2020-01-16 – If you think we have problems with gender in English, try Spanish. In English, we are struggling to decide on a gender-neutral pronoun (and seemingly settling on “they”). In Spanish, it’s not just the pronouns. It’s the nouns, too! Inanimate objects have gender in Spanish!
A book is male. A computer is female. A dress is male. A shirt is female. It’s loco!
Where did anyone get the idea that inanimate objects have sex? If I was inventing a language, I probably wouldn’t attribute gender to anything but human beings (more on other living things in a moment). Here’s my reasoning.
I might want to know the sex of another human being so I would know whether I could mate with them or not. I’m not really in the market to mate with books or computers or clothing! The gender of any of these objects is not something that I need to know.
That leaves the question of animals. Yes. Yes. I know that some people try to mate with animals. This would not be a big concern of mine, if I were designing a language. But humans do have an interest in the mating of one animal with another. So knowing which animal goes with which is something that a language would need to communicate.
My question is: why would you classify animals as male and female? You could classify them as orgul and brugle or X and Y or el and la (oh, I guess they do this). Any separate classification system would work just as well.
Same thing for plants, but even more so.
These are just thoughts, of course. I’m not inventing new languages. I’m studying an ancient one that has this peculiar idea that things have gender. And Spanish is not the only language like this. This was true in all the foreign languages I have ever studied: Hebrew, Latin, French, German, and Yiddish. There is something weird in the brain of our species that comes up with nonsense like this.
There is one place where Spanish is ahead of English. It does have a gender neutral pronoun for use as an indirect object or possessive: se or su. Not sure if I have that entirely correct. I’m just learning. But Google Translate is just as confused as I am. If I ask it to translate Spanish text containing these words, it defaults to a male translation, even when I know that the writer of the text intended the meaning to be female.
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