Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Italian a Sexist Language?

Countdown to Italy: 15 days!

In languages such as Italian, French and Spanish, gender labelling for nouns is common. Add an -o onto the end of an Italian word, and it becomes masculine. -a, on the other hand, makes it feminine. But according to a 2001 statement made by Italy's Commission of Equal Opportunities, the overuse of the masculine -o and il (the equivolent of "the" in English) now equates to linguistic sexism.

The main complaint is in reference to job titles, many of which only have a masculine form. For some women and activists, this has proven irritating since they believe that the grammatical gender of the job title should change in accordance with the sex of the job holder. That is, Maria should be una sindaca (mayor), and unless Giovanni's preferences are of the unconventional type, we would expect to call him un sindaco.

But is the preference for "il and -o" over "la and -a" really sexism? After all, parts of grammar don't wear suits and dresses. People do. Perhaps the preference for the masculine gender is really just a way to seek out linguistic simplification. Swedish is a good example of that -- its two genders have merged into one class called "common gender." Or perhaps it is sexist, for we may be subconsciously valuing one human gender over another in our prescription of gender to words.

What do you think? Can we call a language which employs the excessive use of one grammatical gender over another sexist? Or is it really just much ado about nothing?


Amethyst said...

Regarding job titles: I can see how a female whose title is masculine would be a bit peeved. By the same token, the fact that she HAS the job tells me that the gender of the title had very little to do with her actually achieving the position.

I do think that some jobs/careers have some gender inequalities, but that generally has far more to do with the job description than the job title. Whether or not the job title denotes the gender-tendencies of the job is, I believe, quite random, and more likely a result of previous historical uses of the word.

In any case, this topic brings me back to grade 3 French, where I learned that all tables are actually girls ("la table") but chairs are all boys ("le chaise"). I remember thinking that was definitely TMI. =P

amethyst said...

And somehow every time I check your blog Heather, it looks different! I gather you're still playing around with it a bit? =P

Nemo @ daily-dabble.com said...

Hi there!
First time visitor :)
I got a link from FuelMyBlog - you fueled my recipe blog quite some time ago, I just never used to log in! Great site. Are you still in Italy?

I agree with Amethyst. I don't think it's necessary to change gender of nouns, but perhaps for the sake of keeping peace they could create female job titles. It doesn't bother me at all, but I'm sure many women don't agree with me. :p

Hope you're having a super week!

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