Language + Gender

02021-11-10 | Uncategorized | 4 comments

While English did have three genders until around the 11th century, it has no gendered articles today. That’s modern. Gendered articles are not 21st century. In most romance languages one uses a feminine article for a female person, a male article for a male person and also a male article for any mixed gender group of people. German does the opposite. German has three articles, der for masculine, die for feminine and das for neuter. Even stranger is that the German language uses the same article – die – for multiples as is used for feminine words. Der Mann – the man, die Frau – the woman, die Männer – the men, die Frauen – the women. However, when it comes to many professions mixed groups are expressed with the male word. For example, a male teacher is der Lehrer, a female teacher is die Lehrerin. a group of female teachers is die Lehrerinnen, but a mixed group of teachers is die Lehrer – using the plural article that is the same word as the female article PLUS the word for male teacher.

I learned that in German one can use a new word combination to address a person who may either be male or female. Teacher becomes Lehrer*In and the plural becomes Lehrer*Innen. One can also use an underscore instead of the asterisk. But how does one pronounce this word? If one pronounces all of the letters Lehrer*In it would sound just like die Lehrerin. It would be cool if everyone actually pronounced the asterisk, say with a tongue click.

Germany was one of the first countries to take steps to impose both feminine and masculine forms in all official documents. One usually adds in to any profession to create the feminine version. Lehrer becomes Lehrerin, Fahrer – driver – becomes Fahrerin. American English is already past this. Words have reverted to one form, for example actor instead of actress. Flight attendent instead of stewardess. The ending “ess” was never going to work anyway. Presidentress? Killeress? Musicianess?

Pilot, baker, musician, driver… the gender doesn’t and should not matter and in that way English is the more modern and current language.


  1. Nancy

    The languages with gender make it challenging to learn the language for me as a native English speaker. I spend lots of time in Mexico and of course try to speak the language. It is the typical romance language with masculine and feminine nouns. Nouns ending in o are masculine and preceded by el (el rio = the river) and nouns ending in a are feminine and preceded by la (la ventana = the window). But of course there are always the exceptions that make it harder to learn as there are thousands of nouns. Climate is el clima and hand is la mano. And then you have words like night (noche) that don’t end in o or a. You just have to learn it is la noche. I have always thought it interesting to see what gender is attached to each thing.

    When I taught English in Thailand I learned that the Thai language has no plurals. I used to always laugh when I saw the local Chinese restaurant sign say Friday – Crab Leg. Now I understand why it was not crab legs to them.

    • ottmar

      I think gender is assigned quite arbitrarily. The sun and the moon. In German: Die Sonne und der Mond – sun is assigned the feminine gender and the moon is masculine. In French: le soleil et la lune. The exact opposite.

      I agree plurals are not really necessary. One house. Two house. Simple.

      I do believe that a lot of language became more and more complicated over time so that the educated or moneyed people could set themselves apart from the rest.

  2. JaneParhamKatz

    Ottmar, I laughed out loud at your suggestion of pronouncing the asterisk as a tongue click! I love those clicking languages but wonder if I could ever learn one.

    I always was amused at giving words gender rarely for any reason. I thought it was kind of poetic.

  3. Gudrun

    Die Musik – no plural, no gender ;-) but straight wonderful forever emotional touching…… your music for me since 2006. Liebe Grüße from Germany Bavaria Franconia Erlangen


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