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5 Cultures Where Men and Women Really Don’t Speak the Same Language

How many times have you heard someone say “men and women don’t speak the same language?” But that’s not true . . . well, in English, anyway! In some parts of the world, the words people use can vary dramatically based on nothing more than gender.

For example,  in the following cultures, men and women really do speak different languages (at least some of the time).

Chukchi

Chukchi is an endangered language spoken by 5,000 people in East Siberia.  Traditionally, the Chukchi herd reindeer and hunt for seals and whales.

The Chukchi language is made up two gender-based dialects, one for men and one for women. The differences between the two dialects are mostly phonetic. For example, women typically substitute the ts sound for ch and r. So “ramkichhin,” which means “people,” is pronounced as written by men and as “tsamkitstsin” by women.

At the same time, the differences aren’t quite as simple as just swapping one consonant for another, which is why scholars refer to Chukchi as having two separate, but still mutually intelligible, gender dialects [PDF]. Read more

Translating gender identity in a non-binary world

Translating Gender Identity in a Non-Binary World

Translation, in its simplest context, involves converting words from one language to another, in order that the same information can be shared with audiences of different nationalities. However, translation is rarely that simple in reality. Messages that are acceptable in one culture can cause offence in another. The same is true of individual words. This can cause headaches for translation companies in many areas of their work, from general marketing documents to the translation of information on more sensitive topics.

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Why Do Languages Have Gender?

Why do languages have gender? For an English speaker, grammatical gender is one of the most vexing aspects of learning a new language. As Mark Twain once wrote in reference to German:

“A person’s mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it! A person’s nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience haven’t any sex at all…”

Doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it? And yet many, if not most, languages across the world divide nouns up by “gender,” often in quite arbitrary ways. Here’s a quick primer on this interesting language characteristic, along with some tips and tricks to make learning gendered languages easier.

Grammatical Gender Vs. Natural Gender

It’s important to distinguish between grammatical gender and natural gender. Natural gender is simply the gender of a person, animal or character. Grammatical gender is a way of categorising nouns; it doesn’t necessarily match up with the “natural gender” of the person or object being described.

In some languages, grammatical gender is more than just “male” or “female.” Some languages have a “neuter” class, while others have different genders for animate versus inanimate objects.

Languages also have different ways of assigning gender. Some languages go by the physical characteristics of the object in question. Often, mythology and cultural views on gender come in to play, too. For example, in the Alamblak language of Papua New Guinea, the masculine gender “includes things which are tall or long and slender, or narrow (e.g. fish, snakes, arrows and slender trees).” Hmmm. I wonder why? Read more