A Bit Of An Explanation

I am not a professional. Not anywhere near it. But I like to think that some little observations I have about language and the social construction of it are worthwhile.

Some of these notes were originally written for acquaintances with no linguistic experience whatsoever, so please be patient through the explanations of basic concepts, and the simplistic tone.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Inanimate Pronoun Confusion (Or, Why I Thought Jesus Was A Girl)

Joy to the world, the lord has come!
Let Earth receive her king!

That line from Joy To The World caused me so much confusion when I was younger. See, I thought about words in an odd way. When I heard this line, I didn't understand the concept that you could use gendered pronouns to refer to inanimate or genderless objects like the Earth. When I heard "Let Earth receive her king", I didn't know that the "her" was referring to Earth being the one possessing the king, who was the Lord previously referred to. So, I looked at the sentence before it. I concluded that, since the only other major noun in the sentence was "lord", then the "her" must somehow be connected to the "lord". Okay, so, I thought Jesus was female then. (I should mention I didn't grow up in a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim household.)

But what about "king"? Well, then I concluded that "king" must also have another meaning I didn't know about, equivalent to "the essence of kingliness". So, I thought the line was "Let the Earth receive the kingliness of the lord (who was female)".


Later I understood the whole Earth = She thing. I actually think it's interesting to look at how gendered pronouns are applied to genderless or inanimate things. My grades 6-8 Language Arts teacher once had a discussion which I thought was pretty accurate: In general, objects are female, especially when they're being used for some purpose (a boat, a gun, a car, etc.) And in general, animals are male, unless they're specifically shown as having something to do with birth or children. (I must admit that I fall into the trap of calling female dogs "boy", though that might just be because I grew up with all male dogs.)

That certainly tells you a bit about how we think of things - objects, which we tend to refer to as female, can't talk back. They do whatever we make them do. Animals, on the other hand, have a will of their own.

I'd like to think I assign my dear objects gender randomly. My piano, Astarte, and my keyboard, Claire, I've given female names. My recorder, Lare, is genderqueer. And my favorite notebook has a male name, Alfred.

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