Sunday, May 19, 2013

Arnobius of Sicca Regarding Human Lingual Conventions

Arnobius of Sicca writes: "Yet, if you consider the true state of the case, no language is naturally perfect, and in like manner none is faulty. For what natural reason is there, or what law written in the constitution of the world, that PARIES [i.e. 'wall'] should be called HIC, and SELLA [i.e. 'chair'] HOEC?-since neither have they sex distinguished by male and female, nor can the most learned man tell me what HIC and HOEC are, or why one of them denotes the male sex while the other is applied to the female. These conventionalities are man's, and certainly are not indispensable to all persons for the use of forming their language; for PARIES might perhaps have been called HOEC, and SELLA HIC without any fault being found, if it had been agreed upon at first that they should be so called, and if this practice had been maintained by following generations in their daily conversation" (Adversus nationes 1.59).

My Remarks: HIC is a Latin masculine pronoun applied to words like PARIES (meaning 'wall') whereas the pronoun HOEC [SIC] is applied to words that are grammatically feminine. But Arnobius expresses the idea that these are mere human conventions. We can't read too much into grammatical gender.

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