I travel to Mexico frequently and I am desperately trying to learn some Spanish. (Yes, Sister Madeline – I should have paid more attention in Spanish class back in high school! But so far, “¿Donde esta la biblioteca?” hasn’t helped me much.)
What I find most confusing is the gender assignment of nouns. Who decided that the fork (el tenedor) is a male and the spoon (la cuchara) is woman? Also cats, dogs and horses – are all masculine (so I’m not sure how they get more cats, dogs and horses) while kitchens, tables and chairs are female but the plates resting on the table are male. My wife would say that once again the women are doing the heavy lifting in this arrangement.
Who assigned the sexes to nouns anyway? Probably some frustrated Spanish monk, locked away in a dreary monastary on some stoney coastline, tired of all the prayer and self-flagellation. He might have thought, “Hey, this could be fun!” “Let’s make tables female!” Otherwise it could all just be something very Freudian, hence el polo (the pole) and la copa (the cup). On the other hand, towers are femine and canyons are masculine. So I remain confused.
It gets particularly interestings with plurals. Let me explain: nieto is grandson. Nieta is granddaughter. But grandchildren are nietos (the masculine). Often my director in Mexico City will ask about my grandsons, even though she knows that I have only one grandson and three granddaughters. The same goes for friends, who may be amigos and amigas but together they are all amigos. And on and on…
Don’t get me wrong, English is just as confusing for non-English speakers. What with our there, their, and they’re; not to mention, wind or wind, tear or tear and lead or lead. I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our language.
Still Spanish is my struggle and I find some amount of humor in all the gender confusion. No doubt I have provided much needed laughter to an overworked restaurant employee when I have asked for a table with a veiw but more likely asked if her legs could support two persons and would she mind if we sat on her while looking out a window.
In my defense, the most important monument in Mexico City, which is within view of my office – El Ángel de la Independencia (“The Angel of Independence”) is sexually confused. El Ángel – masculine. The actual angel on top of El Ángel, well she’s a woman.
¡Dios Mio! Thankfully I have Google Translate on my iPhone…