03 February, 2010

From the Vault: He Said, She Said, It Said

Ken H. Posted Apr 25, 2008 11:39 AM

Oy, for someone who communicates in English as well as I thought I did, my recently-started Romanian lessons are a real eye-opener! It's my own fault, really... I could have just gone into "parrot mode" and simply learned to echo what I was tought to say and when to say it. Instead, I took advantage of my teacher's patience and umpteen linguistics degrees and decided I wanted to know why I was saying something, not just what I was saying.

So the first thing I learned, was not only how little I had known about the technical structure of my own mother tongue, but that the little bit I did know, would largely need to be unlearned.

How humbling it is for a 42-year old guy who prides himself on his language skills to be stopped flat by terms like "fricative," "gerund," and "nominal declension." It's like driving the finest car without an inkling of what's going on under the hood. It may help to know that I've always needed to know the "how" and "why" of things where most normal folks are quite happy with just "what." Well, finally this need has come back to bite me in the butt - big time.

Because no sooner did I find out how little I knew about English, than I learned it would not serve me very much, beyond mental conversion purposes, in learning Romanian.

One word: "gender."

This simple concept alone will probably keep me from ever learning Romanian (or any other "foreign" language). Until someone can satisfactorily explain to me not only how inanimate objects can be "masculine" or "feminine" but why they don't even follow any rules of logic within their own context... like how a book might be "female" but the paper inside it is "male." Oh, better yet, how so many items are "male" in the singular and "female" in plural... and those items are called "Neutral!"

Seriously, if ANYONE can give me the smallest clue of how or why this concept exists, I'll nominate you for sainthood. If I had a dollar for everyone who just said "Uh, it just IS," I could afford to go back to California and the problem would be academic. :) I can't believe we can explain the thermonuclear reaction in stars but NOT why a book or stone must be assigned genitalia. One thing you should all know about me by now is that I'm a pretty smart fellow - I could probably understand any reasonable answer I'd get. It's just that nobody is giving it. Not even my own learned instructor is up to this task. I feel like I'm asking for proof of the fourth dimension or something!

Ohhhh, this went off into another rant. Makes it a good blog candidate! :)

- K -
[This actually received a nice reply, included here for fairness. Ed.]

A former member Posted Apr 25, 2008 12:08 PM

The gender thing is grounded in the Latin roots of the language, and I believe it originates in some - now arcane - Aristotelic attempt at "categorizing" the world . A simple rule of thumb (for Romanian) is, if a noun, in the singular, ends in an A, it's likely feminine; if in a consonant or a U, likely masculine. The few that end in E can be either (as well as fem. plural); almost no noun ends in O; and those that end in I are mostly in the plural.

So: NOUN + ENDS IN A = m/p feminine; I - check context, it's m/p masc plural; E- ask a friend; ANYTHING ELSE - take your bet on masc.

...and no, silly, it's not genitals, it's ethereal attributes...


  1. Well, I was ready to say blame it on Latin, but the fellow above beat me to it.

  2. Oh, I have a little trick to decide the gender of a word.
    o femeie - doua femeii = feminine ( replace word in question, i.e - o pisica, doua pisici)
    un barbat - doi barbati = masculine ( un motan, doi motani)
    un buzunar - doua buzunare = neutral ( un butoi, doua butoaie)


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