Thursday, March 22, 2012

Language and Gender.

Given that I am studying Hebrew, some comments on their treatment of gender in the language are mandatory.  First, some general comments.

European languages have annoying aspects of gender that mostly show up in articles like "a" and "the" and also adjectives, so that the French and Germans must distinguish where a noun is feminine or masculine.  Thus, we have "der Winter" - the winter - and "die Sommer" [Correction per Ursula:  Sommer is masculine .. should have checked the dictionary rather than the net!] - the summer - where winter is masculine in German and summer is feminine.  English is spared most of this, but we still have gender issues that were discovered by the feminist fanatics over the concept of humans being divided into categories of "he" and "she".  Chinese avoids this fuss with both he and she reducing to ta : he, thus, eliminating all gender strife in China.  Japanese isn't quite the same, but doesn't have much gender distinction as I recall.

Hebrew, however, is plagued with gender to a degree that I would never have imagined.  Yes, there are masculine and feminine nouns, but that is just the start.  In English we have our usual verb conjugations:

I say
He says/ She says
We say
You say

There aren't too many forms, unless we go to something irregular:

I am
He is/She is
We are
You are

The 2nd person singular form of the verb is the same, regardless of gender.  I believe that this is the same throughout most Latin derived languages.  In Hebrew, however, there are different verb forms depending on whether the subject is masculine or feminine.  This also applies to "you" as well which has four forms distinguishing masculine/feminine; singular/plural.  The gender complications affect just about everything, including nouns, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions and numbers.  What a mess!


Dee Ice Hole said...

WOW---and I am struggling mightily with Spanish.

Delirious said...

My one son is obsessed with languages right now. He really wants to learn Russian and French. Sadly, he doesn't want to learn Chinese. I could easily teach him. Oh, and he is trying to learn Arabic words. There is a man at church who was raised in Europe so speaks French, German, some Spanish and Italian. He went on a Greek speaking mission, and then majored in Arabic. (THen went to law school). I think maybe my son has been influenced by him, and is really on a language kick right now. He tried to sign up for multiple language classes for high school next year, but sadly they offer very few. (not to mention they probably won't let him)

Max Coutinho said...

Hi Looney,

Wait until you get to numbers. Yes, in Hebrew numbers have gender and the construct form: you will love it lol.

In Portuguese, Spanish and Italian we also have gender in most words (and numbers) however we do not have declinations (like in German, Russian, Finnish etc).

It's not a mess, it is a challenge. I prefer it over Sudoku LOL...

Cheers, Looney

Vid said...

In Filipino you don't have to modify any nouns or verbs for gender or number (though there is a plural marker word for nouns.) It's great.

Looney said...

@Dee Ice Hole, have fun with the Spanish! My wife did that a few years back and went around the house putting stickers on everything with their Spanish name. We joked that she would put a sticker on my forehead with the word "Esposo"

Looney said...

@Delirious, sounds like you just have a rebellious son ... refusing to study Chinese!

I was impressed by your story of the one man who studied the various languages, but then started wondering when you said that he finished by studying legalese. Hmmm.

Looney said...

@Max, the construct form did reach out of the textbook and slap me across the face about two weeks back.

But thanks for encouraging me to view all this as a puzzle instead of a mess.

Looney said...

@Vid, that does sound like a much easier language to deal with. Maybe that is why Filipinos are happier people?

Rummuser said...

Hindi and the other non Dravidian languages in India too suffer from this malady. There is no neuter gender at all!