Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Moon and Her Gentle Light

In many languages in the world, inanimate things are sometimes assigned feminine gender in a figurative way to highlight their gentle or generous qualities.

The moon cast her gentle light on the fields.

We sometimes marvel at nature and her abundance.

However, there are some languages that always view such things as either masculine or feminine. For example, the French language inherently considers the moon - 'la lune' - feminine while in German it's masculine: 'der Mond'. Is it that the moon always impresses French speakers with its mildness above everything else? What is it then that the Germans see as masculine in the moon? It's rather unlikely that the German forefathers could understand the moon's barren harshness in those pre-scientific days when these linguistic pattens took shape.

Both these languages portray nature as feminine: 'la nature' in French and 'die Natur' in German. When it comes to other concepts, though, there seem to be differences so fundamental that even the choice of words may not be the same.

To take one distinct case, 'motherland' is a concept that should essentially be feminine in English due to its association with 'mother'. The corresponding term in French, 'la patrie', is feminine too, so we can assume that the French aren't very far from this conception themselves. The Germans, on their part, call their homeland 'das Vaterland' - the fatherland. Although those familiar with German would know that the word itself is linguistically neuter because of its base word 'das Land', there's no denying that the core concept has more to do with the masculine nature of a father.

So it could well be that not everybody around us notices the same version of the world as we do, with this type of influence coming from their mother tongues. (Now that's another thing on which the French and the Germans seem to see eye to eye: 'mother tongue' is feminine in both their views - 'la langue maternelle' in French and 'die Muttersprache' in German. There's some harmony among neighbours after all!)

(Image credit: Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel)

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