After many, many years of befuddling students, the German language could finally get a little simpler, and it's all thanks to changing attitudes toward the sexes. Please address your thank-you notes to Feminism, college kids.
See, in German, various nouns have specific genders, which you need to know in order to use the right article. Non-native speakers are often reduced to guessing; Mark Twain even wrote an essay on "The Awful German Language."
But, as the Guardian points out, there's more at stake here than midterm grades. The structure of the language itself ends up perpetuating some gnarly gender assumptions, like the defaults of professions being male. As attitudes change, lots of Germans think that should change, too. The federal justice ministry, for instance, has ruled that bureaucrats are supposed to get as gender-neutral as they can in their paperwork.
But many of the current work-arounds are complicated—too complicated to be sustainable, according to linguist Luise Pusch:
She told the Guardian that men would eventually get so frustrated with the current compromises that they would clock on to the fundamental problem, and the German language would gradually simplify its gender articles, just as English has managed to do since the Middle Ages.
"Language should be comfortable and fair," said Pusch. "At the moment, German is a very comfortable language, but a very unfair one."
The problem with that is, languages tend to morph on their own schedule: "It's hard to transform grammar through legislation, and even if so, such changes often happen over centuries," responded one Berlin linguist. Just a thought here, but anything that would make grammar school classes easier to teach is likely to catch on quickly. Neuter nouns for everyone!
If only there'd been some compelling political reason for the ancient Romans to eliminate the conjugation of verbs, I might've actually retained some high school Latin.
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