Gender of Latin Plurals – Huff Post Article

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 12.52.18 PMfrom this Huffington Post Article [red underline mine; blue text its]

I find it particularly entertaining when articles that pertain to gender issues, especially with an inclusivity angle, get gender wrong.

There are two difficulties with the Latin gender endings: form / correspondence and pronunciation. Form is the easier, so we’ll begin there.

Latin singular masculine is -us; Latin plural masculine is -i. If a man has graduated from a university (or other school / institution), he is an alumnus. If a group of men has graduated, they are alumni. If a group of men and women (yes, technically, even one man and many more women) have graduated, they are alumni.

Latin singular feminine is -a; Latin plural feminine is -ae. If a woman has graduated from a university (or other school / institution), she is an alumna. If a group of women has graduated, they are alumnae.

Unfortunately for the above writer, the idea of women’s college alumni is questionable at best and paradoxical at worst. Yes, yes, I know that many women’s colleges admit men to their graduate programs and that, especially in an article about transgender applicants, the definitions of gender as reflected in grammar can get murky, but it seems pretty clear from the context that this sentence is referring to what should be called alumnae. And see the paragraph below for an even more amusing footnote to the miscue, as the author talks about the importance of pronouning people correctly:

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 6.27.54 PMAnd now for the pronunciation wrinkle. In English today, the -i in alumni is pronounced ‘eye’, while the -ae in alumnae is generally pronounced ‘ay’ (as in ‘say’), though the latter is infrequently used and so even less frequently pronounced. In Classical Latin, however, the -i in alumni is pronounced -ee (as in ‘see’) and the -ae in alumnae is pronounced ‘eye’. Rarely would a situation arise that different pronunciations would obfuscate meaning, but, if you’re talking to a Latin teacher (like me), make sure you establish how you’re going to pronounce things before proceeding….


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