, take fedoras. Here’s a hat that gained popularity 90 years ago when Prince Edward of Great Britain began wearing one. And yet, hipsters even today wear them. A man in a suit from 1915 would look oddly formal in most places today, but it wouldn’t be considered a historic costume like clothes from 1815 would have looked in 1915.

We’ve got “old timey” music today that emulates music from a century ago or more. People can believably speak in 1920s gangster slang. None of that happened in 1915. Nobody wore bicorne or tricorne hats in 1915. So the culture-slowing affect of information storage is beginning to extend beyond the written word.

This part is not true, at least about English. English and Romance languages put the genders in different spots, but most of the pronouns in your OP are gendered in English, not in Spanish or Catalan (I’m tired so not going to try and remember my French grammar or investigate others).

It’s like that bit about how one of the telltales of a Hispanic in English is a tendency to drop a pronominal subject (because in Spanish it tends to be ellided as it’s included in the verbal form) whereas one of an Anglo speaking Spanish is using unnecesary pronominal subjects (including in forms which cannot carry a subject - it’s not ellided, there is no subject). The information contained is the same, but it’s distributed differently.

Nitpick, because I am a pedantic schmuck: The hat that King Edward VII popularized was the Homburg, named after the German spa where he encountered and purchased one. The Homburg has a single crease in the crown, and a rolled brim, in contrast to the flat brim, single crease, and indentions of the fedora. The fedora was named after the title character of the play Fédora, played by Sarah Bernhardt in 1889. The Homburg was first mentioned in 1882. Both hats are over a century old.

(Bolding mine).

It had nothing to do with the loss of gender in English – that was lost in Early Middle English by 1300, a century before Gutenberg.

English gender was dropped primarily because of the use of Norse in northern England; the words were very similar, but the gender inflections and declensions were different, so it made sense to drop them.

English has semantic gender (which Finnish and Hungarian, to name two, do not); “the mother … she” and “the father … he” but “the table … it” (as opposed to “she” in Spanish).

It is a redundancy (presumably a Finnish speaker understands that “se” with “äiti” as antecedant is referring to a female person, just as Spanish speakers understand that “ella” with antecedant “mesa” is referring to an inanimate object except in especially cloying cartoons), which is not the same as “unnecessary.”

Yo soy un americano spectacularr. Yo necesito el fireworko spectacularr. No moleste el gato spectacularr.

Broken Spanish from South Park’s Summer Sucks when Jimbo and Ned try to buy fireworks in Mexico.

I am a spectacular American. I need the spectacular firework. Don’t bother the spectacular cat.

Wasn’t it around this time that also the mainland Norse dialects or languages partially lost their grammatical gender systems? IIRC today they have two grammatical genders, neuter which is essentially the same as before, and “common” which resulted from the merging of masculine and feminine. I wonder if this also resulted from the many contacts between the English and the Danes, in particular?

It isn’t true that gender serves no purpose. In the languages that have it, it provides redundancy, which all languages have, but not necessarily through gender. In some cases, it provides the only way of distinguishing two nouns which may be otherwise identical or at best only marginally distinct. In German there’s der Staat (“the state”) and die Stadt (“the city”), respectively masculine and feminine. While not identical, the nouns are very similar except for the different articles, and, in other contexts, the differing inflections of associated adjectives and articles.

This is true in Spanish too. For example, you have la papa (the potato) and el Papa (the Pope). This is where those “I saw the potato” jokes come from. Additional examples: el radio (the radio receiver or radio set) and la radio (radio communication and/or broadcasting in general, and or a specific radio transmission). In other words, you use el radio to listen to la radio.

Well, I understand that in the Romance languages *as they are today, *gender can make the distinguishment between two nouns. But what I was saying wasn’t that gender doesn’t have a function, just that it isn’t needed. And yes, English does have pronouns with gender, but I was really talking about just plain old nouns.

So something was going on that caused the Romance languages to drop the neuter gender, and they fared just fine without that.

So what was that process, and if it had been allowed to continue, would there be any reason why they wouldn’t have dropped one of the remaining genders and ended up with just one class of nouns?

Not quite pedantic enough, though. Allow me to unpick your nit. DrCube said 90 years ago. Do the math. In 1925 Prince Edward was the guy who later became King Edward VIII and then abdicated. To be distinguished from his homburg-wearing grandpa Edward VII. cite

Another example of how gender is useful in languages that use it: In French, la poêle is ‘the pan’ while le poêle is ‘the stove’. On met la poêle sur le poêle (non l’inverse!)

Nobody was “allowing” anything; the earlier development from Latin to the early Romance languages is instructive here. In a nutshell, the elaborate noun declensions that characterize classical Latin depended on a raft of phonological distinctions which were already fading away by the Imperial era. Key among these were phonemic vowel length; for example in classical Latin rosa and rosā, the nominative and ablative cases of “rose” are distinguished only by the length of the final /a/. Likewise, the loss of final /-s/ and /-m/ further weakened the system of inflections to the point that the case system became untenable. Across the five classical Latin noun declensions, distinctions specific to masculine and feminine genders held out better, because those inflections tended to remain distinct even after the phonological simplifications of Vulgar Latin. So in essence the change was from a system of three genders distributed over five declensions to one of simply two genders. The phonological underpinnings of Romance language gender remain robust, however confounding it may be to English native speakers.

Looking at noun cognates across all the Romance languages, the distribution of gender is strikingly similar, even to the point of “oddball” nouns like the feminine la mano or la main (“hand”), which exhibits certain characteristics of masculine nouns. (The oddness of “hand” exists also in the Germanic languages, implying that its origin is very ancient.)