Why do languages have gender? For a native English speaker, the grammar genre is one of the most maddening aspects of learning a new language. As Mark Twain wrote, in reference to the German: “A person’s mouth, neck, chest, elbows, fingers, nails, feet and body are male, while the head is male or neutral, depending on of the word chosen to denote it, and not of the sex of the individual who carries it on his shoulders! A person’s nose, lips, shoulders, breasts, hands and toes are feminine; but hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart and conscience have no sex … “.
It doesn’t seem to make much sense, right? Yet many, if not nearly all, of the world’s languages divide names by gender, often in fairly arbitrary ways. Here is a brief introduction to this interesting linguistic feature, along with some tricks and tips for learning languages that make gender distinctions more easily .
Grammatical gender vs natural gender
It is important to distinguish between grammatical gender and natural gender. The natural gender is simply the gender of a person, an animal or a character. Grammatical gender is a way of dividing nouns into categories; it is not necessarily superimposable on the “natural gender” of the person or object being described.
In many languages, the grammatical gender is much more than “masculine” and “feminine”. Many of them have a “neutral” class, while others have different genres for animated or inanimate objects. Languages also have different ways of attributing gender. Some follow the physical characteristics of the object in question. Often mythology and cultural visions about gender also come into play. For example, in the Alamblak language of Papua New Guinea, the male gender “includes tall, or long, and thin, or narrow things (fish, snakes, arrows and slender trees)”. Mm. Who knows why?
Thus, the African language Zande divides nouns into four genders: masculine, feminine, animal and inanimate. However, some inanimate objects, important in Zande mythology, are classified as animated.
Other languages assign gender based on the word ending. For example, Spanish words ending in -a are usually feminine. For this reason it mesais feminine, although the table is not considered animated.
Why divide names by gender?
Why are there languages that use gender? After all, English is doing very well even without assigning “male” and “female” characteristics to objects without genitals.
In fact, even English once distinguished between genres. Speakers stopped classifying most names by gender during the medium English phase.
In essence, gender in languages is only one way of dividing nouns into classes. In fact, according to the opinion of some linguists, the “grammatical gender” and the “noun classes” are the same thing. It is a legacy from the distant past. Scholars believe that the proto-Indo-European had two genres: animated and inanimate. In some cases, it may be easier to use pronouns clearly when talking about multiple objects.
Second part of this article >
Source: Article written by Alison Kroulek and published on January 18, 2016 on BlogK-International
Translator from English and Arabic
Portuguese with accent (2)
<First part of this article
In truth, what seems frankly ridiculous to me is when each of the two “accents” tries to imitate the other during a conversation. In a dialogue between speakers of Portugal and Brazil, it is common for a Brazilian to place emphasis on “you” thinking that in this way he becomes more Portuguese, while the Portuguese uses and abuses the “você” (singular person used in Brazil instead of del tu) with the intent to approach the Brazilian variant. I managed to make myself understood well with the pronunciation of Portugal even though, clearly, I tried to use expressions more suited to the Brazilian public.
The fascination of the language lies in the diversity of the two pronunciations and vocalisms, although there are those who take advantage of the differences to justify unacceptable grammatical errors. However Brazilians appreciate the spoken Portuguese provided you avoid that quick jargon made of consonants (like ndtpronunciate ʃ fricative deaf of skis word) or closed vowels; and the Portuguese can “enjoy” the sung sonority of the Brazilian variant as long as you avoid the “rolled up” pronunciation of some regions where the guttural “rrs” sounds merge into “ggs”.
Whether for the presence of immigrants, or for the influence of the soap operas, or, now, for the growing arrival of young Portuguese officials in Brazil, the Portuguese language seems to be gaining a new leading role in the world . Aside from the (controversial) spelling agreement, it is the change in migration flows and the recomposition of social segments that now cross the Atlantic in both directions, and it is Brazil’s role in the global economy that most help to expand its presence Portuguese in the world . Two accents, one language.
Curiosity about genres and languages
- In Portuguese, the word mulherão means “voluptuous woman”. However, the noun is inherently masculine.
- In the Ket language of Siberia, “those [the names] that do not matter to the Ket are feminine, while the important objects (for example fish and wood) are masculine”. This is perhaps an indicator of the status of women in Ket society.
- The word “masculinity” is feminine in the following languages: Spanish, Latin, German, Polish, Russian and Hindi.
- The Klingon language has three genres, and they are as random as one might expect from an alien language: beings capable of using language, body parts and all other names.
Tips and tricks for those who learn a language
If you grew up speaking a language that does not use the genre, such as English, trying to learn a language that uses it can be complicated. We must remember which words belong to a certain genre, a classification which is often completely arbitrary and counterintuitive. Here are some useful tips.
- When you memorize the lexicon, do it by memorizing nouns and articles together. Knowing that làpiz means “pencil” is not enough. Remember el làpiz , and the male article el will tell you the gender.
- Better yet, most languages that use the gender also have specific ending groups for one genre or another. For example, in Spanish nouns ending in -a are usually feminine in Spanish. Try to memorize them, along with all the relevant exceptions.
- Benny Lewis of Fluenti in 3 months offers us this advice: “If you don’t know, guess! Seriously, it is almost impossible to learn a language if you are not ready to embarrass yourself in trying to speak it. So … try to guess. They will most likely understand you anyway. In the worst case, you will make a fun and involuntary mistake by asking to have the “Pope” ( el Papa in Spanish) instead of a “potato” ( the Pope ) for lunch “.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. A study found that French native speakers also have difficulty agreeing which genre goes with which word. When asked to assign a gender to 93 masculine nouns, the experiment participants managed to agree on only 17 of them. Even worse, in a series of 50 female words, the group agreed on one. They are complicated things.
How can a key be a woman? When grammar and gender politics collide
How can a key be a woman? Well, a study has revealed that those who speak Spanish (or a language in which the word “key” is feminine) could describe the keys as “intricate”, “small” and “adorable”. On the other hand, those who speak German (or a language in which the word “key” is masculine) could use attributes such as “heavy”, “metallic” and “serrated”.
Even more worrying is the fact that another study looked at the languages of the world and found that “on average, countries where languages that use gender are spoken are ranked at the bottom of the gender equality scale. “.
In the future, some languages may lose these annoying and senseless gender distinctions if the countries in which they are spoken pursue equality between men and women. The Guardian suggested that this could be Germany’s fate.
What do you think? Does grammatical gender make learning a new language more difficult? Should languages that use the grammar genre find another system , in the name of equality, or would it be too risky a step? Share your thoughts in the comments!