Friday, December 21, 2012

the real article

Germany entered a linguistic and religious convulsion after the Family Minister yesterday said it doesn't matter which grammatical article you use for God, in German "der Gott." In an interview she was asked how she would explain to a young girl why people pray to "der Gott," with the masculine article, rather than "die Gott," with the feminine. She said it doesn't matter; we might as well say "das Gott," with the neutral article, or whatever.

First off I'd like to say I didn't learn all the articles for nothing. Do me a favor and stick with a system. I feel like I did when I learned Chinese characters before simplification became popular.

Second, in fact, if we're talking about New Testament Christianity, God is considered the father of Jesus, so even in a politically correct universe it's going to be hard to emasculate Him. If we're talking about some other concept of God, fine, but we'll still need to decide on an article if we're going to discuss that concept in German.

Third, although there sometimes seems to be a correlation between articles and gender identity, it's not consistent. A little girl is "das Mädchen," and a nursing infant is "der Säugling" (literally, "the sucker"). More often word endings determine which article a word gets, like most words ending in -ung are feminine. Or sometimes it’s a question of efficiency, like most rivers outside Europe just go wholesale masculine.

There are a slew of words that defy a non-German's preconceptions of what their articles should be. The moon, for example, is masculine in German, while the sun is feminine. The blackbird is feminine, so is a tin can, hell is feminine, so is a jacket, the air, and physics. Who knows why?

And now we come to my pet peeve among the German article assignments: cutlery. The fork, the knife and the spoon each get one of the three articles, but they are all wrong, starting with the spoon, which is "der Löffel," despite being curvy, beautiful and womblike. The macho, phallic knife is neutral. And then the thorny fork, neither here nor there, gets to be "die Gabel."

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