Gender in Language

One of the things that has always proven difficult for me to grasp easily is the use of gender in langauge. The one I have found the most difficult thus far is Spanish gender, which I am truly convinced must have been selected by the flip of a coin for each word. For instance, Spanish has the three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. In this language, gender is applied to nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Of course, it begins to get tricky because if you have a masculine noun, you must use the associated masculine adjective. Then you have things like definitive articles that are often added (for instance, the word el or la).

Now, that may sound somewhat straightforward, except that there are great many adjectives that are exactly the same for masculine and feminine. Also, a neuter adjective is most often the exact same as the masculine adjective. So, why bother with making all three genders? I really don’t know. It gets ridiculously confusing at some points because nouns are not separated very rigidly according to gender. In general, you could say that things ending in an -o are male and things ending in a -a are female, but its absolutely not a rule to try to follow because it doesn’t work across the board. In fact, its broken quite a lot. And don’t even get me started on those double-gendered nouns that change gender depending on the context of the sentence.

Some of it is just so … random to me. For instance, dealing with body parts, you’d think they’d be neuter in gender wouldn’t you? Well, if not, I certainly would, but then – I’d be dead wrong. I’m still not sure why la espalda (the back) is feminine and el cerebro (the brain) is male, nor why el pelo (the hair) is male and la cabeza (the head) is female. Oh! And let’s not forget that el mano (the hand), while seemingly a masculine gender, isn’t actually masculine, for some reason its an exception and feminine in gender. Overall, Spanish gender often seems entirely random to me.

For some comparison, let’s talk about how gender works in other languages. Apparently, people across the world cannot decide if something is male or female, so it’s all mixed up. For instance, in Spanish you say el sol (the Sun) and it is male, but in German you say die Sonne and it is female. Another example. In German you say der Tisch (the table) and it is masculine, but in Spanish you say la mesa and in French you say la table and both are feminine.

Just like I talked about with the use of definite articles in Spanish (like el and la) in German we have der, die, and das. Just the same, all these things in both langauges just equate the word ‘the’ in English. Why it is exactly that these langauges have to create so many variations for a single word that conveys the same meaning – I have yet to be enlightened about.

Now, to me German seems a bit kinder on making sure that the words are the gender they are, and using the neuter form in more understandable ways. As I mentioned with Spanish sometimes indicating gender by the ending of a -o (masc.) or -a (fem.), in German it is most often der (masc.), die (fem.), and das (neu.). Okay, well, at least in German you have some similarity to single word foundations because er (he), sie (she), and es (it) are very close and aligned gender correct. Meaning that the masculine ending of der includes the er ending, etc…

Of course, nothing is perfect. Because in German ein is both a masculine and neuter article. While ein, cannot be plural it can get confusing because there are similar words that step into its place such as meine. Perhaps it makes up for that fact in that all nouns, regardless of their gender, become die when they are made plural.

Overall, I find gender to be one of the most confusing aspects of any language. Save only for memorization, I’m not sure that any of them have a set of rules they actually follow all the time. Sometimes, I feel I am both lucky and cursed to speak English (a gender-neutral language) as my primary language – it makes understanding the usefulness of gender in other languages much more difficult.

~Nicole

One thought

  1. Quote” I feel I am both lucky and cursed to speak English (a gender-neutral language) as my primary language – it makes understanding the usefulness of gender in other languages much more difficult”

    That’s what make English a practical and easy language to learn (despite the pronunciation which is always a pain in the @#@!#@).

    Gender is beautiful in poetry, gender is not related with sex ) You can say in the opposite way. English doesn’t; make any sense in consistency.,you can pronouns one word in two different ways , for example either, neither, or you can pronouns two different words exactly the same, for example hair, hare. Grammar in English is not consistent at all.

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