the gender of countries

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by jimreilly, Jul 21, 2006.

  1. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    (Despite the way this thread begins, this is NOT a political thread about the current situation in the Middle East, please.....or even an anti-Bush thread)

    Recently I heard President Bush speak of Israel as "she". I general speak of a country as "it", or, sometimes when referring to my own country I say "we", or, when referring to another country, I say "they". In my mind (if I were to think about it) I would think that those plural pronouns are neuter (or inclusive of both genders)--English does not have, after all, a "he" or "she" plural (like French "ils" and "elles"), or a plural "we" that can be identified by gender without other words being added (e.g. "we, the men present today, demand....").

    I do not consider President Bush an authority on language usage, and I also wondered if he might be describing Israel as "she" to create a feeling of sympathy for Israel. But it also got me wondering......

    Do you think of countries as having gender? If so, is the gender usually feminine? Might it be more common in another culture/language to consider a country a "he"?
  2. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    غریب الوطن
    Am. English
    I thought about it for a second, and I remembered a patriotic song in India:

    saare jahaan se aachaa, hindusitaaN hamaara
    translation: India is better than the rest of the world.

    Well, everything in this sentence is masculine, so I assume that all countries in Hindi are masculine...the only exception would be if a country has a feminine ending...Germany, Italy might be feminine...I'd need an Indian to confirm.
  3. ronanpoirier

    ronanpoirier Senior Member

    Porto Alegre
    Brazil - Portuguese
    In Portuguese, Índia is feminine ;-)

    Countries which end by -a are feminine. Any other letter is masculine. (I don't think it's a general rule.) Some countries have no gender like Portugal.
  4. modus.irrealis Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I heard that as well, and it was odd enough that I noticed it. My usage pretty much follows yours: I use "it" for a country as a country and "they" for the people (and "we" for my country). For me, I'd say countries are genderless.

    For other languages, it seems to me that in many European languages, the majority of countries are feminine. Although oddly enough, Israel is masculine in French and neuter in Greek.

    A related issue would be how some languages use fatherland and others use motherland. Maybe that would reflect whether a country is thought of as masculine or feminine. They both sound odd to me in English, but we do use words like patriotic, etc. that reflect the fatherland idea.
  5. Rozax

    Rozax Senior Member

    English - USA
    I'm familiar with countries being refered to as 'she'. A country can be one's motherland, so it makes sense to me.
  6. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    In traditional English, all countries were feminine.

    In older texts this was the standard procedure.

    A quote from the Manchester Guardian, 10 April 1941
    Mr. Churchill is clearly not comfortable about France, in spite of his welcome of Marshall Petain's declaration that she will never fight her old ally.

    But you can find plenty of modern examples.
    Quote from the Washington Post, 11 February 2006
    "The threat to Americans' liberty today comes from al Qaeda and its associates and the people who would destroy America and her people,..."
  7. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    I would forward the notion that countries that are real nut-busters are thought of as masculine... Wasn't Germany of the thirties and forties "the fatherland"?
    But in Spanish a "country" is masculine, and a "nation" is femenine... Go figure.
  8. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    If you dig up any English books, papers or magazines of the 30s and 40s, you see that Germany [the same as other countries] is she.

    Anyway, in German das Vaterland is neuter. Countries in German come in all three genders. For example, Germany is neuter, Switzerland is feminine, and Iraq is masculine.
  9. Seana

    Seana Senior Member

    In Polish language names of countries are gendered masculine, feminine or neuter. My country Poland is feminine as Greece ( Grecja), France (Francja), Austria, Switzerland (Szwajcaria), Great Britain ( Wielka Brytania) etc. They all ending in -a.The fatherland (ojczyzna) in Polish is also feminine. And for example Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Isralel, Ecuador are masculine but Zimbabwe, Peru are neuter gender .
    Germany ( Niemcy), the Czech Republic (Czechy), Hungary( Węgry) Italy (Włochy) are the plural. They ending in -y.
  10. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    Since English doesn't have nouns with gender the way many languages do, there is a difference between referring to a country in English as "she" and refererring, for example, in French, to France as "she" ("la France", "elle").

    Brioche has pointed out that it was once traditional in English to refer to countries as she; it would seem that this is no longer the case, but still happens at times. Perhaps it happens more often in some English-speaking countries than in others?

    What about other languages that don't have gender? Are countries "she", "he", or "it" when referred to by a third person pronoun?

    It now occurs to me that I don't know, even in the most general way, what percentages of languages do and don't have gender for nouns like French does, etc. I t would seem that most do, and English is the exception. Is that right?

    I know we are getting away from the reason I originally started this thread....but it seems relevant to the original question.....
  11. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    In the song "God Bless America" written by Irving Berlin in 1918 (revised in 1938), the U.S. is referred to as "she."

    God bless America,
    Land that I love
    Stand beside her, and guide her,
    Through the night, with the light from above.

    From the mountains, to the prairies,
    to the Oceans, white with foam
    God bless America, my home sweet home.

    Remember, may people refer to their home countries as their "mother land." As such, I find it perfectly normal that a country takes on a female "gender."

    Whether its common use to call a country "she" is debatable. I can see a person doing this more for his or her own country of origin (mother land), than another's country.
  12. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    غریب الوطن
    Am. English
    I wonder if the neuter term will become more popular in the future...some people may view it as sexist...Im sure of that!
  13. karuna

    karuna Senior Member

    The planet Earth
    Latvian, Latvia
    In Latvian all countries are feminine, except, the Vatican which is not a country per se anyway.

    But we can never call a country "she" nonetheless. The feminine form of pronoun "it" (tā) is used instead.

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