Use of female and male nouns in English
Thread poster: Luke Hubbard

Luke Hubbard  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:37
German to English
+ ...
Sep 4, 2017

Dear all,

Since I studied German and Spanish and now I've nearly finished my first year of my MA in Translation Studies, I keep looking at the languages and comparing them. Something which may sound very basic but something I thought of, was the fact that in English there is no article to denote masculine or feminine unlike der/die and el/la.

However what I found interesting was that in English we say:

wallet (man)
purse (female)

Whereas in German 'der Geldbeutel' and Spanish 'la cartera' there is no difference between them and used for both masc. and fem.

Does anyone else have any other examples and can someone maybe explain why this is the case?


 

Sarah Lewis-Morgan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:37
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
The items themselves are not masculine or feminine Sep 4, 2017

Your examples of wallet and purse refer to two distinct items. A wallet holds notes and maybe cards, while a purse holds coins as well as (often) having a wallet section. Women may carry a wallet and men may carry a purse (although the latter case is unusual), but usually men favour a wallet for notes, with loose change making a hole in their pocket and women carry a purse. The item itself does not have a gender. Here where I live in Germany, I carry a Portemonnaie, which is neuter. Regional difference in vocabulary, I suppose.

I do the occasional English teaching, and when I am teaching students I tell them that if it has two legs and walks it is either masculine or feminine, while everything else is neuter, unless you know that the animal in question is either male or female (my dog is a she, for instance). Then there are the exceptions in poetry ("The sun was shining on the sea, shining with all his might, he did his very best to make the billows smooth and bright. And that was odd because it was the middle of the night. The moon was shining sulkily, because she thought the sun had got no business to be there, after the day was done. It's very rude of him, she said, to come and spoil the fun." - Lewis Carroll). Sometimes machines are given genders - men (generally!) might refer to their car, boat or plane , for instance, as "she". But strictly speaking if it is not alive it is neuter as far as the English language is concerned. Unlike French or Spanish, and like German, we do actually have three genders

I tell my students that English is easy - instead of having to chose between der, die, das, den, dem, des... we have one word. Some of them, of course disagree about the "easy" part.


 

Mair A-W (PhD)
Germany
Local time: 20:37
Member (2016)
German to English
+ ...
Really? Sep 4, 2017

Lukeh17 wrote:

Dear all,

Since I studied German and Spanish and now I've nearly finished my first year of my MA in Translation Studies, I keep looking at the languages and comparing them. Something which may sound very basic but something I thought of, was the fact that in English there is no article to denote masculine or feminine unlike der/die and el/la.

However what I found interesting was that in English we say:

wallet (man)
purse (female)

Whereas in German 'der Geldbeutel' and Spanish 'la cartera' there is no difference between them and used for both masc. and fem.

Does anyone else have any other examples and can someone maybe explain why this is the case?


Um, we do? I consider "purse" and "wallet" to be different articles, either of which may be carried by a woman or man. The purse will typically hold loose change and the wallet cards and perhaps notes.


 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 03:37
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Are you carrying a purse or a purse? Sep 4, 2017

1. British A small pouch of leather or plastic used for carrying money, typically by a woman.

2. North American A handbag.


 

Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:37
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Look to the pronouns for gender in English Sep 4, 2017

English has natural gender, unlike German and Spanish, which have grammatical gender.

'She' for female humans, and sometimes animals.
'He' for male humans, and sometimes animals.
'It' for things and animals, and sometimes humans (babies).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_in_English




[Edited at 2017-09-04 20:17 GMT]


 

Mair A-W (PhD)
Germany
Local time: 20:37
Member (2016)
German to English
+ ...
"Horses sweat, Men perspire, and Women glow." Sep 5, 2017

Lukeh17 wrote:


Does anyone else have any other examples and can someone maybe explain why this is the case?


Manscara/mascara & guyliner/eyeliner
Cold/manflu

And, of course, "Horses sweat, Men perspire, and Women glow."


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Except 'historically', why exactly a baby is IT, while ships and swallows are called SHE? Sep 5, 2017

If only languages were so simple and clear, not ever growing and mutating Frankensteinish Chimera-thieves...

On the other hand, I had never got into troubles calling non-animated things IT/THEY as required.


 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
[The Scream] Sep 5, 2017

There seems to be some confusion between grammatical gender and gender stereotyping here...

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:37
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
humph Sep 5, 2017

like men wear trousers and women wear skirts, ain't it!

Basically the absence of gender except when obvious helps a lot towards achieving politically correct speech.

In the agony aunt column at the PC Guardian for example, there's never anything to give you a clue as to the gender of the person writing in. Funnily enough, whenever the person expresses any jealousy, they are assumed to be female by the majority of people commenting on the article.
This situation would be practically impossible in languages where adjectives have endings according to gender.


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 20:37
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I envy other languages their gender-neutral pronouns... Sep 5, 2017

English prose gets so clumsy if you have to keep writing he/she or him/her etc.
As a mild feminist, I prefer (s)he, but it is even more cumbersome in writing for a poor typist like me... I am delighted that singular 'they' is now officially acceptable on both sides of the Atlantic!

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/they
https://www.merriam-webster.com/video/the-awkward-case-of-his-o
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/08/donald-trump-may-win-this-years-word-of-the-year/?utm_term=.feabe50ee284

There are definitely gender associations with many words: occupations, for instance. Nurses are women (except when they are not), and drivers of exciting vehicles like trains and fire engines are often men. (Again, except when they're not...)

My mother might say 'a handsome woman', referring to a certain type, but it would be unkind to call men or boys 'pretty', and in some cases more than your life's worth to do it to their faces!

When I worked in-house, a student who was planning a visit asked about our dress code... and we looked round the office. Five very different individuals, two men and three women. Definitely not formal.
'Anything that doesn't generate static electricity between the computers and the artificial fibre carpets', we said.
'As long as it's comfortable and hygienic', said someone.
"He wants to wear a dress, that's fine by me," drawled the Canadian, "But I wouldn't!"


 


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Use of female and male nouns in English

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