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October 14, 2008

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That's truly one to treasure - thank you for the chuckles. And now, off to contemplate dining solutions for the evening.

I'm having a solution to my stress solution. Hmm, seems to be working.

Thank you

It sounds to me as if the Chinese has been translated by someone who knows French better than English. 'Company' in French is 'société' (grammatical gender is feminine).

Funnily enough, although we don't call companies 'she', business terms in English are often 'feminine' eg mother company or sister company. The BBC and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) are both affectionately known as Auntie.

There's no grammatical gender in Chinese, so perhaps they find the whole concept confusing.

My boss is Chinese (from Shanghai) and he often says "he" when he means "she" and vice versa. He is usually aware when he does this and corrects himself. I asked him about this once, and he said that in Chinese, there are words for "he" and "she", but they are pronounced exactly the same (they're written with different characters), so I guess he's mentally translating on the fly when he's speaking English and since the sound in Chinese is the same, he sometimes chooses the wrong equivalent.

In any case, calling a company either "he" or "she" sounds quite odd to English ears (it should be "it"), where our nouns aren't "gendrified" (cf. Mark Twain's "The Awful German Language"). Perhaps they just picked one at random and decided to be consistent in using it...?

Sorry for the double post.

I think it's interesting how transplanted people's native grammar asserts itself in their second language. My former boss is from Iran and speaks Farsi as his first language, in which they apparently don't use articles. When he speaks he either leaves them out, or puts them in where they're not needed (over-compensating). My Russian relatives do this too (the Russian language also operates sans articles).

Steven Pinker, anyone?

@Vera and @Virtual Linguist: Very enlightening--thanks!

An aside about pronouns: my father, whose first language was Hebrew, frequently called women "he," probably because the phoneme for "she" in Hebrew is, in fact, pronounced "he." There are many of these Hebrew-English false friends: in Hebrew, "who" means "he," "me" means "who," "dove" means "bear," and "dog" means "fish." (Very, very rough transliterations, but the pronunciations are truly almost indistinguishable.)

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