How Feminists Cripple the Russian Language – Part II

Dear Readers:

Since we are discussing gender issues anyhow, this might be a good time to insert a quick update on the Ufa rape girl.  The Russian press is all over every detail of this salacious case, and the reporters are not bothered at all by ethical norms of behavior.  Previously we had learned that in addition to “Gulnar” there was another young female involved in the fracas and who had been called in for questioning.  This female person had also been drinking on the job, was assumed to be sacked, but apparently strolled back into the office last week, to the dismay of the Old Boys Cub in the Ufa station.

Previously one had assumed that this new person of interest was Gulnar’s friend, possibly also a rape victim.  However, according to reporter Sergei Guryanov, she is possibly facing criminal charges as an accomplice to the rape.  “The source affirms that she, according to new information that has come to light, helped to hold the victim down, by the head, during the time of the violent incident.”

According to the rules of Czech grammar, as we learned yesterday, while describing the tussle on the floor of Major Yaromchuk’s office, we would have to write that “the two girls tussled on the floor” using the female past-tense plural.  However, as soon as one of the male rapists leaped into the fray, then we would switch to the masculine past-tense plural:  “They tussled on the floor…”  However, if this incident had happened in medieval times, then we would use the Common Slavic female dual declensions: *dъvě  for the female dual (“two female persons or objects”).  But once again, the moment a male perp (or object) entered the fray, then we would switch to the masculine plural declensions and case markers:  “They all [masculine plural] were raping people on the floor…”

Returning to modern Russian, we see even the relics of a “trio” type declension in addition to the dual:  “Напомним, трое уфимских полицейских подозреваются в изнасиловании 23-летней дознавательницы. Они арестованы и уволены со службы.”  [Recall that the trio of Ufa policemen (masculine genitive plural) are suspected of raping the 23-girl-old [female] Investigatrix.  They (masculine plural Они) are arrested (masculine plural past particple/adjective арестованы) and fired (masculine plural past participle/adjective уволены) from the service.”

See, in yesterday’s post, Ellie Boyadzhieva sort of got it backwards.  One of the things I learned in Linguistics 101 is the semantic distinction between “marked” and “unmarked” categories.  In Russian (and Slavic languages in general), the masculine gender is the “unmarked” or “default” setting.  Everybody is masculine until proved otherwise.  The female gender is the marked category, the exception to the rule.  So everybody is masculine, unless you specifically want to “call out” or “mark” that only females are involved in a certain action.  Hence, it is not so much that Czech women are less than dogs;  or that the male dog has a superior status to them, it’s just that it is considered “exceptional” for a group of women to be out there walking by themselves, without even a male dog, as an exceptional event.  Do you get the difference?  No…  That’s okay, I don’t either, but there you have it, the wonderful world of semantic marking!

Do Feminists Want To Maim The Russian Language?

Anyhow, it is now time to return to our main source material for this series, namely the interview between reporter Denis Nizhegorodtsev and “Linguist/Philologist” Maxim Kronhaus.

“Authoress” Jane Austen

Denis:  Maxim Anisimovich, how do you, in principle, relate to the existence, in Russian, of “feminizing” words [examples being, like “avtor-ka” instead of “avtor” for “author”, etc.]  Are there too many, or not enough, of these types of words?

Maxim:  These feminizers always existed, and there are a huge number of them in the Russian language.

Denis:  What can you say to the modern tendency to increase their number?

Maxim:  The language itself is evolving, if one can refer to language as a living thing, and increases the number of feminizers to the degree that women are mastering an ever-growing list of professions.  We are talking mainly about professions, naturally.  For example, if we were to use feminizer terms to designate [the females of] nationalities, then these also exist, and in a large quantity.  With professions, as with a few other matters, the situation is much more complicated.  The language is constantly supplementing itself with new terms which roughly corresponds to the speed in which women are moving into new professions.

Denis [going right for the jugular]:  Does it not upset you that this theme is being hammered on by representatives of the fair sex, who call themselves feminists?

Maxim:  Not at all.  Because that’s not what feminists are talking about. [in other words, Denis, you are a fool and you got it wrong].  The feminists are the ones trying to stay ahead of social development.  And not just stay ahead, but also trying to impose on the language their own program or agenda.  By forming feminizers from absolutely all words referring to a person or man.  There are nuances here.  Many words, for example, denote a person in general, (not necessarily) a man.  But these words just happen to have the masculine gender.  When we talk about the “president”, that word does not denote specifically a man, it’s just that, in reality, a man is more likely to be the president [than a woman].  Therefore the word itself “president” denotes a person occupying a certain post, independent of sex.  And in this particular circumstance, the Russian language did not create a special word for a female president.  At least not yet.

Prezident-sha Hillarly? Americans dodged a bullet!

[yalensis:  er… isn’t the Russian noun “prezident” endowed with the grammatical masculine gender primarily because it ends in a consonant?  However, if there were a female president, the verb endings would still take on the feminine, as in “Prezident skazala…” — “the President said….”  just sayin’…]

Denis:  In what ways are you not in agreement with the agenda of the feminists?

Maxim:  Their goal is to create feminizers for, in general, all words denoting a person.  And this is a distortion of the language.  I do not see anything humiliating for a woman, for example, in the fact that the word “President” is of the masculine gender, and yet is used for both male and female persons.

[to be continued]

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2 Responses to How Feminists Cripple the Russian Language – Part II

  1. Aule says:

    >However, if there were a female president, the verb endings would still take on the feminine, as in “Prezident skazala…” — “the President said….” just sayin’…

    Indeed it would! And I think that’s exactly what he’s talking about – although the word is nominally masculine, the gender of the actual person behind it takes priority. It’s true for every other profession without a commonly accepted feminizers. And since we are talking about people of power for some reason, two examples immediatly spring to mind – “deputat” and “ministr”.

    I think I know a curious case where the opposite is true, in a sense. A male seamstress would still be called “beloshveyka”, wouldn’t he? Because there is no masculine version of this word, and “portnoy” means a different, if similar, thing.


    • yalensis says:

      Hi, Aule, thank you for your comment!
      Yes, indeed, I think that is what Kronhaus is trying to say too; that the natural gender will poke through the (sometimes) arbitrary rules of the grammar. But the interesting thing in this case that the actual gender of the person has to be revealed in the ending of the verb itself. In English you could get away with saying “The President decreed that…” and you could go on for a long time and write very long sentences without revealing the gender, and then suddenly, you could reveal it with the pronoun “she” that the President is a woman. Surprise surprise!
      A lot of writers do this, for example there is a Dan Brown novel (“Inferno”), where he goes on for pages and pages and leads you to believe that the murderer is a man (it actually turns out to be a woman), by just not using any pronouns. I cannot even imagine how this type of text could be translated into a Slavic language. For starters, everything would have to be in the present tense, any use of a past tense verb would reveal the natural gender of the murderer.

      As to your second point, in “classic” Indo-European languages, they have these exceptional cases, like you mention, where the default (or unmarked) gender/sex is female, like the “seamstress” that you mention, or any profession that is traditionally female. And then if a man took on that profession, it would be considered noteworthy, and they might apply a special masculinizing suffix to mark it.

      Another classic example is the Indo-European word for “widow”. This must have been an important concept in those traditional societies, because widows had a special status; widow-ers did not. So the root word is *h₁widʰéwh₂, an athematic substantive with feminine gender. Descendants such as Russian vdova and English “widow”, with a barely a change in the pronunciation since ancient times.

      So if there is a male widow and they felt the need to mark that fact, they apply a special suffix: Russian vdov-ets, English widow-er.


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