Faux Genders

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Faux Genders is a perhaps misleading term referring to cognates in the Romance languages which are not consistent in grammatical gender (noun class) from one language to the next.

Following is a collection of some examples of these.


This project was originally started as a random exercise, with the following explanation:

Spanish and French, both being Romance languages, have a gender attribute to their nouns. Also, being related, many words have the same origin. These are called cognates. In French, cognates that don't have the same meaning as their source are called faux amis. Having studied French before Spanish, and not ever having been good at remembering what gender a given noun was in French, I found it convenient to rely on Spanish when I needed a noun's gender, since remembering a noun's gender in Spanish is as simple as learning only a few rules and a handful of exceptions. However, it turns out that not all French-Spanish cognates have the same gender, though probably well over 90% do.[1]

Here's a small compilation of exceptions that Jonathan North Washington, Hannah Beth Washington, George Martin Fell Brown, and Michael-Forest Meservy have been able to collect.

This data is now being collected for Hannah's B.A. thesis.

The Chart

Faux Genders
English Latin Romanian Portuguese Galician Spanish Catalan Occitan French Jèrriais Cotentinais Romansh Italian Sardinian
First declension
edge, border ora, orae (1f) a orla la orla l'orlo (masc) oru
Second declension
nose nasus, nasi (2m) o nariz o nariz l a nariz el nas le nez l'nez il nas il naso nasu
journey, voyage viaticus, viatici (2m) a viagem a viaxe el viaje el viatge le voyage il viaggio
glass vitrum, vitri (2n) o vidro o vidro el vidrio le verre l'vèrre il vaider il vetro bidru
la vitre l'vitre vetru
Third declension
ear auris, auris (3f) ureche (fem) a orelha a orella la oreja l'orella (fem) l'oreille (fem) l'orecchio (masc)[2] orija
auricula, auriculae (1f) le orecchie
flower[3] flos, floris (3m) floare (fem) a flor a flor la flor la flor la fleur[4] la flieur la flleur la flur il fiore flore
înflorire (fem) fiore
colour color, coloris (3m) culoare (fem) a cor a cor el color[5] el color[6] la couleur la couleu la couoleu la colur il colore colore
colorit (neut) la color
pain dolor, doloris (3m) durere (fem) a dor a dor el dolor el dolore[6] la douleur il dolore dolore
la dolore
bridge pons, pontis (3m) punte (fem) a ponte a ponte el puente el pǫnt le pont la punt il ponte ponte
ponton; pod (neut.) ponti
tooth dens, dentis (3m) dinte (masc)[7] o dente o dente el diente la dent[8] il dente dente
inch pollex, pollicis (3m) a polegada a polgada la pulgada le pouce il polesch il pollice poddighe (mannu)
blood sanguis, sanguinis (3m) sînge ("masc") o sangue o sangue la sangre la sang sang (fem) le sang l'sang il sang il sangue sanguni
sang (masc) sambene
salt sal, salis (3m) sare (fem) o sal o sal la sal[9] la sal le sel il sal il sale sale
labor, task, ploughing labor, laboris (3m) o lavouro o labor la labor la labor le labeur il lavoro
le labour
dust, powder pulvis, pulveris (3m) pulbere (fem) a poeira a poeira el polvo la pols la poussière la polvere piuere
la poudre
end finis, finis (3m, i-stem) o fim o fin el fin el fi la fin la fin la fine fine
la fi il fine finis
sweat sudor, sudoris (3m) sudoare fem) o suor o suor el sudor el suor[6] la sueur il sudore suore
la suor la suée
warmth, heat calor, caloris (3m) căldură fem) o calor o calor el calor[5] el calor[6] la chaleur il calore il calore
la calor
cloud nubes, nubis (3f) nour (masc)[10] a nuvem a nube la nube el núvol le nuage l'nouage la nuaée il nivel la nuvola nue
valley valles, vallis (3f) o vale o val el valle[11] la vall la vallée la vallée la val la valle badde
tree arbor, arboris (3f) a árvore a árbore el árbol[12] el arbre l'arbre (masc)[13] l'arbre (masc); l'bouais l'âbre (masc) l'albero (masc) árbures[14]
art ars, artis (3f) a arte a arte el arte el arte l'art (masc)[15] l'art (masc) l'art (masc) l'arte (fem) arte
las artes l'arte (fem)
custom consuetudo, consuetudinis (3f) o costume o costume la costumbre la coutume il costume costumene
origin origo, originis (3f) origine (fem) a origem a orixe el origen[16] el origen l'origine (fem) l'origine (fem) origine
hail grando, grandinis (3f) o granizo el granizo la grêle la granella la grandine
milk lac, lactis (3n) lapte (neut) o leite o leite la leche la llet lach le lait[17] l'lait il latg il latte latte
sea mar, maris (3n) mare (fem) o mar o mar el mar[18] el mar[19] la mer[20] la mé la mé la mar il mare mare
la mar
honey mel, mellis (3n) miere (fem) o mel o mel la miel el mel le miel il miele miele
la mel
Fourth declension
Fifth declension
ice glacies, glaciei (5f) o gelo o xeo el hielo la glace il glatsch il ghiaccio ghiacciu
landscape a paisagem a paisaxe el paisaje le paysage il paesaggio paesaggiu
flag a bandeira a bandeira la bandera le drapeau la couleu la couoleu la bandiera
spider a aranha a araña la araña l'araignée (fem) l'pêtre il ragno
make-up a maquiagem el maquillaje le maquillage
garage garaj (neut) a garagem o garaxe el garaje el garatge le garage la garascha
car automobil (neut) o auto el auto l'auto (masc) l'auto (fem) la vaituthe; moto (?) la qùérette; la maringote; l'éto (?) l'auto (masc) l'automobile (fem)
tomato[21] tomată o tomate o tomate el tomate el tomàquet la tomate la tanmate la tomata
edge, border bordură (fem) o bordo la bordure
yam[22] o inhame el ñame l'igname (fem) l'igname (masc)
Created from adjectival forms[23]
minute minut o minuto o minuto el minuto la minute la minnute la minute la minuta il minuto
Derived from verbs, also known as deverbal or postverbal nouns
conquest a conquista a conquista la conquista la conquète la contchête le conqùet la conquista
shelf a estante o estante el estante l'étagère (fem)


  1. In light of Richard V. Teschner's 1986 study ("The Genders of French and Spanish Noun Cognates: Some Statistics and a List" from The Canadian Modern Language Review, Jan. 1986: 256-66), this guesstimate can be revised. Teschner found 14,966 noun cognates between French and Spanish, of which 13,825 have the same grammatical gender; this indicates that 92.38% of French cognates with Spanish share the same gender.
  2. This is one of several irregular plural formations in Italian. More common irregular formations in Italian appear with a masculine singular noun ending in -o, which changes to a feminine noun in the plural with its ending in -a. Examples of these "plurali irregolari" are: il braccio-le braccia, il ciglio-le ciglia, il labbro-le labbra, l'uovo (m)-le uova, il dito-le dita, il riso-le risa ('laughter'), l'osso (m)-le ossa, il ginocchio-le ginocchia, etc. Interestingly enough, Polinsky and Van Everbroek inform us that lèvre in Old French was variable - sometimes masculine, sometimes feminine - while, in modern French, lèvre 'lip' is feminine (“Development of Gender Classifications: Modeling the Historical Change from Latin to French”, Language, 79.2 (Jun., 2003): 356-90). It should be further noted that la deda in dialectal Spanish (the feminine of el dedo 'the finger') refers to the thumb. This structure, along with more common/acceptable variants such as il brazo/la braza 'the arm/the fathom' (both singular grammatically and semantically) and other such pairs, demonstrates the way in which Spanish deals with the loss of the neuter, as well as semantic differences regarding size. This is discussed more thoroughly in Werner Wandersleben's article "Sobre el Femenino Aumentativo", in RLA, 19 (1981), 9-18.
  3. According to Rolhfs, the case of flos, floris (m) adopting questionable gender in modern Romance languages has to do with the same factors that cause abstract Latin nouns in -or from the third declension to illustrate the same sorts of issues. He cites the fact that this word in modern Romances has the semantic value of both 'flower' and 'blossom', and suggests that flos is therefore not completely concrete. Thus, he makes a case for the classification of flos, floris as abstract ("Aspects du latin vulgaire examiné à travers la géographie linguistique", Travaux de Linguistique et de Litterature, 17.1 (1979), 7-25). See the footnote following fleur for a different approach.
  4. Many abstract words with the accusative singular in -orem became feminine in French (e.g., dolor (masc) > douleur (fem)). The nonabstract 'flower' supposedly followed suit, according to historical grammars, which appeal to analogy and abstractness. Polinsky and Van Everbroek suggest that a better explanation would be analogy to nonabstract feminine nouns in -orem that occur with high frequency, e.g., suror 'sister', and uxor 'spouse' (“Development of Gender Classifications: Modeling the Historical Change from Latin to French”, Language, 79.2 (Jun., 2003): 356-90).
  5. 5.0 5.1 According to Ralph Penny (A History of the Spanish Language, Cambridge: University Press (2002), 125), Spanish 'calor' and 'color' were usually feminine in Old Spanish but revert to masculine after the Golden Age. Penny also mentions that these two nouns remain feminine in regional speech.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Zenenko states that nouns ending in -orem (in the accusative) are generally masculine in Latin but often develop into feminine nouns in Ibero-Romance. However, in the case of Catalan, these nouns are almost exclusively masculine in the spoken language, with the feminine equivalent appearing more and more in formal writing (“Acerca de la manifestación del género de los sustantivos y adjetivos como categoría grammatical en las lenguas romances ibéricas”, Verba, 10.1 (1983): 231-247).
  7. According to Perkowski and Vrabie, this fits into three different semantic groups of the uncommon masculine inanimates in Romanian. That is, it fits into the groups related to bilaterality, anatomy, and implanted and hanging verticality. Vrabie and Perkowski also mention that the structure dinte/dinṭi shows an ending pattern that occurs frequently in animate masculine nouns and in adjectives, thus containing many aspects that maintain its grammatical gender. See footnote for nuor for bibliographic information.
  8. According to Rohlfs 1979, this phenomenon can be explained thusly: la dent developed as a feminine noun due to the influence of MOLA 'molar' and was reinforced by the feminine MENS, MENTIS, which has the same structure in the declension paradigm.
  9. 'Sal' is feminine in Spanish except in the Northwest of Spain (Penny 125).
  10. This fits into Vrabie and Perkowski's "celestial entites" semantic category, as part the paradigm for masculine inanimate Romanian nouns. Most inanimates are neuter in Romanian. (For further information, see their article "Covert Semantic and Morphophonemic Categories in the Romanian Gender System" in the Slavic and East European Journal, 30.1 (Spring 1986): 54-67.)
  11. Old Spanish 'la val' was feminine (Penny 125).
  12. 'Árbol' was often still feminine in Old Spanish (Penny 125).
  13. According to Polinsky & Van Everbroek, the traditional view of the development of l'arbre (masc) is the following: when tree names in Latin (which were feminine and ended in -us) became masculine nouns due to their similarities with second declension masculine nouns, Old French arbor became masculine by analogy. The authors, however, believe that a more plausible explanation would be that arbor became masculine around the same time that many nonabstract Latin nouns in -orem became masculine in early Old French. However, the majority of such nouns started as neuter in Latin. For example, Lat. cor > OFr. coeur 'heart' (“Development of Gender Classifications: Modeling the Historical Change from Latin to French”, Language, 79.2 (Jun., 2003): 356-90).
  14. This noun appears in Gerhard Rohlf's article "Aspects du latin vulgaire examiné à travers la géographie linguistique", published in Travaux de Linguistique et de Litterature, 17.1 (1979).
  15. Old French art was of variable M/F gender (Polinsky & Van Everbroek 364).
  16. 'Origen' was feminine in Latin and Spanish until the Golden Age (Penny 125).
  17. According to Polinsky and Van Everbroek, lacte was commonly used in Late Latin and was eventually reinterpreted as standing for lactem (especially as the final -m was weakened). A masculine noun lactis could have then been formed by analogy ("Development of Gender Classifications: Modeling the Historical Change from Latin to French", Language, 79.2 (Jun., 2003), 356-90).
  18. It should be noted that Sp. mar can be either masculine or feminine. The standard is, as shown, masculine; however, in certain fixed expressions, it is feminine. E.g., Ayer había mucha mar; en alta mar; hacerse a la mar; etc. Examples are according to www.wordreference.com, accessed 27 January 2008.
  19. The two gender options refer to differences in semantic value. El mar refers to the general mass or body of water. La mar refers to a specific body of water (i.e., a named sea) or a large mass of any other kind of liquid (e.g., a sea of blood, a sea of tears, etc.).
  20. Polinsky and Van Everbroek cite Meyer-Lübke and Pope, who believe that mare changed from the neuter in Latin to the feminine in Old French by analogy with terra 'land'.
  21. This word is adapted from Nahuatlan tomatl (compare with the Latinate word seen in the Italian pomodoro). For further information, see William A. Read's Louisiana-French (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1931, pg 149).
  22. According to Read 1931, the Portuguese and Spanish forms have their origins in West African niami, niambi, and that the African forms derive from Arabic gambah, 'yam-like root' (150). The French and Italian forms are adaptations from Spanish and Portuguese. Interestingly, the Louisiana-French version is yamme and is feminine, not having suffered from Spanish influence.
  23. "'Abstract nouns of quality' - noun derivatives of qualitative adjectives - are normally feminine" (Posner, Rebecca. The Romance Languages. Cambridge: University Press, 2002: 55).

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