THE PSYCHOLOGY OF GENDER.

My wife and I heard an NPR report featuring Lera Boroditsky and her work on the effects of grammatical gender on word associations; it sounded more solid than the usual pop-psych stuff that gets breathlessly touted by the media, and Language Log concurs (from that brief post you can get to their earlier, fuller discussion and a pdf file of her paper). I just ran across this interesting Tolstoy quote, from a draft of War and Peace (original Russian below the cut):

Moskvá [the feminine Russian word for 'Moscow'] is “she,” and everyone appreciates that who appreciates her. Paris, Berlin, London, especially Petersburg [all masculine nouns] are “he.” Even though la ville (French) and die Stadt (German) are feminine, and górod [Russian for 'city'] is masculine, Moscow is a woman, she is a mother, she is a sufferer [fem.] and a martyr [fem.]. She suffered and will suffer, she is ungraceful, not well built, not maidenly, she has given birth; she is a mother, and therefore she is gentle and majestic. Every Russian feels that she is a mother, every foreigner feels (and Napoleon felt this) that she is a woman and that she can be offended.

I’m glad this tosh didn’t make it into the final text, but it shows you how powerful the effect of a feminine ending can be.

«Москва — она, это чувствует всякий человек, который чувствует ее. Париж, Берлин, Лондон, в особенности Петербург — он. Несмотря на то, что la ville (франц.), die Stadt (нем.) — женского рода, а город — мужеского рода, Москва — женщина, она — мать, она страдалица и мученица. Она страдала и будет страдать, она — неграциозна, нескладна, не девственна, она рожала, она — мать, и потому она кротка и величественна. Всякий русский человек чувствует, что она — мать, всякий иностранец (и Наполеон чувствовал это) чувствует, что она — женщина и что можно оскорбить ее.»

Comments

  1. I don’t think that’s right about London being a ‘he’. I’m pretty sure London is an ‘it’.
    Russia, England and France are ‘shes’. In fact only Germany is a fatherland, as far as I know. The USA’s a girl. Norway is ‘lille Norge’, little Norway, but I don’t know if has a sex.

  2. Freudian slip. ‘…if IT has a sex.’

  3. Mushgia, i think i already commented on the origins of the word

  4. The Welsh part of my brain tells me on a barely conscious level that London is feminine (Lludain) and England (Lloegr) is also but to be honest I think of them both as just being places with no gender at all regardless?

  5. It never occurred to me before that Paris could be anything but feminine.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    In French the names of most countries are preceded by a definite article which confirms the gender of the name, as in la France, le Danemark. Countries of Europe, neighbouring lands, and lands settled by immigrants from Europe tend to have names derived from Latin, where the ending often indicates the gender, which is usually “feminine”, as in la Russie, la Bosnie, la Tunisie, la Colombie, l’Australie, and many others (corresponding to Latin -ia which is used in English). A few names include a word of Latin origin which preserves the Latin gender of this word, as in l’Angleterre, literally “England” (= Engle-land, the land of the Angles), where la terre means ‘earth, land’. Names which do not have a name of feminine appearance (resembling feminine words in the language) are automatically masculine, like le Danemark, le Monténégro, Israël.
    The names of French towns and cities do not usually include an article, so it is more difficult to assign them a gender when their form is not characteristically one or the other. The ones with an article, for instance Le Havre, La Rochelle have an obvious gender, and so do names with feminine endings such as Marseille or Rome, but Albi, Chambéry, Toulon, Paris, Reims or Orléans do not and so tend to be masculine. But quite often, when there is need of an adjective, the name is not used alone but associated with the word meaning ‘city’ or ‘town’: it is possible to say Paris est très beau but more common to use Paris est une très belle ville or la ville de Paris est très belle. This obviates the need to give the name itself a particular gender. The word ville is also understood in compounds such as La Nouvelle-Orléans “New Orleans”, which is feminine even though Orléans is masculine.
    An interesting point is that a city including a surrounding suburban area is referred to in the masculine gender: for instance, the area of Paris and its immediate suburbs was referred to as le grand Paris “Greater Paris” (before administrative reorganization), but even with feminine city names the article and adjective are also masculine, for instance le grand Londres “Greater London” or le grand Marseille “Greater Marseille.
    In short, the feminine gender of la ville tends to attract a feminine identity to a city, even when the form of the name seems masculine, but conversely, the absence of the word tends to attract a masculine interpretation even with feminine-sounding names. But since “feminine” and “masculine” in French (or in most European languages) are often arbitrary (as with the names of most objects), the apparent gender of the name is not quite as defining of the image of the city as it would appear from the outside. For instance, a well-known song from the period between the two wars (I think) started with Paris, c’est une femme “Paris is a woman”, in spite of the city’s name.

  7. Brian Hillcoat says:

    Although I have lived in Germany for over 30 years, I will never be able to feel that having a masculine moon (der Mond) and a feminine sun (die Sonne) makes any sense at all.

  8. Marie-Lucie: In French the names of most countries are preceded by a definite article which confirms the gender of the name
    It is funny to note that those which don’t have an article are often islands, e.g. Madagascar, Malte, Maurice, Hawaï, Cuba, Haïti, Taïwan… The only two exceptions I’ve been able to think of are Israël and, maybe, Brunei — or city-states like Singapour or Monaco, which don’t really count as, as you said, cities normally don’t have articles.
    Islands seem to be feminine most of the time, probably because people think of it as “l’île de…”. Things become trickier when the island was given the first name of some prince for instance. Should people be allowed to say that “Maurice est belle”?

  9. Thanks, that’s a wonderful, very interesting summing-up, Marie-Lucie and Siganus Sutor. I’m filing it.

  10. In Greek, most country names are feminine.
    Strangely though, Canada, with its ‘a’ ending that should make it a monty for a feminine country, is masculine in Greek as O Kanadas (sorry — don’t have Greek fonts available).
    Another exception is Mexico, which is a neuter country. This, however, is understandable: the ‘o’ ending is commonly neuter in Greek, so Greek’s rendering of Mexico as neuter seems reasonable.
    The masculine Canada, on the other hand, is just odd — does anyone have any theories?

  11. I’m always impressed when a Francophone starts describing a man with “une personne” and continues with “elle” and “la” anaphors all the way down. That must take a lot of concentration.

  12. Londinium was neuter. Lunden was feminine.

  13. Manolis:make it a monty
    ? Where does this phrase come from, Manolis?

  14. The only think I can suggest is that ο Καναδάς was based on native Greek words ending in -άς, though I can’t think of an obvious model. But it works out well, since the oblique cases are Καναδά.
    For typing words in Greek, I use this (the main page has a bunch of other alphabets as well).

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: Islands seem to be feminine most of the time, probably because people think of it as “l’île de…”.
    Most likely, like la ville de …
    (Countries) which don’t have an article are often islands, e.g. Madagascar, Malte, Maurice, Hawaï, Cuba, Haïti, Taïwan…or city-states like Singapour or Monaco
    Perhaps because, like cities (formerly enclosed by walls), islands are self-contained? but it seems to me that the feminine gender of la ville (de) … and l’île (de) … is sufficient to explain the difference with the genders of country names. L’île Maurice, like l’île Bourbon (now l’île de La Réunion), like l’île Saint-Louis (in the Seine in Paris) and l’Isle Madame (in Canada), which are named for actual persons, do not have the preposition de which might imply that they were the property of those people, not just bearing their name.
    The only two exceptions I’ve been able to think of are Israël and, maybe, Brunei —
    For Israël, a recently formed country, I think that French just followed the lead of English, where there is no article. For Brunei, is that name extended from the name of the main city to that of the country?
    Should people be allowed to say that “Maurice est belle”?
    The question is not Should they be allowed to say but Do they say. Do the inhabitants say that? Surely they are the judges of what they want to call their own country. I think that outsiders would only say L’île Maurice est belle, as opposed to La Réunion est belle, because for the latter the article is part of the name. Maurice est beau suggests to me a comment on the appearance of a man called Maurice. Without using l’île in the name I would be inclined to say Maurice, (c’)est un beau pays.
    Manolis: The masculine Canada, on the other hand, is just odd — does anyone have any theories?
    Canada was first explored and settled by French people, and the a ending is not typical of the feminine in French, so the name has always been le Canada (a word from a native language). Other languages must have followed suit, for instance the word is masculine in Spanish also (and the final a is stressed, not unstressed as in feminine words). Other relatively recent (or recently known) country names ending in a have been adopted into French as masculine, for instance le Nigéria or le Rwanda.

  16. Where does this phrase come from, Manolis?
    OED:
    monty, n.
    Austral. and N.Z. colloq.
    1. A racecourse tipster. Also more fully monty man. Now rare.
    1887 K. MACKAY Stirrup Jingles 6 In the leger the ‘Monties’ are shouting. 1909 A. WRIGHT Rogue’s Luck 2 The monte man (with his following of buttoners) still works hard to make an honest crust, but the breed of ‘mugs’ on whom he lives.. has lessened.
    2. A certainty; spec. a horse considered a safe bet to win a race. for a monty: certainly, for sure.
    1894 H. LAWSON Martin Farrell in Coll. Verse I. 269 Chaps, I’ve got a vote for Hughie—but it ain’t no monte yet. 1901 Bull. Reciter (Sydney) 182 It’s the biggest bloomin’ monte Dat ‘as ever come our way. 1930 K. S. PRICHARD Haxby’s Circus iii. 41 She’s the chance of a life-time… The biggest bloomin’ monty ever started on a racecourse. 1946 Coast to Coast 1945 27 He’s a monty! We always were lucky. 1970 N.Z. Listener 12 Oct. 12/1 Old Jerry wouldn’t think of looking for me over this way. That’s for a monty. 1981 M. DUGGAN Magsman Misc. in L. Wevers N.Z. Short Stories 4th Ser. 64 There being.. more straws about than camels, some trouble with spinus processes and invertebral discs seems a monty wouldn’t you say?

  17. Sorry, forgot the etymology: the OED says it’s probably a variant of monte “A gambling game similar to faro.”

  18. marie-lucie says:

    I’m always impressed when a Francophone starts describing a man with “une personne” and continues with “elle” and “la” anaphors all the way down.
    In French the feminine word la personne, like the masculine l’individu, can refer to an individual of either sex, or rather a generic human being, as for instance in les droits de la personne ‘human rights’. But it used to be the case that for referring to a specific person, those words were more likely to refer to a female and a male respectively. In 19th century literature, une jeune personne does not mean ‘a young person’ but always ‘a young lady’, and even now, un individu is always a male (and the word is at least slightly derogatory), and so is un personnage (a more respectable designation). It is also possible to use the indefinite pronoun quelqu’un “someone”.
    More recently though, with the huge influence of English (transmitted through poor translations), “a person” tends to be translated as “une personne”, for instance instead of Madoff est un individu/un personnage sans scrupules or Madoff est quelqu’un de peu scrupuleux one reads Madoff est une personne sans scrupules (all of which describe him as “an unscrupulous person”). I find this jarring as I hate to recognize English phrasing and meaning under French words. But there are other cases of “feminine” words designating (mostly) men, or “masculine” words designating (mostly) women. Some that are well-known are la sentinelle ‘the sentinel’ vs le mannequin ‘the fashion model’, while le médecin ‘the medical doctor’ applies to both men and women, so French speakers are not as fazed as others might think by using a “feminine” word for a man. As in Spanish, Italian, German, etc, the word has a “gender”, not the person it refers to.

  19. Bill Walderman says:

    “only Germany is a fatherland”
    What about “Allons enfants de la patrie”?

  20. Wouldn’t la patrie be more of a Mutterland?

  21. rootlesscosmo says:

    “…et la vie est neutre.”
    –Jules et Jim

  22. Sorry if that was unclear–the speaker (Oskar Werner’s character) is describing differences between German and French to non-German speakers.

  23. > Bill Walderman
    But it’s always Mother India (Bharat Mata), never “Father India”. This, I presume, wouldn’t go along very well in countries like France where some people are sometimes accused of looking forward to l’État-Mamma (the nanny state). However, everybody should remember that our world, our Earth, Gaia, is always “mother Earth”, isn’t she?

  24. la sentinelle
    The title of an amazing movie directed by Arnaud Desplechin. Highly recommended to anyone who likes good movies and/or is interested in the unexpected ways the cold war impacted people’s lives (warning: contains images of severed head).

  25. I love this topic.
    Moskva as woman (mostly mother) is a long Russian literary tradition, eg:
    Dolgorukov:
    Mother Moscow has scores of sons…
    Russia, you are enslaved when Moscow is held captive!
    Lermontov:
    Moscow! Moscow! I love you like a son,
    As only a Russian can love – powerfully, passionately and tenderly.
    I love the sacred shimmer of your grey strands…
    Nikolay Gogol (with less pathos):
    Moscow is a woman and Petersburg a man… Petersburg is a tidy man, a typical German who regards everything with a calculating eye. If he should decide to give a party, he’ll look in his wallet first. Moscow is the Russian nobility, and if the nobility should decide to party, they’ll party till they collapse. They won’t worry if it costs more than they have in their pockets. Moscow doesn’t like to do anything halfway.

  26. Which reminds me, A Severed Head is an excellent novel (warning: Iris Murdoch does not think life is a bowl of cherries).

  27. I share your opinion, Languagehat, about that draft passage from War and Peace! Where did it appear in the draft?

  28. (“Which reminds me” was referring to my previous comment; mab snuck in while I was writing.)

  29. Couronne: Wouldn’t la patrie be more of a Mutterland?
    Maybe you’re not that patriotic, but don’t forget that in patrie there is pater. Etymologically, patria is the land of the father. (Hmmm, did you say something about the current Prince of Wales and the Battenbergs?)

  30. Where did it appear in the draft?
    In the scene where Nappy is surveying the city he is about to enter (after giving up on the obsequious delegation he had been expecting); it comes after “И с этой точки зрения он смотрел на лежавшую перед ним, невиданную еще им восточную красавицу.” (I’m following along with Krasnov’s commentary, which is where I found it.)

  31. My, we’re all chatty this morning.

  32. CristobalDeLicia says:

    -a is Russian Masculine! I’m not sure the article writer appreciates that Tolstoy is saying Москва is feminine DESPITE the masculine ending. This is a typical mistake by English speakers- an example is Elton John’s song “Nikita”. A typical Anglophone listener assumes it is a female- I think its Elton’s joke on heterosexuals. To make it more confusing -a in Russian is also a diminutive for a Russian male name, for example: Misha for Mikhail.

  33. In Irish, cailín “girl” is masculine, but the feminine pronoun will be used anaphorically. In conclusion, gender is partly notional and partly formal.

    In 19th century literature, une jeune personne does not mean ‘a young person’ but always ‘a young lady’

    In 19th century English literature, ‘a young person’ usually means ‘a young lady’.

  34. The question is not Should they be allowed to say but Do they say.
    Marie-Lucie, I thought some people here should represent the prescriptivist side of the world. It might be at the antipodes of the current languagehattian* trend, but, la bonne Dieu knows I’m all for plurality!
    Actually Creole doesn’t have any gender and since this is the first language of the land (not in the media though), it’s hard to tell if people tend to think of Maurice as a he or as a she. But I’d say that when French is used it is generally masculine: “Maurice est tout petit” (not “toute petite”), “Maurice devient de plus en plus affreux”, etc. In fact it’s outsiders only who call it “l’île Maurice”. The natives only call it “Moris”, as if it was the little brother of the family.
     
     
    * Or should it be languagehattic instead? What does the OED has to say about that?

  35. Siganus Sutor says:

    Chapeau: My, we’re all chatty this morning.
    Tonight, you mean.

  36. Siganus Sutor says:

    M.-L.: as for instance in les droits de la personne ‘human rights’.
    Isn’t this the thing that used to be called les droits de l’homme?

  37. -a is Russian Masculine! I’m not sure the article writer appreciates that Tolstoy is saying Москва is feminine DESPITE the masculine ending.
    Er, you don’t actually know Russian, do you? From Wade’s A Comprehensive Russian Grammar, p. 35: “Categories of feminine noun include the following: (1) Most nouns in -а/-я…”

  38. Thanks for the link to the commentaries. That is, indeed, a любопытное авторское рассуждение!
    Thanks, too, for the recommendation of Murdoch’s Severed Head. I liked The Sea, The Sea a lot, though it was also not particularly light reading.

  39. No, Moskva is feminine. For sure, for sure.
    BTW on all this — a Russian friend recently asked me if inanimate objects had a kind of “inner gender” in English depsite not having a grammatical gender. She was very sad for us:( I’ve been interested in the topic in Russian, particularly cross-gender nouns. It’s not quite so fixed as the textbooks would have it (they didn’t want to scare us).

  40. I suppose in English we always tend to think of the sea as being feminine but that’s more to do what poetry &c. rather than innate grammar?

  41. Yes, I would think so. But just out of curiosity — all you native English speakers out there, is the moon feminine or masculine? For me, it’s feminine, but the man in the moon muddies the picture, as it were.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus:
    les droits de la personne = … de l’homme
    You are right. In Canada though, l’homme has been changed to la personne in this case (French Canada is much more conscious of potential sexism than France).
    Mother India (Bharat Mata), never “Father India”. … our Earth, Gaia, is always “mother Earth”, isn’t she?
    It is because the land or earth (Latin terra) is usually conceived of as feminine (as “she” produces beings and nurtures them). Germanic land is an exception (which probably has etymological justification from a different angle).
    Etymologically, patria is the land of the father.
    More precisely, of the fathers, meaning the male ancestors (fathers and “forefathers”). This is what German Vaterland also means (probably as a translation of the Latin word). But the -ia at the end identifies the word as feminine.
    Maurice: there is no contradiction in the locals using one version and outsiders another, although it helps to be aware of the two. Is Maurice a common male name on Maurice?
    languagehattian vs languagehattic: LH often refers to his hattic powers, but the different suffix might indicate a subtly different meaning. Let him choose, or not, as he pleases!
    mollymooly: In 19th century literature, une jeune personne does not mean ‘a young person’ but always ‘a young lady’ -
    In 19th century English literature, ‘a young person’ usually means ‘a young lady’.
    I wonder if that is due to French influence? but “young lady” seems much more common in that era than “young person”. French jeune personne refers exclusively to a female at that time.
    Actually, using jeune personne for ‘young lady’ may have been a way of avoiding jeune fille at a time when fille outside of its meaning ‘daughter’ was considered derogatory, sometimes very much so (implying a prostitute). For instance, in the 18th century novel Manon Lescaut, when Manon is condemned to deportation to Louisiana she becomes part of a convoy of filles, who are not just “girls” in general (as they would be nowadays) but young women who have been living a life of “ill repute”. Even when I was young, fille instead of jeune fille was considered somewhat derogatory and to be avoided.

  43. no, I don’t think of the moon as having any gender even though it is supposed to be a ‘cruel mistress’ or regardless of any man in it?

  44. it’s always Mother India (Bharat Mata)
    This got me thinking about linguists and their nasty sanskriphilia. A quick check of Google seems to suggest that my suspicion that Bharat Maa is more common these days than Bharat Mata is not entirely off the mark. Running a Google “corpus” check for the devanagari spellings,yields 178K ghits for भारत मा – Bharat Maa and 190K ghits for भारत माता. It yields an impressive 273K ghits for भारत माँ, Bharat Ma with the proper nasalised long final vowel. I checked the movie posters for the suicidally-depressing 1957 classic film “Mother India”, but the posters simply transliterate “Mother India”. So I had two preconceptions strengthened by this exercise: (1) linguists are biased toward Sanskrit over Hindi, and (b) I hate spelling Hindi words in Roman characters. Thanks, Siganus.

  45. Let him choose, or not, as he pleases!
    Not. I’m a great believer in letting people decide for themselves. Then I get to observe delightful variety instead of vile conformity!

  46. marie-lucie says:

    Stuart: … linguists and their nasty sanskriphilia. … linguists are biased toward Sanskrit over Hindi
    I don’t know what leads you to make such sweeping generalizations. First of all, not all linguists are or have been studying Sanskrit. I, for one, never studied it, and have been busy with other languages altogether, so you cannot talk about sanskritophilia (I think that would be the word) in my case, or that of many others. Also, among Indianists, there are specialists in Sanskrit, others in Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi, and numerous other modern languages descended from the same common ancestor as Sanskrit. Sanskrit, because of its antiquity and complexity, its importance for the early history of many languages, and because it is the gateway to a very rich literature and philosophy, is the most prestigious not only in the West but also in India itself, and you cannot lay the blame for that at the feet of Western linguists (there are many linguists in India too, as well as more traditional scholars). If Sanskrit भारत माता Bharat Mata corresponds to a variety of modern equivalents in the other languages, then it may make sense to retain the Sanskrit designation for some general purposes, just like one might retain a well-known Latin formula rather than use its equivalent in French, Spanish, Italian, or yet another modern language derived from Latin.
    Siganus: Mother India: la France is never called la Mère France (which would have a plebeian ring similar to that of Old Mother Hubbard) but it is la mère patrie to expatriates. Even countries with masculine names are (more or less explicitly) considered as “mothers” of their citizens, not fathers.

  47. Siganus Sutor says:

    Even countries with masculine names are (more or less explicitly) considered as “mothers” of their citizens, not fathers.
    Yes, it’s quite true indeed: our little Maurice (by the way a name given indeed to some Christian Mauritian boys), our little boy — now 41 though — has his own birthday song, which begins like this: “Glory to thee, Motherland, O Motherland of mine…”

  48. Stuart: … linguists and their nasty sanskriphilia. … linguists are biased toward Sanskrit over Hindi
    I don’t know what leads you to make such sweeping generalizations

    For a change I am NOT going to apologise for your failure to note my humour, marie-lucie. I read here for fun and I contribute in a similar vein. Your continued failure to see that is from now on officially your problem, not mine. If a silly made-up phrase like “nasty Sanskriphilia” doesn’t tip you off that what follows is not to be taken with your apparently instinctive dour sobriety, nothing will. That is a shame, but I am no longer going to let it spoil the good-natured fun I have here.

  49. I had no idea “is a monty” is mostly antipodean — I assumed it was British.
    And thanks for the solving of the Canada issue, Marie Lucie.
    And thanks for the website for the writing of Greek letters, languagehat. I have the Greek language pack installed on my computer so that I can write in Greek directly, but I’m not on my computer and won’t be for a while, so that site is definitely a good backup.

  50. Siganus Sutor says:

    Stuart, I’m sure you can relax. I don’t think Marie-Lucie was being nasty. It’s simply that humour is something that does not always travel easily, especially through the internet, when no one has the possibility to see and hear the person he or she is talking to.

  51. Siganus, I am VERY relaxed. I have previously apologised for marie-lucie’s misreading my posts, but I have now decided that there is no need to do so, nor any point. It almost verges on the pavlovian – I make a lighthearted post and she replies with a didactic lecture predicated on the assumption that I was in deadly earnest. It does not disturb my equanimity at all.

  52. Siganus Sutor says:

    Fine then.
    And, er, regarding all these bold letters in “I hate spelling Hindi words in Roman characters. Thanks, Siganus.”, was it some sort of reproach addressed to me? To make myself forgiven, if need be, I could send you samples of Hindi written in Roman script but with a “washing line”, as Steve called it. It’s been frequently used here, for wedding faire-part (annoucement card) for instance.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Stuart, I am sorry that I “misread your posts”, as you put it. It is true that I tend to take things literally, but sometimes things meant by someone “in fun” can be misinterpreted by others, as often happens in the media. Also, different cultures have a different sense of humour, and yours and mine (the tiny amount I may have) are obviously not the same.
    On this blog we are all responding to each other, but the posts are read by everyone, not just the frequent commenters but also many people who hardly ever comment (witness the huge number of responses by unknowns on “bungalow”). I might not say the same thing in a post here as I would if responding personally to just the poster.
    On the specific subject you brought up “in fun”, about “linguists are …” etc, many people hold erroneous opinions of linguists and what they do and would not necessarily be able to see the “fun” in your statements. My “didactic statements” are not necessarily meant just for the benefit of the person I am responding to. And about the various versions of “Mother India”, I found your remarks very interesting and don’t see what humour there was in them either. Perhaps other people here will open my eyes to what I failed to see.

  54. Siganus Sutor says:

    Marie-Lucie, we talked about the gender of countries and cities in fransé, but what about rivers? One could be tempted to think that when it’s une rivière it would be feminine (la Saône, la Moselle, la Trébie, la Yamuna) and when it’s un fleuve it would be masculine (le Rhône, le Rhin, le Pô, le Danube, le Gange). However, the gender of waterways seems to be have been assigned at random instead. Rivers flowing into the sea can be feminine, such as la Seine, la Garonne, la Loire, la Volta, la Volga, la Tamise or la GRNO (or GRNW as it it sometimes written), and rivers flowing into another river can be masculine, such as le Loir, le Gard, le Missouri, le Bhramapoutre, le Prout.
    Most of the names of rivers flowing far from France seem to be masculine, except for those ending with a feminine -a (la Lena, la Columbia, la Moskova — but le Manitoba in your own country and le Syr-Daria or l’Amou-Daria). For example it’s le Huang He, le Nil, le Mississipi, le Congo, le Mackenzie, le Niger, le Yukon, le Tigre, le Mékong, le Zambèze, and so on. But, again, there are exceptions: l’Amazone (feminine for an obvious reason), la Darling*, la Saskatchewan, la Vistule…
    I wonder if in Spanish, German, Italian or Greek these river names have more or less the same gender, which would suggest that it’s not given purely at random.
     
     
     
    * But this Darling seems to be a man for Wikipédia.fr — I suppose it depends on the sex of the speaker.

  55. Siganus Sutor says:

    ego: I could send you samples of Hindi written in Roman script but with a “washing line”, as Steve called it. It’s been frequently used here, for wedding faire-part (announcement card) for instance.
    I realise I was wrong there. In fact there not so many Martian Hindus who know how to read and write full sentences in Hindi, and these wedding faire-part are usually written in English, therefore in Roman script, but an English “sanskritised” by the addition of the abovementioned washing line. You can see it on some adverts as well.

  56. Siganus, that “washing line” is the rekha, and a friend has a comment about Roman fonts with rekhas, and devanagari fonts without it, here:
    faux fonts

  57. Sig: Etymologically, patria is the land of the father.
    Thanks, Sig. I knew I must be missing something. I see from my little dictionary that patria, -æ is feminine. It’s totally nuts, isn’t it, the inconsistency; but more fun that way too.

  58. Siganus, the bolded bit of my comment was no criticism of anyone. It was simply an expression of how strongly I feel about the sloppy and imprecise transliterations from devanagari into Roman. I really do harbour an intense distaste for using Roman characters to write words that are best written in devanagari.
    I feel similarly about the reverse, too. As with the movie poster I mentioned that transliterates “Mother India”, or news articles that I come across and feature some “new word” that once parsed turns out to simply be a transliteration. In the case of Roman to devanagari, I disagree with the choices made between dental and retroflex consonants, and some vowels/diphthongs. I have even been told that I transliterate my own middle name, James, “wrongly”. I write it in devanagari the way it sounds to my ear, but apparently I should write it the way devanagari users think it should be written. In the case of devanagari to Roman, it’s the imprecision forced by dropping into a much smaller character set.
    As you can see, this is a horse of the hobby variety for me, and that bolded remark simply reflected that. No criticism was intended.

  59. CristobalDeLicia: I think its Elton’s joke on heterosexuals.
    Interesting, but don’t forget the words of his stuff are by Bernie Taupin, not Elton himself. I don’t know the song, but people of Elton John’s vintage and older are familiar with the name ‘Nikita’ from Nikita Khruschev.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: I’ll think some more about the rivers, but now it is really late in my part of the world. See you tomorrow.
    AJP, there is no inconsistency: “patria” is the land, not the man (or men as I suggested earlier), and “terra” is feminine.

  61. Stuart, a gentle reproof for you: some of us struggle with the devanagari alphabet, others with catching every irony in the glittering variety of posts here at LH. Marie-Lucie has long ago acknowledged this as a difficulty, and we understand it. I suffer from the same thing offline, whenever I am presented with a style of irony that happens not to be in my own active repertoire.
    Chat on, mes amis. But play nicely.
    Marie-Lucie, has individu come to be used more often? In Canada in particular, under pressure from the squeamishly “clinical” individual, so prevalent now in America?

  62. m-l: Even when I was young, fille instead of jeune fille was considered somewhat derogatory and to be avoided.
    We were told this when I was at school, forty years ago. Can I use it now?
    I see it’s not really an inconsistency at all that land of the fathers is f. It’s still paradoxical, though.

  63. Siganus Sutor says:

    A. J. P., when I wonder where our daughters are I usually ask “Où sont les filles ?”. As far as I know my wife has never been wondering whether I had something peculiar on my mind.

  64. m-l:witness the huge number of responses by unknowns on “bungalow”
    Yes, I noticed that too. Why did it happen? Have they all been lurking for years, only waiting to pounce when ‘bungalows’ came up?

  65. Late, m-l? I’d imagined you were up early, but now I see that was me, not you.
    In English, I think ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ are still words with naughty implications, but only depending on the context.

  66. Siganus Sutor says:

    Noetica, in my own experience calling someone “un individu” or “cet individu” is always derogatory. “Un individu” could almost naturally be followed by the adjective “louche”. But, you see, it will not be used in case it’s “une femme louche”.
    In Mauritius “un bougre” (Creole “enn boug”) — literally “a bugger” — is not derogatory at all. It’s just there to mean a guy, a chap. So it’s not even “un individu”. But “une bougresse” is quite something else. It has more to do with “une fille”, i.e. “une mauvaise fille”. How words can have different meanings whether they are masculine or feminine…

  67. Siganus Sutor says:

    > CristobalDeLicia and A.J.P.
    There was also a film, Nikita, by Luc Besson, in which Nikita was not a bald apparatchik but a beautiful slender woman. (Ouch, I still remember the part with “Victor le Nettoyeur” in the bath tub…)
    In Arabic Yasmina can be a man.

  68. …in my own experience calling someone “un individu” or “cet individu” is always derogatory
    Interesting. I understand that, and English has something of the same negativity. OED:

    Individual … 3. a. A single human being, as opposed to Society, the Family, etc. … b. Without any notion of contrast or relation to a class or group: A human being, a person. (Now chiefly as a colloquial vulgarism, or as a term of disparagement.)

    But it is certainly not always used that way in English; nor in French, surely. Petit Robert says only “souvent”:

    II (1791) Cour. (souvent péj.) Personne quelconque, que l’on ne peut ou que l’on ne veut pas nommer (ne se dit pas d’une femme au sing.).

    We can see how this negativity might arise: from the failure to distinguish the person as having any attributes or affilations worthy of mention, stripped down to the status of a mere naked singular entity. That is demeaning! I think this is connected with the squeamish use latterly dominating in America. Compare the reluctance police have to call a suspect a “man”, seeming more comfortable with either “male [person]” or indeed “individual”.

  69. Noetica, yes. I’d noticed that the police both in the US and UK (and probably elsewhere) talk in this stilted way about ‘an individual’. It’s got the same condescending tone as their use of ‘mobile telephone device’ for the normal ‘mobile phone’.
    It reminds be of the US police adoption of the word ‘paraphernalia’, to use in their phrase ‘drug paraphernalia’. Subsequently, in the US, that became (I think) the only common way to use the word.

  70. @SS
    But Nikita is always a man’s name in Russian, hence the retitling (?) La Femme Nikita (?). (The question is: is that why they retitled it?) BTW, in the 90s they showed the series here in Russia and Peta Wilson was a major heart-throb, or something-throb, for Russian men.

  71. Siganus, you said above “In fact there not so many Martian Hindus who know how to read and write full sentences in Hindi” – are the Indians in Mauritius all Hindu? In Fiji, the Hindu/Muslim ratio was probably higher than modern India’s 10%, more like 30%, before the coups started and the exodus began in earnest. I ask because generally the religious background is relevant to the language spoken or read. Actually, particularly read, since Hindi and Urdu still have very high muutual intelligibility when spoken. That was what intrigued me about your comment. If any of the Mauritian Indians are MUslim, the language they may well have learned to read could be Urdu.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: names of rivers:
    A look at the Petit Robert confirms what I suspected: le fleuve is from (classical) Latin (fluvium), but la rivière is from Late Latin (riparia, a derivative of ripa, la rive ‘the riverbank’), meaning that riparia was an everyday word as opposed to the more formal fluvium. Originally the difference between the French words was simply one of size and importance: I suppose that la rivière was the small-to-medium local body of water going through or near one’s village or town, which had access to both banks, while le fleuve was the large one known through a much wider area and sometimes providing the boundary between territories. The definitions restricting fleuve to one (no matter how small) that ends up in the sea and rivière to one (no matter how large) that ends up in another body of water seems to have arisen later (perhaps at the time when there was a desire to give synonyms or near-synonyms different definitions).
    Most names of rivers, except the ones bestowed by relatively recent immigrants to the country, are very ancient, as newcomers learn and often preserve the original names while building towns and cities to which they give names of their own choice. This fact is very helpful to historical linguists (and therefore to historians): in France or England, for instance, most rivers preserve (with due allowance for sound changes in the meantime) Celtic and sometimes pre-Celtic names, which suggest or confirm the arrival of successive waves of population in the territory. When the languages of those populations had the feature of grammatical gender for all nouns, those names also had gender, which has often been preserved to our own day (in the case of English, river names don’t have a gender, because nouns as a whole no longer do, but for instance French la Tamise preserves the original gender, and most of the original sounds, of “the Thames”, which comes from a Celtic name). This is why there is so much inconsistency in the gender of French river names: the roots of the matter lay deep in prehistory.
    For names of foreign rivers, I think there is a difference between those known to be from a gender-ful language, where French preserves the gender of the original (la Moskova), and those (more recently known) from languages where “gender” is either irrelevant (le Manitoba), or not easily determinable. As with names of countries, in the absence of other clues the shape or appearance of the name affects the newly assigned gender, but there are a few exceptions, not all of which are readily explainable. La Saskatchewan (with final n pronounced) in Canada no doubt comes from the gender of la rivière.

  73. I learned a lot from that comment, m-l; many thanks!

  74. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, LH. “Hydronymy” is a fascinating subject.

  75. Siganus Sutor says:

    Most names of rivers, except the ones bestowed by relatively recent immigrants to the country, are very ancient, as newcomers learn and often preserve the original names
    It just struck me that in North America native river names were quite frequently kept, even if deformed (Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Alabama, Saskatchewan, Yukon, etc.), whereas in other recently-conquered countries like Latin America, South Africa or Australia it doesn’t seem to have been so much the case for large waterways. But I may be wrong here. If not, could it mean that the conquerors of North America were more willing to listen to the natives and learn from them than elsewhere?

  76. Siganus, here in Aotearoa, the majority of the rivers still have Māori names, including the longest rivre in NZ, the Waikato. There are a couple of important rivers in the South Island with Anglo names, but by and large rivers and lakes here retain Māori names. I live near one that translates as dogshit river.

  77. I believe that both Orinoco and Parana are from local words meaning just ‘river’. And that Purus and Tocantins are named after nearby peoples.

  78. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: could it mean that the conquerors of North America were more willing to listen to the natives and learn from them than elsewhere?
    I doubt it, although the French are supposed to have been the ones who got along best with native peoples (in spite of counter-examples).
    It could be that in North America European exploration and settlement (and therefore contact with natives) went ahead before there was much central administration and government, while in Latin America things were decided from on high in Spain and Portugal, large-scale European settlement was at first discouraged, and generic-type names were put on maps by geographers (Rio Grande, Rio de la Plata, Bahia). Besides those facts, there were European religious traditions such as (for Catholic countries) (re)naming places and waterways according to saints’ days (le Saint-Laurent) and other religious dates or names ( Assomption/Asuncion, in Quebec and Paraguay respectively). In Quebec large numbers of place names are either native or Saint(e)-somebody (continuing a French tradition). Another factor for river names, as MMcM points out, is that often the local “name” of a major river simply means “the river” or “the big river” (as in Mississippi), so the local word once understood could lead to the “no-name” river receiving a “proper” name from the newcomers. (Similarly, many peoples have/had no name for themselves except “the people” or “the real people”, so they may be known by a name given to them by their neighbours or enemies).

  79. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. I don’t know enough about South Africa or Australia to hazard a comment.

  80. AJP, you’ll of course be shocked to learn that Denmark has “fædreland,” too.

  81. What about the Earth as a planet? It’s also female in many languages (such as “tierra” in Spanish and “zemlya” in Russian), but in English the nouns have no grammatical gender. Would you say “the Earth and her inhabitants” or “the Earth and its inhabitants”?

  82. What I want to know is how the Danes went from doing the international raping and pillaging to being the world’s nicest and friendliest people in under one millennium. ‘Just coincidence’, or space aliens?

  83. Ditto with the Dutch, AJPC. How did slave traders and colonists become a (fairly) model tolerant society? I know there are cracks in the perfection, but still. They put a lot of other people to shame.
    It must be aliens from outer space. They built the pyramids in Egypt, drew huge pictures only intelligible from air in South America, and then cast around for another challenging task.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    Would you say “the Earth and her inhabitants” or “the Earth and its inhabitants”?
    Because there is no grammatical gender in English, and biological gender is irrelevant in this case, there is no right answer, and whether you say one or the other depends on the semantic connotations you bring to the topic: the first wording suggests you are an ecologist, an adept of the Gaia hypothesis, or perhaps a Wiccan, in any case someone who imnplicitly or explicitly feels some sort of emotional bond with the Earth, the second a biologist, economist, or anyone else that does not recognize such a bond or considers it irrelevant to the discipline in question. The same person could use both depending on the context, for instance an ecologist would write “it” in a scientific paper but might use “her” in an article aimed at inspiring the general public.

  85. Can anyone tell me why we use sexes for inanimate objects in English? What is the origin of a boat or ship being ‘she’, for example? Are we following another language that lists ‘boat’ as feminine, or is a human tendency to give human attributes to things a possible reason why languages came to give nouns gender, in the first place?

  86. Russia has both masculine “Fatherland” – отечество and feminine “Motherland” – родина or родина-мать.
    During various periods of Russian history one or the other term has been favored – since the revolution родина has come out on top – but it’s probably stretching things to think grammatical gender had much to do with that.

  87. Siganus Sutor says:

    Not long ago I learned that a tree that is widespread here, le filao, a.k.a. the casuarina tree, was sometimes called a she-oak. I can’t make out where he got that name, and how. It’s as if you suddenly learned that the Sun was eventually a girl.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    (trying to catch up with previous questions)
    Noetica: has individu come to be used more often? In Canada in particular, under pressure from the squeamishly “clinical” individual, so prevalent now in America?
    I really can’t tell you! I haven’t noticed it, but I live in an English-speaking area of Canada and although I use French with colleagues almost on a daily basis, I don’t have much contact with the larger community. When I read the French press I notice the anglicized syntax more than the actual words unless they are quite blatant. In any case, un individu would always be a male (unless perhaps in a scientific discussion of animals).
    Compare the reluctance police have to call a suspect a “man”, seeming more comfortable with either “male [person]” or indeed “individual”.
    Here there may be the contributing factor of age: “male individual” avoids having to choose between “man” and “boy” when referring to the critical 18 to 24 year old age group (and also, in North America, the fact that “boy” even when used for younger people could conjure up the racist use of the term).
    Siganus, AJP: les filles: this word nowadays means the same as “girls”, although I don’t think it would be applied to mature women as it often is in English (among such women, as in “getting together with the girls for a coffee klatsch”). Within the family of course, fille just means “daughter”.
    But I remember once reading a book on manners which probably dated from before WWII, in which the following example was used to illustrate why fille should not be used when referring to a proper young lady: Ne fréquentez pas Mademoiselle Unetelle, c’est une fille “Don’t associate with Miss So-and-So, she is a …”. Obviously “girl” is not what is meant here, and “slut” would be perhaps a little too strong and slangy, but the implication of fille unmodified by a suitable adjective was that “she” was not une vraie jeune fille (ie she had not been “saving herself for marriage”) (this example, the only thing I remember of the book, made a strong impression on me at an impressionable age, before I was fully aware of the implications). Another term that I did not quite understand for a long time although I encountered it in 19th century novels was une fille publique“a prostitute”, a term which I was surprised to hear later from Southern French speakers my own age, as it sounded so old-fashioned.

  89. David Marjanović says:

    In fact only Germany is a fatherland, as far as I know.

    And that word is neuter. Das Land. BTW, this seems to derive from some Proto-Indo-European term for cleared forest; compare French la lande.

    le Canada (a word from a native language)

    “Town” in Mohawk.

    I’m always impressed when a Francophone starts describing a man with “une personne” and continues with “elle” and “la” anaphors all the way down. That must take a lot of concentration.

    With German Mädchen, it regularly breaks down.

    This is a typical mistake by English speakers- an example is Elton John’s song “Nikita”.

    That’s not a nickname. It’s derived from Greek Niketas (with eta).

    For Brunei, is that name extended from the name of the main city to that of the country?

    The capital is Bandar Seri Begawan…

    Other relatively recent (or recently known) country names ending in a have been adopted into French as masculine, for instance le Nigéria or le Rwanda.

    And the scientific shinbone: le tibia. Twists my stomach every time. I think I once deliberately did it wrong because I just can’t stand it.

    I suppose in English we always tend to think of the sea as being feminine but that’s more to do what poetry &c. rather than innate grammar?

    Could also be a relict; it is die See in northern German. (Not to be confused with der See, the southern/central word for “lake”.)

    For a change I am NOT going to apologise for your failure to note my humour, marie-lucie. I read here for fun and I contribute in a similar vein. Your continued failure to see that is from now on officially your problem, not mine. If a silly made-up phrase like “nasty Sanskriphilia” doesn’t tip you off that what follows is not to be taken with your apparently instinctive dour sobriety, nothing will. That is a shame, but I am no longer going to let it spoil the good-natured fun I have here.

    Poe’s Law: any sufficiently advanced parody of creationism is indistinguishable from the real thing.
    Ebert’s fallacy: to believe it’s possible to create a parody of creationism that nobody reasonable can mistake for the real thing.
    “Arguments” like yours have been proposed in all seriousness time and time again. You simply can’t assume that your sarcasm is obvious.

    I wonder if in Spanish, German, Italian or Greek these river names have more or less the same gender, which would suggest that it’s not given purely at random.

    The German ones are random.

    What is the origin of a boat or ship being ‘she’, for example?

    That would interest me, too, because in German all ships are “she” even if they have men’s names, and there’s no evident reason for this bizarrity (das Schiff, also das Boot).

    Russia has both masculine “Fatherland” – отечество

    The word as such is neuter (as in German, but for different reasons – this one is an abstract noun in -ство, which ends in -о and is therefore neuter).

  90. In Arabic Yasmina can be a man.
    I have never met a man with this name, but I have met several women with the name Yasmeen.
    how the Danes went from doing the international raping and pillaging to being the world’s nicest and friendliest people
    Bad rap. A lot of the descriptions of the pagan Norsemen were written by Christian clerics who exaggerated just a tad. Three ships became 30; 30 ships became 300. Amazing how all the accounts of Norse activity religionists always had so many zeros in the numbers. In fact, historically there were frequent attacks on monasteries and not always by Danes–sometimes they even attacked each other. The saga of Arrow Odd gives some interesting Viking rules, one of which says the penalty for bringing a woman on board a boat against her will was death.
    why fille should not be used when referring to a proper young lady
    In English everyone used to be a “girl”; everyone was somewhat afraid of the word “woman”. It got to be a bit strange however to hear a man complain about what “a girl” at the office was doing, which would have been inappropriate for a young person, only to find out he was talking about an employee in her 40′s which made her actions quite appropriate. So as older women continued to refer to themselves as “girls”, even in their 70′s and 80′s (youth culture?), younger women preferred to be defined as “women” as a way of emphasizing adulthood and being taken more seriously in a work environment.
    What is the origin of a boat or ship being ‘she’, for example?
    I suspect this has more to do with the person doing the naming than the object itself. I have noticed that male friends sometimes personify their cars as “she”, but when women do give their cars a gender, it is “he”. When it comes to responsiveness, I think of a Mazda as “he” but a Plymouth as “it”.

  91. What is the origin of a boat or ship being ‘she’, for example?
    Old English scip was neuter, so it’s not a holdover from that, whatever it may be.

  92. “отечество” as such is neuter, corrects David.
    Quite rightly – and my slip just goes to show how ingrained gender bias from your native language seems to be. I would never decline отечество as masculine in speech or writing, but as an English speaker the word “feels” masculine to me.

  93. Siganus Sutor says:

    David: The German ones are random.
    But does that randomness correspond to the randomness found in nearby languages? For instance, are Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Ganges and Nile masculine in German while Moselle, Seine, Thames, Amazone and Saskatchewan are feminine?

  94. “Quite rightly – and my slip just goes to show how ingrained gender bias from your native language seems to be. I would never decline отечество as masculine in speech or writing, but as an English speaker the word “feels” masculine to me.”
    This is interesting, isn’t it? I was writing about women’s names, and although name is neuter in Russian (имя), I automatically made the adjectives feminine. That’s a mistake a native Russian speaker would not make.
    The feminist take on ships being female goes like this: have you chauvinist pigs ever noticed that machines or vehicles that you own and control are female, as are all irrational, scary, threatening forces of nature? Huh? I mean, have you really thought about what that says about you? Or the message it sends impressionable little girls and boys?

  95. Lian Vaiphei says:

    In India we call our country our motherland. It creates a sense of patriotism. We refer to her as “she”.

  96. marie-lucie says:

    mab: The feminist take on ships being female goes like this: have you chauvinist pigs ever noticed that machines or vehicles that you own and control are female, as are all irrational, scary, threatening forces of nature?
    The “feminist take” is oversimplifying by putting together “things you control” and “things you can’t control” in a single category. In my opinion and experience, when there is such a contradiction within a single category, or along a single parameter, it signals that the category or parameter selected is the wrong one.
    I wrote a short paper some years ago about the gender of animals in French and English, extending into some other areas such as those you mention. The point of departure for thinking about this topic was my surprise, a long time ago, to discover that English-speaking children invariably referred to small animals such as insects or frogs as “he”, not “it”, and never “she”. With a little bit of research, I found that “he” tends to be used generically for animals, especially those of non-discernible “gender”, but also in some rural dialects for known females, eg for cows. This general use of “he” for non-human animals makes “he” unusable for non-animals such as forces of nature, etc. which nevertheless are not inert (and therefore cannot be “it”) but seem to have a mind of their own, so that the only other possible choice is “she”. Traditional boats or ships are containers rather than machines, and are subject only partially to human power (oars) but (sometimes much more) to the power of wind and water, so that they too lack predictability and seem to have personalities, something recognized by giving them names. In addition, for a long time crews were exclusively male, so that “she” for the boat was unambiguous. “She” for cars participates of the same logic: many people give their cars names and feel that they have a personality of their own, they are responsive rather than fully controllable. And “she” is also used by some craftsmen for things they are working on or fixing, such as doors or windows or pieces of furniture: here again human power has to contend with the nature of the object and the material it is made of, which constrain the amount of human control over it.
    To summarize the use of English personal pronouns for non-humans::
    - inert matter, static or fully controllable object: “it”;
    - animal: conscious, independent: “he”;
    - force of nature, means of transportation, etc: non-static, non-conscious but uncontrollable or only partially controllable: “she”.
    These uses of “he” and “she” only partially overlap with their use for male and female humans and known animals.

  97. My daughter named our old car (an ancient Mercedes stationwagon) Mario, which always seemed appropriate for some reason.
    Isn’t it odd that a child can be ‘it’, and ‘child’ is a neuter noun in Norwegian and German (and Latin infans, I see); whereas ‘a person’ is ‘he or she’, or ‘they’, but never ‘it’, I think.

  98. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: Isn’t it odd that a child can be ‘it’
    Only at the age when “it” is fully dependent on adults and apparently incapable of conscious purposeful action.

  99. m-l
    Er, yes, that’s what I meant:)

  100. irrational, scary, threatening forces of nature
    Hurricanes all used to be named for women. Back in the 60′s there was a fairly innocuous joke. Q: Why are hurricanes named for women? A: If they were named for men they would be called himmicanes. But there were other jokes that were blatantly hostile towards women. Now hurricanes alternate with male and female names.
    I found that “he” tends to be used generically for animals, especially those of non-discernible “gender”
    Two different ESL textbook series I have used specify “it” for animals–could this have been before the gender neutral language thing that happened in English in the 70′s?

  101. marie-lucie says:

    mab: of course your description of “the feminist take” was sarcastic! but I have seen those ideas expressed seriously too. The bulk of my comment was not directed at you. Often when I write things here it helps me to clarify my own ideas about a topic.

  102. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma:

    Two different ESL textbook series I have used specify “it” for animals–could this have been before the gender neutral language thing that happened in English in the 70′s?

    It in this case is “neuter”, therefore already “gender-neutral” if “gender” is understood as meaning “biological gender”. What I was talking about is informal language, so for animals it would be used in formal language (eg in a scientific or general-audience paper), but he to refer to a specific critter, in an informal setting such as children observing a snail or bird or squirrel in a garden. This is one more place where there is a difference between formal and informal language.
    A textbook for teaching English is right to recommend it so that speakers of Spanish or other “gender-ful” language do not use he and she for animals according to their grammatical gender in their own languages.

  103. What I was talking about is informal language
    The use of “he” to mean “he or she” was being formally taught in the late 60′s. Seriously. I think some people still use it in that way. It’s holdever from when it was considered to be correct. For instance “peace on earth, good will to men”–do they mean women too? Or not?
    I was also taught this about Spanish. Niños means niños y niñas. Hermanos means hermanos and hermanas. And so on with primos, nosotros, ellos….

  104. m-l, I was joking:)
    I have read this in many places, but am not 100 percent sure it’s true:
    In 1850 an Act of Parliament gave official sanction to the recently invented concept of the “generic” he. In the language used in acts of Parliament, the new law said, “words importing the masculine gender shall be deemed and taken to include females.”

  105. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: The use of “he” to mean “he or she” was being formally taught in the late 60′s. Seriously. I think some people still use it in that way. It’s holdever from when it was considered to be correct.
    This is true, but refers to human beings (constant use of “he or she” is recent to replace “generic he”, not the other way around). I was talking about informal or dialectal use with animals: can you imagine a child seeing a snail and saying “Look at him or her!” (snails happen to be both!)
    I was also taught this about Spanish. Niños means niños y niñas. Hermanos means hermanos and hermanas. And so on with primos, nosotros, ellos….
    The same thing happens in French, though not to quite to that extent: as in Latin, the “masculine” form is considered generic, meaning inclusive not exclusive, while the “feminine” form is strictly exclusive (of males). For instance, in Spanish, you ask someone Ud. tiene hijos? meaning “Do you have children?” (not just “Do you have sons?”) rather than the unnecessarily specific Ud. tiene hijos e hijas?” “Do you have sons and daughters?”. But don’t forget that since every noun in Spanish or French has a “gender”, unlike in English, the “gender” of a noun is not as significant as the “biological gender” applying to only a few nouns in English.
    In Quebec (which is much more conscious of political correctness than France) people have been trying to avoid this by always mentioning both forms, for instance, instead of les étudiants (masc. form) for generic “the students” they will write les étudiants et les étudiantes “the male students and the female students”. This seems fair at first, but (a) results in unnecessary duplication when whatever is said applies to the whole group including both, rather than two separate groups (especially if the whole phrase has to be repeated time and again in the same text, let alone the same conversation) and (b) when people forget this awkward usage and use just the masculine in the plural, there seems to be an unwanted implication that the single word applies only to males. (a) is especially awkward when a word has masculine and feminine forms that sound exactly the same, like les professeurs et les professeures “the male teachers and the female teachers” to mean just “the teachers” (with duplication of pronouns also since there are masculine and feminine forms in the plural as well, unlike English “they”), and (b) can seem intentionally exclusive when it is meant to be generic. But not everyone agrees with this PC innovation.
    mab: I know/knew you were joking, don’t worry. I am not totally unable to recognize obvious clues.
    In 1850 an Act of Parliament gave official sanction to the recently invented concept of the “generic” he. In the language used in acts of Parliament, the new law said, “words importing the masculine gender shall be deemed and taken to include females.”
    See above. I don’t think that “generic he” was that recent, but there must have been some fluctuation about how to refer to a group which included both sexes equally (perhaps the intent was to exclude “generic they”?), so this official sanction was meant to standardize the wording and explicitly state that women were not excluded. (Too bad this was not usually considered to extend to the right to vote). This kind of wording is still being used in Canada in some official documents.
    The recent abandonment of “generic he” has meant that the awkward “he or she” (and also “him or her”, “his or her”, “his or hers”) has to be constantly reiterated, in spite of the fact that “generic they” (“them”, “their”, “theirs”) is available (though still frowned upon). Poor writers are getting all mixed up with this (as in “The participants should bring his or her papers to the meeting”).

  106. For the record:
    “For instance, are Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Ganges and Nile masculine in German while Moselle, Seine, Thames, Amazone and Saskatchewan are feminine?”
    Die Donau, der Rhein, die Rhone, der Ganges, der Nil, die Mosel, die Themse, der Amazonas, der Saskatchewan.
    I´m a good candidate for such an experiment — I´ve never heard or read “Sasketchewan” in a German-speaking context when the river, and not the province, was intended. As for the indigenous names in Europe, I agree with the commenter who said that they´re not random — they got their gender somewehere, in most cases from Celtic.
    In German gender is eroding (which is good news for learners of German and teachers of German as a foreign language). There have always been nouns that had two genders depending on where you live: I say “der Gummi” (m.) for “eraser/rubber” (a well-known false friend within English, if you still consider English one language), but “das Gummi” is preferred south of the river Main and “die Gummi” exists too, or at least it´s in the Duden.
    (For German, there is a semi-official authority: “Der Duden”. Almost every family has one collecting dust in the living room, though it has no official recognition.)
    Very often you come across noun phrases with a predicative adjective or a relative pronoun that doesn´t match, and it´s always the masculine form that´s selected. Here´s an example:
    “Die Talentschmiede von Hertha ist für seine Qualität bekannt.”
    Both “Schmiede” and “Hertha” are feminine in German.

  107. “Die Talentschmiede von Hertha ist für seine Qualität bekannt.”
    I’m sorry, that’s just wrong, it must be “ihre”. It’s my guess that the journalist of the Rheinische Post (or Neuß-Grevenbroicher Zeitung or probably both) had to quickly write something about the 15 outstanding new football talents in Germany, got confused with the preceding sentence (Ein waschechter Berliner) and didn’t have time to reread his text.
    Also, sorry to be so contrary, but my Duden does not list “die Gummi” as feminine singular.
    Just because people make mistakes, that does not seem to me to be a good indicator that gender is eroding.

  108. Not the right example then, sorry about that. But there IS a word in the Duden that has a license for all the three genders, I just can´t remember what it is.
    Of course the sentence I quoted is “just wrong” — that was my point. I should have collected these findings on a regular basis, but when I was fishing for other things (the “pluperfect” used as a past tense) I came across two or three in the Tagesschau.
    (The “Tagesschau” is an institution that structures my day. People my age (35) or older don´t make a phone call between 8PM and 8:15.)

  109. It’s house style over at Deutschlandfunk to give plurals in something like the carefully politically-correct way that Marie-Lucie describes for Quebec; »es wurde den Studentinnen und Studenten erklärt, dass…«, »die Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter haben mitgeteilt, dass…«. Now, this normally happens for names of occupations where there’s a distinct (exclusively-)feminine plural form; as I was listening to it a few months ago, some wit rendered the idiomatic phrase for ‘from the four corners of the earth’ as »aus alle herren Länderinnen und Länder«, because clearly the old version was not being sufficiently inclusive when it came to Switzerland and Turkey, hahah. (»Die Schweiz« and »die Türkei« respectively; most country names in German are neuter.)

  110. marie-lucie says:

    AK: »es wurde den Studentinnen und Studenten erklärt, dass…«
    At least the German style does not repeat the article, as Québec does: les étudiantes et les étudiants, in which the repetition of the article suggests that the two nouns refer to separate groups, as they would in les professeurs et les élèves “the teachers and the students (as opposed to using just one article for two nouns referring to a single group: les étudiantes et étudiants).

  111. Siganus Sutor says:

    Dreas: der Amazonas
    Lately I have been having second thoughts about the gender of “the Amazon” in French. Amazons being supposedly she-warriors (in old Dahomey?), I tended to think of the river as a feminine entity. But now I wonder if most people wouldn’t for instance say “à Manaus l’Amazone est plus étroit que le Rio Negro”, not plus étroite. It doesn’t shock me, finally, to see it being masculine. But la Rhône is really, really strange, don’t ask me why.

  112. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: “à Manaus l’Amazone est plus étroit que le Rio Negro”
    Is this an actual example? it sounds wrong to me, plus étroite is my only choice, just as in La Seine à Paris est beaucoup plus étroite que le Saint-Laurent à Québec.
    As for le Rhône, it is always masculine in French, and I was surprised to see it feminine in German (perhaps because of the final e in French). The name comes from Greek Rhodanos, a masculine word which is supposed to be the ancient Greek immigrants’ adaptation of a native name, probably a Celtic one.
    In Paris not far from the Louvre there are some beautiful classical bronze statues of the five grands fleuves, represented as larger than life women or men depending on the gender of their names.
    The Amazons of antiquity were said to live somewhere Northeast of Greece, in a region of plains and horse-breeding (women who ride horses are also sometimes called amazones in French). Early explorers reported that there were such women in Brazil also, hence the name given to the river. Later this name was applied to other warrior-women, such as the ones in Dahomey, but these were soldiers in the service of a king, while the Amazons of antiquity were reported as living independently of men, apart from temporary liaisons.

  113. David Marjanović says:

    But does that randomness correspond to the randomness found in nearby languages? For instance, are Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Ganges and Nile masculine in German while Moselle, Seine, Thames, Amazone and Saskatchewan are feminine?

    Yes, with the following exceptions:
    - Die Donau. I guess that’s because of the -au part (folk etymology).
    - The Rhône, when imported as such, is feminine, probably because it ends in -e (all those French -age words are feminine in German, too). Unbeknownst to most speakers of German, it actually has a German name (used around its source, just barely in the German-speaking part of Switzerland) which is masculine: Rotten.
    - Der Amazonas. Someone made it Greek all the way through, it seems. Anyway, the river is not an amazon in liquid form, it’s a river named after amazons, so there’s no a-priori reason why it should be feminine.
    - There’s nothing feminine-looking about the word Saskatchewan, so I’d make it masculine, probably by default: der Fluss, der Bach, more poetically der Strom. That’s also done to Mississippi*, Missouri, Ohio and Yukon.
    - That default I just mentioned isn’t that universal either, though. I didn’t guess that the Kamp, a river in northern Austria with IIRC a Celtic pedigree, is masculine. No idea why or why not.
    * Doesn’t that one mean “father of the waters”?
    Off the top of my head, there are two more rivers that were masculine in Latin but are feminine in German: Mur, Drau (from Murus, Dravus). Turns out they’re also feminine in Slovene: Mura, Drava. So that blame is successfully shifted.

    For German, there is a semi-official authority: “Der Duden”.

    Only considered valid in Germany, har har. Österreichisches Wörterbuch

    In German gender is eroding (which is good news for learners of German and teachers of German as a foreign language). There have always been nouns that had two genders depending on where you live:

    That’s not “eroding”, that’s an added complication. I’d say it’s a sign of life! :-)

    “das Gummi” is preferred south of the river Main

    Not all the way south, however. In Austria, it marks you as coming from Germany.

    “Die Talentschmiede von Hertha ist für seine Qualität bekannt.”

    WTF…
    One word: Grauniad. I absolutely cannot believe this is something a native speaker would produce consciously.

    But there IS a word in the Duden that has a license for all the three genders, I just can´t remember what it is.

    I can offer one: Kiefer. But when masculine or neuter, it means “jaw”, and when feminine, it means “pine”… two random homophones (in the nominative singular, that is).

    when I was fishing for other things (the “pluperfect” used as a past tense)

    Yeah, that’s a deeply bizarre hypercorrectivism that occurs in some places in Germany (but not elsewhere). Heidi Klum: “Und? Wie war’s gewesen?” — she meant “how was it”, not “how had it been”.

    most country names in German are neuter

    (And articleless like in English.)

    »es wurde den Studentinnen und Studenten erklärt, dass…«,

    In written form this has an established abbreviation: StudentInnen. Nobody has ever dared to try to pronounce that in public so far, however. In my family we pronounce it, as a joke, with a glottal stop in front of the capital I.

  114. David Marjanović says:

    To — sort of — return to the topic, all cities are neuter and articleless in German (so, most of the time, you don’t even notice they have a gender at all). Moscow? A woman? Not any more than a book or a knife is a woman.

  115. David Marjanović says:

    Worse yet: The only reason why anyone would consider St. Petersburg masculine is that it ends in a consonant, which automatically makes it masculine in Russian. Not only is it neuter-and-articleless in German, it’s a compound of die Burg

  116. David Marjanović says:

    What if I continue my late-night ramble? In German, devices that do something tend to be masculine, I think. In French, they’re feminine: imprimante “printer”, often photocopieuse, and so on, while the thinking-rather-than-working computer is masculine (ordi(nateur)). In Spanish, even the computer sometimes becomes feminine…

  117. David Marjanović says:

    Not any more than a book

    Книга. Not exactly an argument that would convince a Russian…
    Something tells me I should go to bed.

  118. marie-lucie says:

    DM: Mississippi – * Doesn’t that one mean “father of the waters”?
    No, that is a fiction dating from the time when Native American names were supposed to be particularly poetic. The name is (an adaptation) from a language of the Algonquian family.
    According to Wikipedia, “The name Mississippi is derived from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi (“Great River”) or gichi-ziibi (“Big River”).” The first form is more likely (the second one may be from a closely related dialect or language). Ojibwe, (also written Ojibway and other spellings), which is spoken on both sides of the US-Canada border, is indeed an Algonquian language.

  119. marie-lucie says:

    DM: St Petersburg: Not only is it neuter-and-articleless in German, it’s a compound of die Burg…
    In French this is Saint-Petersbourg, an interesting blend of French and German. le bourg (masc) is a borrowing from a Germanic language (probably Frankish) into a very old form of French, related to German die Burg (fem). It originally referred to a largish village or small town which was enclosed by defensive walls. The inhabitants of such a place (mostly shopkeepers and craftspeople) were known as bourgeois.
    In German, devices that do something tend to be masculine, I think. In French, they’re feminine: imprimante “printer”, often photocopieuse, and so on, while the thinking-rather-than-working computer is masculine (ordi(nateur)).
    In French it is not quite as simple as this, but there are some general tendencies, which have been studied but which I can’t remember clearly at the moment.

  120. What should we conclude from Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi having four male rivers while Visconti’s Fontaine Louvois has four female rivers?

  121. marie-lucie says:

    The Quattro Fiumi are four fleuves known internationally for their size, with masculine names and therefore represented by men, in static poses evoking strength and majesty. Besides their number, the four female figures on the smaller Fontaine Louvois have nothing else in common with those on the Bernini fountain. The three feminine-named fleuves of France (la Seine, la Loire, la Garonne), and one large rivière (la Saône, which flows into le Rhône) are represented as women linked in a kind of dance and give an impression of motion in keeping with the watery and changeable nature of rivers. (I won’t comment further on the obvious stereotypes).

  122. Unbeknownst to most speakers of German, it actually has a German name (used around its source, just barely in the German-speaking part of Switzerland) which is masculine: Rotten.
    God, how I love learning things like this.

  123. I checked Wikipedia to make sure they had that tidbit, which they do in the German version: “Der ursprüngliche deutsche Name der Rhone Rotten ist nur noch im Oberwallis in Gebrauch, meist in der Form Rottu.”

  124. Johnny Rotten’s originally Swiss? I guess that accounts for his blond hair and aryan features.

  125. marie-lucie says:

    Rhône/Rhodanos/Rotten-Rottu
    I had never heard that there were different names for the river in Switzerland (where it has its source), but the whole thing makes sense. Close to its source, the fleuve known in French as le Rhône is an insignificant river, and its (masculine) name is only known locally. It grows steadily larger after passing through Lake Leman (Geneva) and entering France, and its economic importance also grows as it gathers the water of tributaries on its way to the Mediterranean, so that it is its French name which is known outside the French borders, for instance in Germany. In the process of adoption/adaptation into the German language, its original masculine gender has been changed to feminine, since the name Rhône does not look masculine to German eyes, nor does its German pronunciation (derived from the writing) sound masculine to German ears.
    The Swiss names Rotten and Rottu must be from the same root rot as the ancestor of French Rhône (see my earlier post). These names (all masculine) are consistent with a Celtic origin, in keeping with the fact that Celtic languages were formerly spoken over a wide area of West-Central Europe, before they were replaced by Germanic languages in Germany and Austria and by Latin in the West (France, Spain, Portugal).

  126. It does seem odd to me that the linguistically chauvinistic Germans (who use loan translations rather than borrowing words) would give up a good native name like Rotten in favor of the Frenchy Rhône. I guess, though, it was such a local name the folks in German cultural centers weren’t aware of it.

  127. marie-lucie says:

    LH: Yes, that’s what I mean. Neither the beginning (near the source) nor the main part of the river are in Germany. Also, there was a time when French was in high prestige in Germany. When reading Goethe in German (a long time ago) I was surprised at the large number of French words, which are no longer used in present-day German.

  128. DM: didn’t quite get your late-night rambles about Moscow and women and books, etc. Not sure if this is a response, but: the fact that Moskva is feminine allowed/encouraged centuries of literary and poetic ruminations on Mother Moskva (although I suppose it might have gone the other way; there are some indications that the trading post was originally Moskov). Rus’ and Rossiya are also feminine. St Pete, the invented city, is left-brain male in the Russian psyche.

  129. When reading Goethe in German (a long time ago) I was surprised at the large number of French words, which are no longer used in present-day German.
    Ah, interesting—I wasn’t aware of that.

  130. Christophe Strobbe says:

    Marie-Lucie’s contribution on gender of place names in French made me wonder how it is in Dutch, and it turns out to be simpler than I expected. Names of towns, cities, countries and continents are neuter. They rarely need a definite article (Dutch uses “de” for masculine and feminine; “het” for neuter), but if they need one, it is always “het”. For example: “Brugge is het Venetië van het Noorden” (“Bruges is the Venice of the North”).
    But it gets a little bit complicated when you need a possessive pronoun; for example: “Venetië en zijn gondels” (literally: “Venice and his/its gondolas”). The possessive pronoun for neuter is “zijn” but this is also the masculine possessive pronoun. However, speakers of Dutch who are still familiar with dialects have a greater awareness of grammatical gender: whereas people who only know standard Dutch tend to treat most nouns with “de” as masculine, people who are still familiar with dialects (mostly in the south of the Netherlands and in Flanders) often make a distinction between masculine and feminine nouns with “de”. So some people will say: “De stad en haar inwoners”, whereas speakers of Standard Dutch would say: “De stad en zijn inwoners” (“the city and her/his inhabitants”). This sometimes also affects the choice of pronouns when referring to a city with both “stad” and its name, for example: “de stad Venetië en haar inwoners” (literally: “the city [of] Venice and her inhabitants”), “de gemeente Breda en haar inwoners” (“the municipality of Breda…”; “gemeente” is also feminine). But people are not always sure if they should say “his” or “her”.
    “Land” (country) is neuter so you wouldn’t expect any problems when referring to “het land Suriname en zijn inwoners” (“the country [of] Suriname …”), but I came across a debate on an advertisement by the Dutch (in this case: “from the Netherlands”, not just in the Dutch language) newspaper “Het Parool”: “Het Parool feliciteert de rest van Nederland met haar nieuwe krant” (“Het Parool congratulates the rest of the Netherlands on her new newspaper”). “Rest” is a collective noun, and the traditional possessive pronoun for this is “haar” (so “haar” does not only mean “her” but also “their”), but some people objected that “Nederland” is a country name (and country names are neuter), so “haar” should be replaced with “zijn”. Then others objected that “zijn” sounds masculine… The psychology of gender.
    Sources: Mannelijk of vrouwlijk? (“Masculine or feminine?”), Zijn / haar (de stad en – inwoners) (“his/her: the city and – inhabitants”), Zijn / haar (Venetië en – gondels) (“his/her: Venice and – gondolas”), De rest van Nederland is vrouwelijk (“The rest of the Netherlands is/are feminine”).

  131. Re: the weird spam.
    At first I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then I found it incredibly annoying. And now not only am I used to it, I’m beginning to enjoy it. It lends a surreal touch to our discussions, as if we were in an Ionesco play. Or had a slightly dotty and deaf ancient aunt chiming in inappropriately.
    But, spammers, I NEVER CLICK ON YOUR LINKS, so all your efforts to sell me something are wasted.

  132. Siganus Sutor says:

    Marie-Lucie: Is this an actual example?
    It’s just a phrase I made up to illustrate the fact that having a masculine Amazon wasn’t that shocking. Just like you, for me l’Amazone was feminine. That was my first impression. But when I saw Dreas write der Amazonas I started to think that for some French speakers it could well be masculine too. From a few sources (the true source of the Amazon has been a long-running question, though):
    On Wikipédia:
    “L’Amazone est à lui seul à l’origine de 18% du volume total d’eau douce déversée dans les océans du monde.”
    “L’Amazone inférieur semble avoir été un golfe de l’océan Atlantique”.
    In ‘Grand Larousse’:
    “L’Amazone, proprement dit, naît de la confluence de cours d’eau andins. Il porte souvent le nom de Solimões jusqu’à la confluence du Rio Negro.”
    But in Harrap’s:
    Amazon N. 1 (river) the (river) Amazon – l’Amazone f.”
    So it’s feminine for Harrap’s and masculine for Larousse as well as for those who wrote the article on Wikipédia. It’s somehow funny to see that there was some uncertainty about the true sex of the martial Amazons — were they some sort of masculinised women? were they “true” women? — and that there is some uncertainty too in the gender of the French name of a river named after them.

  133. Siganus Sutor says:

    It might be a bit off-topic, but since I just mentioned the antique “female”* warriors and since I just read this article on the BBC website, I’m tempted to mention here how shocking it is that around one in every three women serving in the military in Iraq has been raped. Not by an enemy that captured them, no: it was done by their own “comrades”.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8005198.stm
    One of the interviewed women soldiers has this to say: “He told me in Vietnam they had prostitutes, but they don’t have those in Iraq, so they have women soldiers instead.” If it wasn’t so tragic and distressing, one could almost laugh at the fact that in argot, and more specifically in police slang, une amazone is a prostitute working in a car.
     
     
    * I’ve probably already said, here, how much I hated to hear women being referred to as “females”, but I can’t help myself repeating it: I hate it. (Sorry for the rant Steve.)

  134. Siganus Sutor says:

    Spammer: Hi! I’m a new reader, and I really like your blog. Meantime I recommend…
    I used to have a boss who used to say “in the meanwhile”. I never dared to say anything to him about it. Coward.

  135. marie-lucie says:

    “yumiao” has been recommending a lot of things.

  136. But will recommend them no more—I’ve placed that string of letters on the MT-Blacklist!

  137. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: (limiting my comments to the linguistic aspects of your post):
    “in police slang, une amazone is a prostitute working in a car.”
    A recent form of independent private enterprise, using a van rather than a car. I don’t think it is limited to police usage.
    women being referred to as “females”
    There are many instances of this in Jane Austen, although I don’t think the present usage here is a continuation of JA’s.
    In French of course, une femelle used for a woman (as opoposed to a female animal, like one of AJP’s cute goats) is very derogatory in a non-specific way (eg it does not refer to a woman’s disreputable activities).

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