Is it Mother Sun in your mother tongue?

We don’t have grammatical genders in English – we say “the” for all of our nouns (at least the countable ones) – but even where there is no obvious connection to gender, there are some words with gender-based associations .  For example, “the sun” and “the moon.”  Although we have the expression “the man in the moon,” I would suggest that the common association for the moon itself is with the feminine and for the sun it is the masculine. In learning German, though, one has to go against this and learn der Mond and die Sonne. Even worse, if you also know a bit of Spanish, Italian, Portugese or French, all of which do have grammatical genders, you have a further challenge as “moon” takes a feminine and “sun” a masculine pronoun in each of these languages! And in my limited understanding of Chinese symbolism, I believe that the moon is associated with the feminine/yin/dark and the sun is associated with the masculine/yang/light.

Indeed, there is enough interest in the gender associated with the moon and sun that when you type [sun masculine] into Google, one completion it provides is [moon feminine]. The story that resonated most with me was that the further north you went, the more the sun came to be associated with giving life by giving light and thus with the feminine through the connection with giving birth. Now since arbitrary things are hard to learn, and most of the relationships between German nouns and their grammatical genders are arbitrary (or even misleading, to give the famous examples of das Mädchen – “the girl” or “the maiden” – and das Fräulein -“young lady” or “miss” – where the nouns follow the rule that diminutives with –chen and –lein take das), having a somewhat meaning cue for sun and moon feels helpful.

Therefore while Die Sonne scheint still doesn’t sound quite right to me (and not just because it seems such a rare event here in Hamburg), some light has been shed!

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2 thoughts on “Is it Mother Sun in your mother tongue?

  1. […] “Take Me to Your Umlauts”) – we don’t have grammatical genders in English (although see my thoughts on at least one occasion where we do have intuitions about gender) and thus this useful key to correct word recognition is one we fail to take advantage of all too […]

  2. alexviajero says:

    Yes, with the “Moon is a harsh mistress”, and the the “Sun God” or Gods (not goddess), I agree, though we don’t ascribe gender to either formally, in English, Sun is masculine “feeling” and Moon feminine.

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