Thursday, 9 June 2011

Gender issues

The assignment of gender to nouns in English is logical. The noun is masculine, feminine or neuter according to whether the object it describes has these characteristics by nature. (With a few exceptions, like ship)

As a lad learning French, I was puzzled but not dismayed to learn that every French noun is either masculine or feminine, with no apparent rhyme or reason. But I was astonished by the straightforward illogic of German with its three perfectly sensible genders, all assigned to nouns at random. I learn that some languages have even more genders, including one with 14 or so. I guess that gender in language is essentially an abstract concept.

Some curious anomalies arise in French. Vagina is masculine (le vagin) as are breast (le sein) and tit (le nichon). And while penis is mercifully masculine (same word in English and French), dick (la bite) is feminine. Very odd.

Which leads on to the curious fact that some words have one gender in the singular, and the other one in the plural. French for organ (the musical instrument often found in churches) is orgue (pronounced "org"). Our French teacher told us that in the singular it is masculine, and in the plural it is feminine. I pointed out that this must be because only women have multiple orgs. No-one laughed. A bit straight-laced, I reckon, our French class.


tony said...

Mark, a joy to read. Tony.

Mark said...

Only women have multiple orgs - I could say 'speak for yourself'. I wish!

Interesting and funny post.

@eloh said...

This is really funny. I had to bookmark it to "share".

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