There was recently an interesting article about language in the New York Times
. Two passages are as follows:
"Languages that treat an inanimate object as a he or a she force their speakers to talk about such an object as if it were a man or a woman
[emphasis added]. And as anyone whose mother tongue has a gender system will tell you, once the habit has taken hold, it is all but impossible to shake off. When I speak English, I may say about a bed that “it” is too soft, but as a native Hebrew speaker, I actually feel “she” is too soft. “She” stays feminine all the way from the lungs up to the glottis and is neutered only when she reaches the tip of the tongue."
"In the 1990s, for example, psychologists compared associations between speakers of German and Spanish. There are many inanimate nouns whose genders in the two languages are reversed. A German bridge is feminine (die Brücke), for instance, but el puente is masculine in Spanish; and the same goes for clocks, apartments, forks, newspapers, pockets, shoulders, stamps, tickets, violins, the sun, the world and love. On the other hand, an apple is masculine for Germans but feminine in Spanish, and so are chairs, brooms, butterflies, keys, mountains, stars, tables, wars, rain and garbage. When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. With objects like mountains or chairs, which are “he” in German but “she” in Spanish, the effect was reversed."
The article is by Guy Deutscher, a research fellow at the University of Manchester. The complete article is at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29...
(but you may need to register to see it).
I wonder, do the native German speakers here believe that grammatical gender "forces them to speak about an object as if it were a man or a woman?"