And the fork ran away with the spoon

In an earlier blog post, I rambled on incoherently about the idea of conceptual synesthesia. This is the idea that certain people assign colors and gender and even personalities to letters and numbers. This recent article about language makes the point that gender assignment for objects is often integral to languages, and different languages assign different genders to the same object.

In the 1990s, for example, psychologists compared associations between speakers of German and Spanish. There are many inanimate nouns whose genders in the two languages are reversed. A German bridge is feminine (die Brücke), for instance, but el puente is masculine in Spanish; and the same goes for clocks, apartments, forks, newspapers, pockets, shoulders, stamps, tickets, violins, the sun, the world and love. On the other hand, an apple is masculine for Germans but feminine in Spanish, and so are chairs, brooms, butterflies, keys, mountains, stars, tables, wars, rain and garbage. When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. With objects like mountains or chairs, which are “he” in German but “she” in Spanish, the effect was reversed.

In a different experiment, French and Spanish speakers were asked to assign human voices to various objects in a cartoon. When French speakers saw a picture of a fork (la fourchette), most of them wanted it to speak in a woman’s voice, but Spanish speakers, for whom el tenedor is masculine, preferred a gravelly male voice for it.

3 Responses to “And the fork ran away with the spoon”

  1. Larwence

    Spanish people are gay.

  2. John Saleeby

    I dunno, they got some nice girls over there.

  3. Wil

    Eh, I was kind of let down by the Spanish women I saw over there. They’re kind of withered. I’ll take french gals any day.