Lera Boroditsky discusses her research on differences in gender stereotypes in HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? (www.edge.org, June 12). She asks “Do the languages we speak shape the way we see the world, the way we think, and the way we live our lives?” She thinks they do:
In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a “key” — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged,” “metal,” “serrated,” and “useful,” whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say “golden,” “intricate,” “little,” “lovely,” “shiny,” and “tiny.” To describe a “bridge,” which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said “beautiful,” “elegant,” “fragile,” “peaceful,” “pretty,” and “slender,” and the Spanish speakers said “big,” “dangerous,” “long,” “strong,” “sturdy,” and “towering.” This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks…
Look at some famous examples of personification in art — the ways in which abstract entities such as death, sin, victory, or time are given human form. How does an artist decide whether death, say, or time should be painted as a man or a woman? It turns out that in 85 percent of such personifications, whether a male or female figure is chosen is predicted by the grammatical gender of the word in the artist’s native language. So, for example, German painters are more likely to paint death as a man, whereas Russian painters are more likely to paint death as a woman.”
Note: But did grammar come before culture? Can’t believe that. You’ll find “she” used in English for boats and tools, abstractions (except God), cities and countries, the Church … and the army. Never thought about it, but it’s “die Armee”! Do you know a language where the army is masculine?
Found through Azra Raza’s post on 3quarksdaily.