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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more



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Subject: To what extent can grammar be sexist?
Question: Marie Darrieussecq, the French novelist, said recently on BBC
Radio that the freedom of women in France is very much a matter
of words and iit is related to the language: you have to add an e for
the feminine form as if being a woman was an accident as opposed
tp the universal masculine normality. Grammatically, one man
rules over any number of women and if, for example, you want to
say five million women and a dog, you have to use the masculine
because dog is masculine. She added that when a young girl at
school, she learnt that the masculine rules over the feminine and
that the language says something about the society.

To what extent is this argument valid? I have always understood
noun gender as a way of dividing nouns into classes rather than a
reflection of human gender differences (famously, the German for
girl is neuter) and the Bantu languages, less confusingly, use
instead the term noun classes, of which there are many. Is this
really a case of projecting society's historic characteristics onto
grammar rather than grammar refledting society or is it a two-way
process?

Reply: I think it is more a matter of projecting society's
characteristics onto the language rather than vice versa. In
Chinese, for example, there is no masculine/feminine distinction
in the pronoun system, and yet Chinese society was historically
sexist and remains so in spite of recent political changes.

Reply From: Marilyn N Silva      click here to access email
 
Date: 29-Nov-2012
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: To what extent can grammar be sexist?    Susan D Fischer     (29-Nov-2012)
  2. Re: To what extent can grammar be sexist?    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (03-Dec-2012)
  3. Re: To what extent can grammar be sexist?    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (30-Nov-2012)
  4. Re: To what extent can grammar be sexist?    Steven Schaufele     (30-Nov-2012)

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