mardi, décembre 06, 2005

oversexed french nouns

As a native English speaker, accents and proper pronounciation aren't the hardest part of learning French and Spanish. The hardest part is remembering what gender is assigned to each noun. When you add the fact that there's no foolproof rule for what words are male or female, things can get frustrating. But they can also be really funny when the gender of the word is counterintuitive.

Bra is short for brassiere (a French word), but a bra is actually un soutien gorge (which roughly translates to "a sustainer of the neck.") It also has a masculine indefinite article, which makes no sense, because we all know that man breasts are no fun. Likewise, a woman's blouse is un chemisier (masculine), whereas a man's dress shirt is une chemise (feminine).

To be fair, Spanish has much of the same gender confusion with these words: un sostén (meaning "sustainer" for bra) and un camisa (a man's dress shirt). But at least the word for blouse, una blusa, usually matches the wearer's gender.

I remembered these things when I ran across this David Sedaris spoken essay on NPR's Web site. It was done in 2000, right after the publication of "Me Talk Pretty One Day." I couldn't help but laugh as I listened to him talk about his own struggle with using the proper gender, and the fact that a vagina is masculine and the word masculine is actually feminine.
'Have you seen my wallet? I can't find her anywhere.'
In the second part of a series on life in Paris, commentator David Sedaris struggles to master the gender of French nouns, and in the process, learns some interesting things about the French language.
This language lesson is brought to you by the often-misused adverb "presently" and the letters ç, é, and ñ.

1 commentaire:

V.S. a dit…

Don't worry about the gender in french, grammar will be more complicated when you'll study : a, à (to have and at), ou, où (or, whatever), e-é-è (with the right pronounciation), and verbs times are much more complicated, with singular "tu" and plural "vous" easier in english with the unique and so easier "You". Well, when you read this you should understand the reason of our french silly accent in english. :D
Good luck.