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Thread: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

  1. #1

    Default Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Hello from a newbie!
    I couldn't find any discussions on this subject when I used search, so here's the question.

    What gender should be used for animal characters in English translations of children's texts with animal characters, if the source language is such that nouns (objects and animals etc) have gender?

    for example, Slavic languages.

    Zec - rabbit. "male" noun
    vjeverica - squirrel - "female" noun
    if not specified otherwise in English, both are neutral.

    so if I have a story about a rabbit and a squirrel, where gender of each is not important for the story, so each animal in the original have the genders of the noun (no specification that the rabbit is actual female, such as mother rabbit - mama zec) - then how should I translate these characters in English?

    one option would be to make them all neutral - the rabbit, the squirrel, "it" ...
    but to me that sound somewhat cold, or distant.

    would it be ok to assign (and actually choose) genders for the sake of the story?

    how do you solve such dilemas?
    thanks!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    this essay is maybe helpful?
    http://shigekuni.wordpress.com/2008/...ics-framework/

    cheers.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    I often come across this problem, and I try not to be doctrinaire about solving it--I like to do as circumstances dictate. Still, I could say that if the creature is a lower form of life or is meant for the pot I usually use it, no matter the gender of the word for the animal. Any mosquito worth writing about, for example--who would ever write about a mosquito that didn't bite?--is going to be a she, but I'm going to call it an it, unless of course I suspect the writer is trying to make some larger point about the bloodthirstiness of womankind.

    Higher forms of life--horses, dogs, Siamese fighting fish, hamsters--pose a bit more of a problem. I'll usually translate he or she.

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Going from the animate to the inanimate, is English the only language in which boats and ships are referred to as "she"?

    Harry

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    I myself would go for the for "it", to avoid gender problems.

    Languages in Europe come in a continuum from being very "tightly gender managed" such as the Slav ones (Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbian, etc.), to ones where there is no word for "he" and "she" and where you have to adopt other strategies to indicate gender. Such language include Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian and, as I believe, Basque and Turkish.

    In English, we are in the middle. We have "he" and "she" in the singular, but in the plural, "they" is gender neutral.

    *

    A second problem is traditional grammatical gender in all the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, etc.) and in the Slav and many Germanic languages (German, Dutch, Scandinavian) even for things, objects, which we in English call "it". We also call most animals "it" in English when not stressing the gender as in Jemima Puddleduck - who was not a drake.

    Unlike body gender, grammatical gender varies a great deal. Even between very´similar languages, such as Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, the grammatical gender of a word can differ. Obviously, in all countries, there are men and women (even in Finnish, where there is no word for "he" and "she" and no grammatical gender).

    *

    You must be clear what you are aiming at, because I don't think that the under-fives are too conscious of gender differences between animals whose grammatical gender differs from language to language. A duck, a cow, and a sheep are the default names in ordinary English, because the females are the animals that are either more common, or do useful things such as give us milk. Drake, bull and ram, are exceptional and marked.

    You must be clear what you are actually trying to achieve and what the reason is for your problem with gender-marking for animals in stories for small children who may not necessarily be very interested yet in the shape of their genitals or whether thay can have babies or not.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Quote Originally Posted by hdw View Post
    Going from the animate to the inanimate, is English the only language in which boats and ships are referred to as "she"?

    Harry
    Don't know about other languages, but the style guide I use at work, the Chicago Manual of Style, recommends that ships be referred to as it. A good recommendation I think, as I usually find she, when used by a contemporary writer or speaker to refer to a ship, a bit precious, a bit affected.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Thanks!
    I've been thinking about this, and have come up with a basic categorization for the stories I am translating.

    audience - prereaders

    1. animal characters as secondary to the main characters (people), where they aren't given human attributes such as ability to talk etc. - for these cases I will use the neutral gender as is appropriate for the English language.

    2. animal characters that are the main characters, with human attributes (they speak and act like people). These are the tricky ones. Because then I need to translate grammatical gender into physical gender. In the original story their physical gender is not specified, but if I don't assign them genders in English, the story just sounds awkward. Too many "its" ...

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Quote Originally Posted by RamonaQ View Post
    Thanks!
    I've been thinking about this, and have come up with a basic categorization for the stories I am translating.

    audience - prereaders

    1. animal characters as secondary to the main characters (people), where they aren't given human attributes such as ability to talk etc. - for these cases I will use the neutral gender as is appropriate for the English language.

    2. animal characters that are the main characters, with human attributes (they speak and act like people). These are the tricky ones. Because then I need to translate grammatical gender into physical gender. In the original story their physical gender is not specified, but if I don't assign them genders in English, the story just sounds awkward. Too many "its" ...
    As I point out in the essay I link, English (and any other language) has certain 'folk genders', i.e. certain animals are associated with certain genders, grammar be fucked. Thus, if you want it to sound natural, I recommend you research those folk genders and use them instead of 'it'.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Yes, Mirabell, thank you! I printed the article out the other day and plan to read it carefully. I also plan to do some research on "folk genders" at the local (English) library.

    As far as boats are concerned, in English objects don't have a gender. Referring to a ship as a female has its historical background, though. I'm not sure about old Brittish seafarers and explorers, but I know that Colombus named his ships La Pinta, La Santa Maria, and La Nina...
    As far as I know, even nowadays ships are usually named after women or are given female names.

    one interesting note:
    In Italian, boat is "la barca".
    in Spanish, it's "el barco".

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Bubba, #6, makes a good point about the stiltedness of "she" for ships. I imagine that the original usage comees from Latin or French, and was adopted in English as an elegant borrowing. RamonaQ has already suggested this.

    RamonaQ also makes a good point, about the differences between main characters and subsidiary ones. As I pointed out, the default name in English for sheep, cows and ducks (and hens) is the female name. So obviously there you must say "she" if you're going to have gender distinction.

    Mirabell: grammar be fucked. So elegant from a student of American poetry. Have you been reading too many fucking Beat poets? You don't have to use the word "fuck" in every fucking third sentence to sound natural and mature in English. And I would leave recommending to native-speakers of any language.

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    And I would leave recommending to native-speakers of any language.

    Oh, I would not try to talk about usage or anything like that. I was merely listing the linguistic facts, buttressed by at least one empirical study and a textbook by Greville Corbett, who, teaching at the U of Surrey, very likely is a "native-speaker" of "any language". Note that I have not gone beyond this. Of course you can dispute Dr. Corbett's view, as well as that of the other gentlemen and -women I have cited in support, but since that would demand you employ rational arguments and make use of actual fact, I suppose you're not up for that. I gather you are a little uneasy around actual, you know, facts.

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Quote Originally Posted by RamonaQ View Post
    Yes, Mirabell, thank you! I printed the article out the other day and plan to read it carefully. I also plan to do some research on "folk genders" at the local (English) library.

    As far as boats are concerned, in English objects don't have a gender. Referring to a ship as a female has its historical background, though. I'm not sure about old Brittish seafarers and explorers, but I know that Colombus named his ships La Pinta, La Santa Maria, and La Nina...
    As far as I know, even nowadays ships are usually named after women or are given female names.

    one interesting note:
    In Italian, boat is "la barca".
    in Spanish, it's "el barco".
    In English, a "barque" is a ship with three masts and a particular kind of rigging -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barque

    Speaking as someone from a maritime background - father formerly a fisherman, both grandfathers and most uncles fishermen, also relatives in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Wrens (women's naval service) and Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) - I would naturally refer to a boat or ship as "she", although Dr. Germaine Greer might belabour me with her boomerang for my sexism.

    Another interesting example of languages differing in their assignation of gender is the way in which the sun and moon are perceived. English no longer has grammatical gender as such, but the sun tends to be perceived as masculine and the moon as feminine. Same in French - le soleil and la lune. And yet, cf. German die Sonne and der Mond.

    Harry

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    The Moon is masculine in Polish: ksiezyc (with a few accents). Whereas in Russian it is feminine: luna. Does this make the Poles kinky MCPs who should not write children's books, especially Jan Brzechwa, whose plots uncannily resemble those of that Scotwoman who went from dole to dosh and wrote about some school or other?

    The Polish for the Sun, slonce, is neuter, the Russian, solntse, is also neuter. What are we to conclude?

    I think the issue of grammatical gender cannot be resolved by edict or diktat. It just happens that one language does it one way, another another. There is no Earthly (pun intended) reason why a lump of gas and rocks in the sky should be a man or a woman.

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Coincidentally, this is the subject of today's Dinosaur Comic.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    hmmm, maybe moon and sun gender have their roots in old paganism! Moon godess, sun god.

    Eric mentioned Russian and Polish. Croatian words for moon and sun are "mjesec" (male) and "sunce" (neutral). Which is similar to the genders for these words in Polish. "luna" in Russian to me sounds borrowed. In Croatian "mjesec" also means "month". The same word in Serbian for month and moon is "mesec", and I think the Russian word for "month" is "mesec". So I wouldn't be surprised if "mesec" is also used for "moon". But I don't know Russian, I'm just guessing.

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    In Russian month is ме́сяц (mesiatz), and is masculine. And it is used from "moon", as you guessed.

    As for the Italian and Spanish for "boat", I will add "barcone" (big boat): differently from "la barca", "barcone" is masculine.
    The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    I doubt if the Russians haven't yet discovered the connection between "moon" and "month". A month goes by and when you see your dwindling post-Soviet salary, you start howling to Mummy Moon. Aaaaooooo! But yes, luna does look suspiciously like a loanword from a non-Slavic language.

    You will ask one of our Russian residents, as the dictionary gives both luna and mesyats. Whether the latter means our planet, the Moon, and the former a moon in general, I do not know.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    In Russian both "luna" and "mesyats" are used if we mean the Moon. If we say about the full Moon, we usually use the word "luna". But if we see only the part of it, we often use "mesyats".

    Ozhegov's Dictionary of the Russian Language says that:

    Луна

    -ы, мн. луны, лун, лунам, ж. 1. (в терминологическом значении Л прописное). Небесное тело, спутник Земли, светящийся отражённым солнечным светом. Полёт на Луну. Серп луны. Полная л. С луны свалился кто-н. (перен.: не знает того, что всем давно известно; разг. шутл.). 2. Свет, идущий от такого небесного тела. Читать при луне. 3. Спутник любой планеты (спец.). Луны Сатурна. * Ничто не вечно под луной (шутл.) — всё проходит, нет ничего постоянного. II прил. лунный, -ая, -ое. Л. свет. Л. грунт. Л. самоходный аппарат. Лунная дорожка на воде. Л. камень (прозрачный минерал зеленовато-голубого цвета).
    The first meaning can be translated as a heavenly body, earth satellite reflecting sunlight.

    The third part adds that it can be other-than-earth satellite.

    Месяц

    -а, мн. -ы, -ев, м. 1. Единица исчисления времени по солнечному календарю, равная одной двенадцатой части года (от 28 до 31 суток); срок в 30 суток. Календарный м. (январь, февраль, март и т. д.). Отпуск на м. Месяцами (по целым месяцам) не пишет (в течение нескольких месяцев). 2. Тридцать дней, посвящённых какому-н. общественному мероприятию, пропаганде чего-н., месячник. 3. Диск луны или его часть. Полный м. Серп молодого месяца. II унич. месячишко, -а, м, (к 1 знач.). Погостить с м. II прил. месячный, -ая, -ое (к 1 знач.). М. запас (на месяц).
    According to the first part of the meaning of the word "mesyats", we can use it when we say about one twelfth of an year - a month.

    But it also means "the disk of the Moon" or its part."

    As for the origion of the word "luna", from what I have just looked through, there is a theory that it comes from the Proto-Slavic "louksnós" which means "light". And at the same time there is a Latin word - "lūna" that comes from Indo-European form.

    Vera.
    Last edited by learna; 14-Mar-2011 at 14:09.

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    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Learna has indeed thrown light on the matter (if you can read Russian). The existence of two words in Russian, where we use just the one in English, highlights a big problem when translating.

    If you were to be translating for instance a Russian text where the two words are used to add nuances, you might find yourself in English, which is in any case an uninflected language, writing the word "moon" over and over again, while the Russian has various inflected forms of "mesyats" and "luna".

  20. #20

    Default Re: Children's literature, animal characters and gender

    Talking about moon, can you see the moon tonight? Here it's cloudy.

    And now back to animals. Say the fox and the stork.
    Here the fox is male and the stork female:
    http://marialuciauribe.blogspot.com/...and-stork.html

    while here, both are male:
    http://mythfolklore.net/aesopica/milowinter/48.htm

    What bothers me with both translations, is that there is no prior introduction of their genders. Shouldn't there have been?

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