French Linguistics – Gender Biased?

The following are posts on the Duolingo discussion board after incorrect declension** of “confiture” (jam) with the masculine article “le” instead of the feminine “la”…

Me: I think it’s arbitrary (possibly even a remnant of patriarchy) how certain foods/items are deemed “feminine” and others “masculine.” What’s up with that? I realize the French language won’t change as a result of my little grievance, but I just had to raise this issue…

Commenter: Not at all; confiture is made from confit, a masculine noun, and -ure, a feminine suffix which has a precise meaning. You will note that lots of words in -ure cannot even be thought to be sexist :-). Old English had noun genders, and they were only dropped so that English colonies would have it more easy to learn the language.

Me: I’m sure modern English did not derive from any efforts at gender equality, but rather, as you say, ease of retention. I haven’t been practicing French very diligently lately, nor am I well versed in linguistics, so I probably cannot comment with enough propriety, but I think it’s interesting that there are such things as “feminine” suffixes and “masculine” nouns. Just like in poetry, where there are “feminine” endings that are unstressed syllables. By no means am I just picking on French; Spanish has this too. I just think the differentiation is telling. I mean, besides the relative simplicity, why not just have a neutral article “the”? The answer to that, I’d argue, is inextricable from a history of gender relations.

So my question is, am I missing his point? Is he missing mine?

**Yes, I totally Wikipedia’d that. It means the conjugation of article and noun to denote what number, case, or gender is being referenced. These are the extremely rare cases where a degree in linguistics might have come in handy……..hmmmm. I take that back, not even then. Who wants to study the roots when you can suck on the juicy fruit?


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