Tuesday, 31 March 2009

If you thought 'bitch' showed inherent linguistic sexism, try German.

Check this out.
I love languages. I love learning the logic of them (or lack thereof). People who are raised bi- or polylingual tend to grow up to have higher I.Q.s. I reckon that this is because if you can think in more than one language you are forced to think in more than one way, making you a more imaginative and adaptable person. I can speak and understand German pretty well, and the different rules and logical grammar put me in a different, more logical mindset.
I have some serious problems with it.
Take for example the words dämlich and herrlich. These, you'll learn in school, mean stupid and wonderful respectively. Except that their literal meanings are 'woman-like' and 'man-like'. No-one that I know of uses the words consciously as a sexist tool. It's just sort of insidiously...there.
And then there's schamhaar. That's the German for pubic hair and yep, it's what it sounds like: shame-hair. Yeah, that's a mentally healthy attitude to your body if ever I heard one.
These things bother me, but perhaps it's just because of the direct nature of the language. German rarely uses Greek or Latin roots for its words so any outdated implications of words just stick around rather than being lost in dead languages. Still. I have to wonder: do German feminists think das Sexismus ist dämlich? do they shave their schamhaar or show off their stolzhaar? Is it more difficult to challenge prejudice that is entrenched in the language, or does the entrenchment remove the meaning?
I'd love to think it was the latter, but the fact that German satnav producers had to use a male voice because male german drivers 'didn't want a woman telling them how to drive' makes me doubt it.


  1. I like words, too, and love the thoughtful concept here. I have a daughter that is learning Japanese and I'm constantly amazed at the way they handle masculine and feminine. Feels like the 50s in the good old US of A.

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  3. Those motherfuckers. And this is our sister language...

    And did you know that the word for handcuffs in Spanish is the same as the plural of the word for wife? What the hell, man?

    Along funnier lines...penne is pasta in Italian, but pene is penis in Spanish, and peine is comb in Spanish. God help you on a bad day...