Natural gender is simply the gender of a person, animal or character. Grammatical gender is a way of categorising nouns; it does not necessarily match up with the “natural gender” of the person or object being described. Languages have different ways of assigning gender. Some go by physical characteristics of the object in question. Often mythology and cultural views on gender come in to play, too. Other languages assign gender based on the ending of the word. For example, Spanish or Portuguese words that end in “a” are usually feminine. That’s why “la mesa” or “a mesa” is feminine even though a table doesn’t physically have a gender.
Fun facts about gender and language
- In Portuguese, the word mulherão means “voluptuous woman”. However, the word itself is masculine.
- In the Ket language of Siberia, “those [nouns] of no importance to the Kets are feminine, whereas objects of importance (e.g. fish, wood) are masculine” This is probably an indicator of woman’s status in Ket society.
- The word for “manliness” is feminine in the following languages: Spanish, Latin, German, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Hindi.