How language can reflect cultural assumptions

English: Two Khasi girls in traditional dress ...

I recently listened to a podcast on the BBC’s “From our Own Correspondent” programme (you can read the corresponding article here : BBC News – Meghalaya, India: Where women rule, and men are suffragettes or listen here) about a small north-eastern Indian state which operates under a  matrilineal system. Here men are the downtrodden gender and a men’s rights movement has been created. Interestingly the comment was made that the local Khasi language reflects this cultural, gender-based assumption:

“A tree is masculine, but when it is turned into wood, it becomes feminine,” says the president of the movement. “The same is true of many of the nouns in our language. When something becomes useful, its gender becomes female”.

Rather like in French “un arbre” for a tree but “une planche” for a plank of wood. I’d never really thought of things that way, in terms of usefulness. Don’t you think the men are taking things a bit far? At least English doesn’t have the same problem!

Khasi man

P.S. Funnily enough while listening to this podcast I found out that Cherrapunji, a town in Meghalaya holds the world records for the most amount of rain in 4 days, 31 days, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 11 and 12 months, and two years. This was of interest to me as Reunion Island, where I live, holds the world records for the most amount of rain in 9, 18 1/2, and 24 hours, and 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 days! You can read my blog post about it here.

Highest Rainfall in the world in cherrapunjee

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Reunion language | Mayasilver

  2. Pingback: Translation-treason conference | A Smart Translator's Reunion

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