Use of gender in language

One of the biggest differences between English and German is that articles are not gendered in one language and gendered in the other. English gives us the all encompassing ‘the’. German distinguishes between der (male), die (female), and das (neutrum, or thing).
Every noun has a gender in German. The table, the door, the bed, the lamp, the house, the garden hose will turn into der Tisch, die Tuer, das Bett, die Lampe, das Haus and der Gartenschlauch.
Why certain things have turned male, female, or neutral is anybody’s guess. Sometimes the item in question is named in accordance with the gender of the people who used it. Der Hut (the hat) and die Haube (the bonnet) come to mind. Sometimes it is not. See for example: Die Hose (the pants) and der Rock (the skirt).
Several romanic languages like Spanish and French also use gender in their articles. And coming from a language that had that particular quirk, I thought, well learning those will be easy. Not so. Because apparently the romanic speakers derived their gender differently than the germanic speakers. Meaning that more often than not, the genders don’t match up.
A prominent example is the moon. It is female in French and Spanish. It is a definite male in German.
Another interesting aspect of gendered articles is, that animals are given them as well.
For example: The cat and the dog. Die Katze is female. Der Hund is male. Now, if you want to specify a male cat, you use a whole different word. An identified male cat is called: Kater. So don’t be surprised to encounter a sentence like this: Diese Katze ist ein Kater. (This cat is a male cat.)
The same goes for dogs. The identified female dog is called: Huendin. Cat and dog owners are usually very precise and quick to point out what gender their particular pet has. So you receive more specific information this way.
So what does it mean to me a a native German speaker to go without gendered articles in English? Not that much. It doesn’t come up in regular conversations. However, I do still think along the gendered specifications. A chair will always be male to me. A curtain will always be female. And in the heat of the moment I might identify an animal as a he or a she, according to their gendered specifications in German. For example I might say: “Look at that bird! See how high he is flying.”
Also, I get confused when people call their boat or their plane or their car a she. These things are pretty much an it to me.


About scratchingcat

Writer, mother, friend.
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