Monday, 20 January 2020

Gender matters!

I have just completed a huge number of exercises about words for my Italian conversation class homework: masculine and feminine forms of words for the most part, recognising patterns in the way words change from one gender to another. It was a series of exercises intended to make us extend our vocabulary - not difficult, just time consuming. It’s the kind of thing I used to set my students back when I was a teacher of Spanish and French.

And it brings me to this article about opinions in Spain about the gender of words. It’s not that people object to words having gender but that some people think that this gender question is discriminatory and puts women down. Here is a little sample:-

“Montero, the equality minister, was ridiculed when she referred to a spokeswoman (portavoz) as a “portavoza” because voz is a feminine noun, whether it pertains to a man or a woman.”

What a load of cobblers! Or is there a feminine form of “cobblers”?

There is no such word as “voza” in Spanish. “Portavoz” is what they call in linguistic circles a portemanteau word, made up of a bit of a verb + a noun. So a spokesman (or woman) is really a voice-carrier. Other examples are “abrebotellas” - bottle opener, “sacacorchas” -cork screw, literally cork -taker-outer, “limpiabotas” - shoe-cleaner.

All these words are masculine. It’s just the way it is.

Now, as I have often explained to students, designating a word masculine or feminine is completely arbitrary and has nothing to do with gender equality. It all goes back to Latin.

If “el portavoz” discriminates against women, then “la persona”, always feminine regardless of the gender of the person concerned, discriminates against men. Yet you can say “Pedro es una persona simp├ítica” - Peter is a nice person - and the adjective is feminine because the noun is feminine, not because we have any doubts about Pedro’s masculinity.

And to think that in English we are supposed to refer to women who act as “actors” because the word “actress” is considered to be discriminatory.

 It’s all crazy! Surely there are more important equality issues to get worked up about.

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