Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Loving Mates

English is a practical language, but not ideal for people that like rules, such as non-native English learners.  One example is the masculine and feminine form of animals.  Distinct words describe the male and female of the species for barnyard and forest (hunted) creatures.  Examples include bull and cow, rooster and hen, ram and ewe, and buck and doe.  Please note that there is no pattern whatsoever in the manner the male/female pattern is formed.  As English teachers say about spelling, you just have to memorize it, what fun!

By contrast, Hebrew is ideal for those who like some sense of order.  Regarding the same issue, the Yosi Banai song, מרוב אהבה [merov ahava], meaning Because of Love, admirably shows the Hebrew manner of gender differentiation.  In this song, a male suffering from the inability to communicate with his loved one compares his poor communication skills to that of others, non-human, noting how each of them expresses its love.  The interesting part of the song, linguistically of course, is the choice of the standards of comparison:

ענן  / עננה  [onan] / onana] – Cloud – feminine form adding an [a];
זבוב  / זבובית  [zvuv] / zvuvit] – Fly – feminine form adding an [it];
פיל  /  פילה [pil / pila] – Elephant – feminine form adding an [a];
מלאך  /מלאכית  [malach / malachite] – Angel - feminine form adding an [it]
פסיק / נקודה [psik / neduda] – comma/period – well, 100% doesn’t exist in languages, right?

Any Hebrew speaker would instantly recognize the gender pair if s/he had never thought of flies or clouds for that way.  The forms follow an established rule for gendering that makes instant recognition easy.

Translating this song into English is almost impossible in terms of the sound aspect because the lyricist is forced to use the clumsy words such as male cloud and female cloud.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, a French translator could merely change the article from le to la to make that difference, but, while grammatically correct, it would lose the overall whimsical sound effect.

 If you are interested in hearing the song, here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP4AVOiJtao.

In the meantime, like the tongue-tied lover in the song, I will shut up.

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