Gerhard Mussies on Gender

In independent adjectives, the value of the feminine categories consists in the positive reference to a female person (we use the words feminine and masculine for the categories, the words female and male for the sexes) e.g. Odyssey ε, 212-213, ἐπιεὶ οὔ πως οὐδε ἔοικε/θνητὰς ἀθανάτῃσι δέμας καὶ εἶδος ἐρίζειν. From the New testament we know only instances that happen to contain participles or numerals: Matt. XXIV 41 δύο ἁλήθουσαι ἑν τῷ μύλῳ μία παραλαμβάνεται, καὶ μία ἀφίεται, and Luke I 45 μακαρία ἡ πιστεύσασα (στεῖραι in Luke XXIII29 μακάριαι αἱ στεῖραι is perhaps not an adjective).

The gender value of the masculine categories is the positive reference  to a person, but this person may be male or female. Often the context gives a clue for us to decide whether woman (women) or man (men) is (are) spoken about, but not always so;  in e.g. Apc. XXII 11 ὁ δίκαιος δικαοσύνην ποιησάτω ἔτι καὶ ὁ ἄγιος ἁγιασθήτω ἔτι both sexes are meant indiscriminately. The masculine category is therefore unmarked as opposed to the feminine.

Gerhard Mussies, The Morphology of Koine Greek as Used in the Apocalypse of St. John: A Study in Bilingualism (NovTSup; Leiden: Brill, 1971), 123; my emphasis.

Its that last line that’s probably most important here: “The masculine category is therefore unmarked as opposed to the feminine.” This statement has massive implications for the debate about gender in translation, thought the sentence’s meaning is completely dependent upon how Mussies uses the terms “Marked” and “Unmarked.” Luckily, he provides a discussion of that as well, which shows that he follows Roman Jakobson & Joseph Greenberg’s perspective of these terms.*

[I]n describing the semantic differences between two opposed series of words one can usually consider either of the values as positive i.e. positively expressing a certain notion, whereas the opposed value is neutral i.e. expressing indifference with regard to the positive value of the other category. In practice, this means that according to context the value of the unmarked member may imply the absence of the notion expressed by the positive value, or express a notion which does not exclude that of the positive value. Semantic oppositions, therefore, are not polar, not like “X vs. Y” which are then exclusive of one another, but but rather like “X vs. O” i.e. “X vs. (X plus Y)”. An example is furnished by the opposition between the vocative and the nominative e.g. δοῦλε vs. δοῦλος, πόλι vs. πόλις, etc. Of the vocative the value always implies the addressee, the person spoken to; the value of the nominative, however, is neutral: contextually it may indicate the addressee (nom. “used as a vocative”), or not (nom. used with 3rd p. verb); it is unmarked as opposed to the vocative.

Ibid., 72-73 (my emphasis).

Following this understanding of markedness and Mussies’ observation that the feminine is marked, while the masculine is unmarked, [see comments] we must ask whether it is valid to say that Greek words that are grammatically masculine should always be translated with referentially male English words. Mussies’ view of Gender and markedness greatly weakens the case for always translating a word like ἄνθρωπος as “man” even in the singular. It also provides greater evidence that the meaning of the word is much closer to the English “person” than “man.”

By the way, in my opinion, Mussies’ Morphology is probably the most important contribution to Greek word formation in at least the past century, if not ever. Its unfortunate that it was published by Brill and thus virtually unattainable. I’m continually looking for an affordable copy.

*see especially Joseph Greenberg’s Universals of Language (2nd ed.; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press), 1966.

Advertisements