Mobile menu

Gender in translation
Thread poster: Jacek Krankowski
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
Dec 19, 2002

(...) When a language that shows grammatical gender marks gender syntactically in a way unavailable to a pronominal gender language, difficulties may arise for the translator as to how to supply the information about the sex of the person in question. In the first line of the following stanza of the poem Ninguneo, \'Nobodying\', by the Mexican writer Rosario Castellanos, the first person reference hago (\'I do\') could refer, in theory, to a woman or a man but, already, in the second line, this ambiguity is resolved, as the predicate construction reveals the sex of the referent:

¿qué diablos hago aquí en la Ciudad Lux,

presumiendo de culta y de viajada

sino aplazar la ejecución de una

sentencia que ha caído sobre mí?

Languages that do not mark gender in predicate constructions must, naturally, resort to other methods to supply the reader with the necessary information, in this case, about the sex of the protagonist in the poem:

What the devil am I doing here in the City of Lights

putting on the airs of a cultured and well-traveled woman

but simply postponing the execution of a

sentence that has been pronounced upon me?

(cit. in Ahern, 1989: 5

Apart from extending the line by adding a word and, consequently, changing the rhythm of the stanza, the translator has also slightly altered the focus of interest compared to the original text. Whereas the Spanish original focuses on \'I (type: woman) + cultured/well-traveled\', the English translation focuses on \'I + woman (type: cultured/well-traveled)\'. A back-translation from English to Spanish would, most probably, prompt: mujer [= woman] culta y viajada. In this way, this translation procedure not only adds the necessary information but, at the same time, also intensifies the focus on the fact that the referent is a female. Therefore, an apparently \'innocent\' supply of information may distort the text in a way that was not intended. Seen from an ideological perspective, the English reader in this case might interpret the stanza to be more related with \'women\'s matters\' or even \'feminism\' than was originally intended. Similar problems may occur in many other cases, in fact, everywhere where the source language, by means of agreement structures, operates differently from the target language, that is in connection with noun-modifications, pronoun uses, pronominal references, and so forth.

An interesting phenomenon that may affect languages which show grammatical gender occurs in connection with the translation of certain occupational titles. In these (few) cases, and due to societal circumstances (see also section 3), the gender of a given title may be switched to another gender. For example, Beier (1982) suggests switching the masculine gender of the German occupational title der Hutmacher (\'the hatmaker\', masc.) to the feminine gender of the Spanish title la sombrerera (fem.). The reason for this is that this profession is generally occupied by women in Spain.

It is suggested, in defiance of the shift of gender from German to Spanish, to use sombrerera for the generic occupational title and to use sombrerero only if the real-world object, i.e. the person carrying this denomination, is a male. (Beier 1982: 103-104, my translation).

While this procedure may be quite appropriate for translations of pragmatic texts (such as job advertisements), it is probably less appropriate for literary texts, where the culture of the source language is, or at least should be, more prominent.

2.1 Connotations of gender

Although, from a technical point of view, gender marking is much easier to cope with if the translation occurs between languages that both show gender, the translation process may give rise to other problems as a result of the connotations gender as such conveys[6] and, hence, also as a result of the divergent ways in which speakers may perceive the world. This is especially true with respect to metaphors and personifications, and an ideologically determined clash may occur if a specific gender in one language connotes certain properties, while the translated word in the target language belongs to another gender that conveys quite different connotations. The following quote from Roman Jacobson will suffice to exemplify this problem:

The Russian painter Repin was baffled as to why Sin had been depicted as a woman by German artists; he did not realize that \"sin\" is feminine in German (die Sünde), but masculine in Russian (grekh). Likewise a Russian child, while reading a translation of German tales, was astounded to find that Death, obviously a woman (Russian smert, fem.) was pictured as an old man (German der Tod, masc.). My sister Life, the title of a book of poems by Boris Pasternak, is quite natural in Russian, where \'life\' is feminine (zhizn), but was enough to reduce to despair the Czech poet Josef Hora in his attempt to translate these poems, since in Czech this noun is masculine (zivot). (1959: 237)[7]

Similarly, the German painter Stuck personified the gruesome war as a man (der Krieg, masc.) while, in contrast, the Polish painter Grotger represented a similar war-like figure as a woman (wojna, fem.) (de Courtenay, 1929: 246). Both references show that the translation of gender is not an \'innocent\' task, but a very complicated process that has to take into account the fact that one word of one specific gender reflects one reality in one language, while the corresponding word that possesses the opposite gender may reflect another reality.

Naturally, problems of this kind are difficult to cope with, but from a technical point of view - and despite the apparent semantic connotations of the gender of (some) words - there are, at least, three possible ways to mitigate the conflicts noted above.

In the first place, one might look for a synonym that belongs to the same gender as the source word. This method has been chosen in the following example, taken from a pragmatic text. It also demonstrates that the connotations of gender may play a decisive role in advertising. Thus, the German slogan used by the petrol company \'Esso\' Pack den Tiger in den Tank (literal translation: \'Put the tiger into the petrol tank.\') could not be translated directly into Italian, as the masculine gender of the German word, der Tiger, does not correspond with the gender of the Italian counterpart, la tigre (fem.). Presumably, because the feminine word could not connote the \'power\' and \'energy\' the masculine gender supposedly conveys (at least in traditional Western society), the advertising company chose to use another, albeit related animal, il leopardo (masc.) (Kalverkämper 1979: 61). Evidently, what is at stake here is not a faithful zoological translation, but the connotations a word of a specific gender conveys and the images these connotations will evoke. In this way, the substitution (der Tiger -> il leopardo) is based upon sex-stereotypical ideas which reflect the ideological aspects involved in the translation process.

Secondly, one might select a word from a third language that corresponds with the gender of the word in the source text. In this case, obviously, the chosen word must somehow be familiar to the reader. Wandruszka gives an instructive example: the text establishes a sex-based opposition between the male (!) God of the Sun[8] and the feminine moon (being the \'sister\' of the sun). However, in German sun is feminine and moon is masculine: just the opposite of what is intended. To make matters worse, the moon is later on to be pronominalized by the feminine relative pronoun sie (\'that\' [=\'she\']). Obviously, grammatical agreement would fail if the German word for \'moon\' der Mond were used. One solution, therefore, is to resort to another language. In this case, the Latin language is employed and the equivalent words sol and luna are introduced:

... der unbesiegbare mediterrane Sonnengott, Sol invictum, und seine sanfte Schwester Luna, die die lauen Nächte erhellen (1991: 31)

(... the invincible Mediterranean God of the Sun, Sol invictum, and his tender sister Luna that enlightens the gentle nights.)

By this procedure, both genders are switched, but the binary system that is to indicate a sex-based opposition is maintained.

Thirdly, and perhaps as a last resort, the target text could be provided with a footnote indicating the divergent gender of the word in question in the source language. In this case, however, we have to assume that the reader is capable of making this \'gender-switch\', of assigning a different connotative meaning to a word that traditionally has another.

3 Social gender

The previous section has shown some difficulties that may arise due to the cultural transfer of gender where the sex of the referent was known or presumed known in conection with metaphors and personifications. This section will focus on translations where the sex of the referent is unknown or, perhaps, not relevant.

In connection with occupational titles, it is common for speakers of languages that show pronominal gender not to select anaphoric pronouns arbitrarily. Thus, usually, a Danish speaker, for instance, will pronominalize dommer (\'judge\') with han (\'he\'), and, similarly, an English speaker \'lawyer\' with \'he\', whereas other professions usually trigger the feminine pronominal counterpart: Danish: sekretæren ... hun (\'the secretary ... she\') or English: \'the kindergarten teacher ... she\'. Everyday dialogues illustrate this phenomenon:

- My nurse told me to take five pills a day.

- Well, she should know, shouldn\'t she?

and, similarly:

- I went to the dentist yesterday. What a day!

- What did he say?

- Well, she said that if I go on like this, I\'ll be in need of false teeth very soon.

In his book Semantics, Lyons raises the following questions in an attempt to explain this pattern:

From the statement My cousin is a nurse, however, most speakers of English will infer that the person being referred to is female. Is this inference based upon an implication, which belongs to the sense of \'nurse\'? (...) Or is this inference probabilistic, being determined by our knowledge that most nurses, like most secretaries and most students of domestic science or speech therapy, happen to be female? (1977: 310).

Lyons does not supply the reader with a definite answer, but it seems appropriate to assume that the choice of pronoun is based neither on grammatical nor natural criteria as such, but more likely on a stereotypical classification (which may be a consequence of quantitative considerations) according to which certain professions relate to either females or males. Also the next quote, which relates to the Danish language, reflects the sex-biased semantic loading of various job titles:

The occupational denominations lawyer, doctor and head-master belong to a group of words in which no feminine derivation exists. At the same time, and in contradiction to librarian, we are dealing with a group in which women are still today rare; as regards these denominations, most Danish speakers [of either sex] would associate them with men. (Gomard 1985: 85, my translation and emphasis).

On the basis of these kinds of stereotypical classifications, Hellinger (1990: 61) defines the term \'social gender\' by differentiating two semantic levels:

The features [male/ female] refer to the natural gender of the person referred to; nouns with these features (e.g. woman, man, sister, brother) possess, therefore, a gender-specifying function. Nouns like lawyer or secretary on the contrary, have no gender-specifying function. Nevertheless, often the features \'generally male\', \'generally female\', respectively, are assigned to these words as a reflection of normative societal conditions.\" (Hellinger 1990: 61, my translation).

Social gender, then, is the property of a word according to which people assign \'generally male\' or \'generally female\'[9]. It may be worth pointing out that social gender assignment is not bound to any specific occupational title as such, but is dependent on pragmatic and societal considerations. One of these considerations is frequently based upon status. Thus, status explains why most English speakers today will associate the occupational title secretary with a female, whereas the denomination Foreign Secretary or Secretary of State, more often than not will evoke an image of a male.

Another important feature of social gender is its dependency on time. As the assignment of social gender is based on parameters that are determined by society, these parameters may alter due to societal changes. If we return once more to the occupational title, secretary, it may surprise people today to learn that only one century ago this occupation was predominantly executed by men. In the 19th century, then, the social gender of secretary was \'male\', i.e. the opposite of what it is today.

A similar case involving the word \'typis\' is noted by Lyons (1977: 311):

at the turn of this century [= 1900, UKN] in Britain the expression \'lady typist\' was quite commonly employed in contexts (e.g. in advertisements) in which \'typist\' would now be used.

The quotation implies that the word \'typist\' at the beginning af the 20th century had to be modified by \'lady\', because \'typist\' without any sex-specific modification referred to men alone. However, during the past 100 years changing social roles have brought about a change in the social gender of the word \'typist\', so that now it is no longer necessary to mark the gender with the word \'lady\' or \'female\'.

3.1 Translation problems due to social gender

Due to its dependency on societal and chronological conditions, the assignment of social gender frequently turns out to be a rather complicated part of the translation process. The following examples[10] are intended, on the one hand, to demonstrate some ways in which translators have tried to disentangle the problems and, on the other, to show that the choices made imply ideological considerations as well.

In Daphne du Maurier\'s gothic-like novel Rebecca, the protagonists, Maxim and his wife, have invited some relatives to their once-deserted manor in the English countryside. After dinner, Maxim\'s brother-in-law expresses his admiration for the meal by saying:

Same cook I suppose, Maxim?

There is no later reference in the book to the cook and the sex of this chef de cuisine is never revealed. How does a translator, whose task it is to translate the sentence into a language that shows grammatical gender, cope with this problem? How does he/she know whether the cook is male or female? There seems to be no one agreed solution as five different translations into grammatical gender languages show:

French: la meme cuisinière

Italian : lo stesso cuoco

Spanish: el mismo cocinero

Portuguese: a mesma cozinheira

German: dieselbe Köchin

(Wandruszka 1969: 173)

The example demonstrates that three translators assigned \'generally female\' and two \'generally male\' as the social gender of cook. Whether this is due to the translators\' lack of knowledge as to what type of cook is more likely to be in a noble English manor or whether this is due to their ideological expectations as to what is likely in their own community, is an open question.

A similar example stems from Bernard Shaw\'s Back to Methuselah. The original text is as follows:

One of my secretaries was remarking only this morning how well and young I am looking.

In this case the translators chose the following solutions:

French: Un de mes secrétaires

Italian: Uno dei miei segretari

Spanish: Una de mis secretarias

Portuguese: Uma das minhas secretárias

German: Einer meiner Sekretäre

(Wandruszka 1969: 174)

Again, the translators disagree: three of them imagined the flatterer to be a male[11] and two decided the secretary was a female. As no clues are given in the text as to the sex of the referent, the translators have to make their choice in accordance with the knowledge they possess of the source community.

3.2 Same target language but different output

The surprising incongruity reflected by the translations above could lead to the assumption that the assignment of social gender depends on the target language as such, perhaps because of its internal structure. However, the next fragment and its translations demonstrate that the target language as such is not crucial, but, rather, the cultural and, hence, ideological assumptions in which the language is \'embedded\'.

The modern romance Edge of Dawn written by Maura Seger begins with a description of the preparations for a garden-party dinner:

Since early in the day, the caterer and his staff had been on hand, setting the tables with gleaming china, crystal and silver and beginning preparations for the dinner. (1984: 7, my emphasis)

The caterer, obviously, is a man (due to his), but, as there is no pronominal reference to staff, difficulties arise as to the sex of this group? How are we to know whether the caterer\'s helpers are females or males or, perhaps, both?

In 1986, two years after the English original had appeared, the novel was translated into Spanish and an edition was published both in Spain and in Mexico. Although Mexican Spanish and Peninsular Spanish are very close (the average reader can easily read books published in one country and vice versa), the Peninsular edition was revised extensively before entering the Mexican market (a process, by the way, editors usually would not undertake with respect to \'decent\' literature). The version that was published in Spain begins as follows:

Ya desde por la mañana, muy temprano, el proveedor y sus empleadas [= employees (fem.), UKN] trabajaban alrededor de las mesas... (1986a: 3)

This example demonstrates that the Spanish translator chose to interpret staff to mean females only. In comparison, surprisingly, the Mexican editor assigns just the opposite social gender to the same word:

Desde la mañana, muy temprano, el proveedor y sus empleados [= employees (masc.), UKN] trabajaban colocando la vajilla ... (1986b: 3)

In this case the caterer\'s helpers all turn out to be men, or, subsidiarily, both men and women, if we interpret the masculine form as a generic reference. In the latter interpretation, the masculine form leaves the question open, just as was the case in the English original.

Although the above example demonstrates that the assignment of social gender is definitely not language bound[12], it raises other interesting questions: can we assume that Mexican readers are more likely to imagine both women and men as a caterer\'s helpers, whereas Spanish readers are more inclined to accept females only in this position? If so, is the translator/editor then accommodating to the readers\' expectations instead of to the original text? At this stage, no definite answers can be given, but the examples demonstrate that the assignment of social gender is not an arbitrary process in translation and that decisive ideological aspects are involved.

The next example shows that problems related to the assignment of social gender in translation are not limited to occupational titles alone (although this aspect has most frequently appeared in the linguistic literature [13]). The title as such of the book \"Naked Came the Stranger\" (by Penelope Ashe, New York, 1969) does not reveal whether the reader has to imagine the stranger to be female or male. Nevertheless, as French is a language that shows grammatical gender, the French translator had to make a choice and he opted for the feminine gender: L\'étrangere est arrivée nue (Wandruszka 1981: 329). Naturally, although the original title is semantically ambiguous, other indications may reveal the sex of the referent in question: in this case the translator\'s task was facilitated by the cover photo showing a girl (ibid.).

Also, in the next example, the translator was forced to make a choice (instead of leaving it to the reader her-/himself). Again, I take an example from Wandruszka (1969: 172), who mentions the famous sonnets by Shakespeare, which he dedicated to a \'friend\'. His sonnet 104 begins with the line:

To me, fair friend, you never can be old

Is this invocation addressed to a male or a female? Wandruszka claims (ibid.) that the debate on how to answer this question is still going on and draws attention to two different translations into German from the last century, published within a time span of only six years:

Für mich, Geliebte ... (from 1867, translated by Karl Simrock)

Für mich, Geliebter ... (from 1873, translated by Friedrich Bodenstedt)

The first translation refers to a female, the second to a male. Naturally, if the target language is a language that shows grammatical gender, the translator may be forced to choose one and only one solution [14] if he/she for reasons of e.g. length or prosody refrains from choosing more generic references like geliebtes Wesen \'beloved creature\' or geliebte Person \'beloved person\'[15]. Be that as it may, it is clear that problems are involved, and the resolution of which may have important (and perhaps unintended) ideological implications.

We have seen, that, notwithstanding their creative skills, translators more often than not find themselves in a position where they due to the gender structure of the target language have to select one specific option. Whereas e.g. English readers can come to a decision themselves and opt for a unisex solution - that the referent in the book-title or in the sonnet is female and male alike - the readers of the translated text may find a sex-specific solution. The translator, therefore, takes the first important step in giving the word in question an ideological interpretation - even though this is a step that may turn out to be quite decisive in the interpretation of the text as a whole.(...)

--Uwe Kjær Nissen (University of Southern Denmark)

Direct link Reply with quote
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
A test Dec 19, 2002

It would be interesting to know how you fared in various languages, i.e. did you have a choice, in a reasonable everyday speech, between \"skilled workers\" masc. or fem., or \"architect\" masc. or fem.? What was your first choice anyhow for the gender-relevant words below?

APPENDIX - Translation Test

Translate paying attention to tense and verb aspect:

1) The story I\'m now relating happened when I was small.

2) Dominique is training to become a skilled worker.

3) The students from the nursing college all worked diligently.

4) You\'ll need to consult an architect for that job.

5) The researchers didn\'t come in until 10am and they left early too.

6) He had just bought a Renault 18 and recommended it to his colleague at the office.

7) If she found a good recipe in a magazine, she would always cut it out and make a copy for her neighbour.

John is going to write a letter to her friend.

9) If the translator is a woman, she may well be paid less than a man.

10) The student I\'m talking about was a good worker.

French to English translation exercise.

Le voyageur sera ravi des montagnes irlandaises, mais le sera encore plus quand il verra les lacs de Killarney.

Les Anglais considèrent que les Français sont élitistes.

J\'ai envoyé des invitations à toutes mes amies.

Son fils fréquente la même école que le mien.

Est-ce que tu lui as envoyé l\'invitation comme je t\'ai demandé?

Finalement, son ami est parti pour Paris.

Elle lui a dit que les Australliens appréciaient surtout la bière blonde.

\"Et les Australiennes avec leur bronzage intégral sont très belles\", lui a-t-elle répondu.

Le professeur est en congé de maternité et son collègue est en congé de maladie, alors les cours sont annulés aujourd\'hui.

Ça, c\'est typique! Vous êtes toutes les mêmes! Jamais vous n\'arrivez à l\'heure.

Direct link Reply with quote
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
Another test Dec 19, 2002

So, for Indo-European languages, the \"sun\" is masculine and the \"moon\" feminine--in Romance languages--while the \"sun\" is feminine and the \"moon\" masculine (and stars neuter) in Germanic languages, including Modern German and Old English.

How is it in other languages? The question is very relevant for poetry where, like in Ugo Foscolo, Professor Franco Ferrucci taught me, an entire mythology/cosmology evolves around that gender concept. In this context (but not in a Germanic one) one may argue that \"Objects which are strong or powerful are generally personified as male, while thse which are weak, passive or receptive are personified as female. Thus the sun is seen to be male while the moon (which receives light from the sun) is seen to be female.\" (

What about your language (other than falling under the Romance/Germanic pattern mentioned above)?

[ This Message was edited byn2002-12-19 14:51]

[ This Message was edited by:on2002-12-19 15:16]

Direct link Reply with quote

Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:31
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Der Tod and La Muerte: Gender shifts in an allegorical image Dec 19, 2002

Ever looked at medieval paintings on this theme, Jacek? It always struck me as a strange experience seeing Death as transvestite.

Direct link Reply with quote
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
Reply to Parrot, Dec 19, 2002

How interesting!

FYI: In Polish, \"death\" is feminine, but \"sun\" is NEUTER and \"moon\" is masculine...

Direct link Reply with quote

Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:31
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I'm out of languages for sun and moon Dec 19, 2002

But stars and planets also suffer changes. Venus is a lady in the western tradition, and an old sage or a king in the east (India/Iran). Studies indicate that in Ancient Egypt it was a bird (\"benu\", the phoenix). There, Sirius was associated with Isis (later evolving into Stella Maris), while further north it was clearly male (curiously, though, the dog image is all over the planet). These are, as you said, huge chunks of ideology. Where they hide behind proper names, there\'s no problem for the translator as long as they\'re stable, but, like isotopes, they are potentially explosive precisely because a \"bad touch\" can set them off like a land mine.

Direct link Reply with quote

Marisapad  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:31
English to Italian
+ ...
and what about Dec 19, 2002

\"ein herrliches Wetter\" in German?

I have always been told that for French people all nice things are feminine (la fleur = the flower) while for the Germans everything fantastic is masculine.

Additionally, in Germany only becoming a spouse a woman has the right to be feminine, before getting married she is simply NEUTRAL (das Fräulein).

All that accumulates up to the \"herrliches Wetter\", (marvellous, but with the root of Herr)opposed to \"dämlich\" (stupid) that has the same root of Dame.

I laways felt it very discriminating!

Direct link Reply with quote

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:31
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Gender/sex Dec 20, 2002

The modern trend to ask you in forms for your \"gender\" rather than \"sex\" is not confusing in English, but it would be in other languages.

In Spanish, woman is mujer, a masculine form word but with feminine attributes, i.e. she is la mujer, not el mujer.

In Russian, man is ìóæ÷èíà (muzhchina), a feminine word but with masculine attributes - no articles in Russian, but masculine form adjectives: õðàáðûé ìóæ÷èíà (khrabry muzhchina), a brave man.

German and French are different. Das Mädchen, das Mädel (girl) and das Weib (woman) are not only neutral but have neutral articles, adjectives etc.

French sensibly has feminine nouns for woman, girl etc. and masculine for man, boy etc.; but sentinelle (sentry), who is almost certainly a man, is la sentinelle, and once mentioned, is subsequently referred to as elle. How do French sentries feel about this?

Direct link Reply with quote

Maria Rosich Andreu  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:31
Member (2003)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
gender in translation Dec 21, 2002

Sometimes authors use the strategy of masking a character\'s gender to surprise the reader/viewer at a later stage. Of course, this is easier in languages like English, with hardly any gender morphology, than in languages like Spanish. If a character on an English-spoken movie says \"my friend\", we cannot know wether he refers to a man or a woman. Spanish translators have to choose for \"amigo/amiga\", or if the gender must remain secret, think of a creative way to solve the problem (typically, using sentences with \"persona\" or \"alguien\").

There is one book I remember from my childhood because until the last page (in my edition, 141 pages full of text) the reader does not find out wether the main character is a boy or a girl. I read the book in Catalan, a language with as much gender flection as Spanish (adj, pronouns, etc). The translators must have had so much trouble! And still they did so nicely.

For all who want to check, this book is Gene Kemp\'s \"The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler\". It\'s a children\'s book (suitable age: 12, reads my copy) but I enjoyed it when I re-red it a couple of years ago, tracking the different strategies the translators used. I recommend you try to find it in your language if you have a language with masculine and feminine words.

gretings from Tarragona

Direct link Reply with quote
xxxElena Sgarbo  Identity Verified
Italian to English
+ ...
Gender assignation in English Jan 17, 2003

Many of us grew up assigning a gender to most things by a mere arbitration of our native language. Those things may have, of course, a different gender in our minds depending on our specific dominant language.

What would English do in terms of gender assignation to nouns?
It's fun to speculate.

Below is a list of English nouns with their assigned gender. (The list may have been posted in one of our Forums before, for many people it may be a new list). Enjoy!

(PS: who do you think created the list: a man or a woman?)


- male, because they hold everything in, but you can always see right through them.

- male, because even though it appears useful for a wide variety of work, it spends most of its time just opening bottles.

KIDNEYS - female, because they always go to the bathroom in pairs.

SHOE - male, because it is usually unpolished, with its tongue hanging out.

COPIER - female, because once turned off, it takes a while to warm up.

TIRE - male, because it goes bald and is often overinflated.

HOT AIR BALLOON - male, because to get it to go anywhere you have to light a fire under it... and, of course, there\'s the hot air part.

SPONGES - female, because they are soft and squeezable and retain water.

WEB PAGE - female, because it is always getting hit on.

SUBWAY - male, because it uses the same old lines to pick people up.

HOURGLASS - female, because over time, the weight shifts to the bottom.

HAMMER - male, because it hasn't evolved much over the last 5,000 years, but it's handy to have around.

REMOTE CONTROL - female... Ha! You thought I'd say male. But consider: it gives man pleasure, he'd be lost without it, and while he doesn't always know the right buttons to push, he keeps trying....

[Edited at 2004-11-29 13:15]

Direct link Reply with quote
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
Language universals? Jan 17, 2003

Most of your reasoning, Elena, matches also the Polish mentality, except for:


TIRE - f



Have a good weekend everyone!

Direct link Reply with quote
xxxElena Sgarbo  Identity Verified
Italian to English
+ ...
Jacek, Jan 17, 2003

I wish I was as witty as to have written the gender assignation list myself!... but someone else has...not sure who.

And yes, as you know, not only in Polish, but also in Sp. and It. the word list would receive different gender classifications...

Interesting topic

[Edited at 2004-11-29 13:16]

Direct link Reply with quote

Chinara Ahmadova  Identity Verified
Azerbaijani to English
+ ...
No gender classification! Apr 16, 2010

Well, looking through all these comments, I may say that Azerbaijani translators are lucky:)

In the Azerbaijani language, there is not any gender category. All words are refered as "O" which doesn't directly refer to masculine, feminine or neutral. The meaning of this word is caught from the context. For example, if the context is spreading around a young actress, then the word "O" is understood as "she" by the reader. Or vice verse: the word "O" leads to the meaning of "he" when the soldier is talked about.

Generally, the Azerbaijani translators meet the difficulty with the sentences like that: "He did it for her." The literal translation is: "O, onu ona verdi." Here /"he"/"she"/"it" are all translated as "o" and the translator should replace them with the names of the persons in the context.

As you see, each language has its own specific problems and we, translators, have a great responsibility in making the communication more effective

Direct link Reply with quote
George Hopkins
Local time: 01:31
Swedish to English
He and she Apr 16, 2010

When translating into English it is worth remembering that the word he, unless made apparent in the source text refers to:

a person or animal of unknown or unspeciified sex

However, the word she refers without any doubt of sex to:

a female person or animal

things personified as feminine, such as cars, ships, and nations

Direct link Reply with quote

To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Gender in translation

Advanced search

Want to earn more in your spare time? Monetize your knowledge!

Do you speak one or more foreign languages? Fluency in target language + willingness & ability to help people in everyday situations could earn you $45 / hour. Download “Quiick Angel” app & become a guardian angel today

More info »
Protemos translation business management system
Create your account in minutes, and start working! 3-month trial for agencies, and free for freelancers!

The system lets you keep client/vendor database, with contacts and rates, manage projects and assign jobs to vendors, issue invoices, track payments, store and manage project files, generate business reports on turnover profit per client/manager etc.

More info »

All of
  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs