What gender is your country?

Easterner   Saturday, July 31, 2004, 18:20 GMT
I am aware that many English-speaking people refer to their country as if it were female, that is, with the pronoun "she". This serves to express emotional attachment, as if the country were a mother. My question is if this is possible also in formal style (I have encountered this problem when translating such documents). For me at least, it would be a little strange to refer to Hungary as "she", and prefer to use the more neutral "it", even if I love my country.

A related issue: We in Hungary refer to our country as "motherland" or "mother country", while e.g. for a Croatian, it is "fatherland". Is your country a "father" or a "mother" in your culture?
bob   Saturday, July 31, 2004, 20:24 GMT
Well, USA has got to be male. Look at Florida.
Jordi   Saturday, July 31, 2004, 21:13 GMT
American states with Spanish names can either be male or female depending on gender in Spanish: la California, la Florida, la Arizona, las Tejas. The masculine ones would be Nuevo Méjico, el Colorado, and Puerto Rico; la Indiana would have to be feminine... You've only got to see if they end in "a" (femenine) or "o" masculine. USA would be masculine in Spanish since it's los Estados Unidos de América.
Konrad Valentin   Saturday, July 31, 2004, 21:38 GMT
Britain is female. Germany is male.
Damian   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 07:44 GMT
Britain's "unofficial" anthem is "Land of Hope and Glory, MOTHER of the free". The official anthem is all about "saving" one particular individual, whose gender can vary depending who is sitting on the throne at that particular time... currently female... So I guess Britain is female. Not so Scotland the Brave , though. I would regard my UK constituent country as essentially male.

Across the channel we have La Belle France and further away, there is Mother Russia. In between there is Germany, which Konrad says is male....I agree. It was described as such historically. I suppose countries are like people....they fall into the two genders.
Easterner   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 08:03 GMT
Yes, I agree about Germany, it is called "das deutsche Vaterland" in their anthem.

From what you said, I think it is justified to use "she" where the country is perceived as female by its inhabitants, even in more formal documents. Where it is perceived as "fatherland", it is more appropriate to use "it". Of course I am speaking about cases where the gender is not determined by the ending, as in Spanish, French or Russian. This is not a common problem in drafting a text or translation, but it is an interesting cultural issue.
garans   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 08:31 GMT
In our language practically all countries are female.

Though we also use "fatherland" - "otchizna" which is paradoxically female by its ending.
Peter   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 08:35 GMT
Poland (Polska) is female. Another way of saying it is the word 'homeland' (ojczyzna) - which is also female - every word which ends with the letter 'a' is female in Polish.
But it seems nobody refers to Poland as 'she' (it's rather 'it').
If one wants to express an emotional relationship to it he just says 'Homeland' - female gender of this word emphasizes the emotional relationship.
Easterner   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 08:53 GMT
What about the Earth as a planet? It's also female in many languages (such as "tierra" in Spanish and "zemlya" in Russian), but in English the nouns have no grammatical gender. Would you say "the Earth and her inhabitants" or "the Earth and its inhabitants"? Again I mean in a cultural and not in a strictly linguistic sense.
Peter   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 09:19 GMT
I would say "The Earth and HER inhabitants"?

Why? the Earth (Ziemia) is female in Polish. But more important - in many languages you can say 'Mother Earth' or even "She" about the Earth.
I think it justifies the use of the word "her" in refer to the Earth.
Jordi   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 10:03 GMT
In good old grand British tradition "only" ships are female "she" or "her", as far as things without a gender go: "the Endeavour left England and she was a fine ship indeed and her sails swept the southern seas." I just made that up. When "Britannia ruled the waves" she is always depicted as a woman, in paintings and sculptures, but Britain is something quite different and does not have a gender at all.
Britannia is definitely female, as is Australia (Terra Australis Incognita) or Hispania or Germania since all these names have a strong Latin etymological past and, it would seem, countries with old Latin names are usually Latin in solid Roman tradition. Nevertheless, it would be absolutely inappropiate to refer to them as femenine or masculine according to English linguistic rules. And, what wouldn't do, would be to endow countries with virtues or flaws that both females and males seem to share. All countries, as most people, have a masculine and feminine side to them, whatever that may be.
Signed by a heterosexual father of two, a son and a daughter.
Jordi   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 10:06 GMT
I said
<< are usually Latin in solid Roman tradition

I meant: are usually female in Solid Roman tradition.

That doesn't change the rest of my message where I support that countries in English haven't got a gender at all.
Easterner   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 10:33 GMT

Just to clear away any misunderstandings: of course it would be inappropriate to endow countries with any feminine or masculine qualities. I have created this topic first of all to discuss which pronoun should be used for a country in English due to the absence of marked grammatical gender. The choice is between "she" or it". Now I am beginning to think that if you refer to a country (or to planet Earth) as "she", you tend to view it more as a person and that signifies your emotional attachment. However, I can also conclude that in some cultures it is not usual to refer to your country as a person, therefore the more neutral pronoun is used in English, too.
garans   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 10:45 GMT
They used to put an image of a country on paper money or made sculptures, especially in times of a war.
I'v never seen a man representing a country though political leaders on money are mostly men.
Jordi   Sunday, August 01, 2004, 10:58 GMT
Thank you Easterner for your words.
What I was saying is that it isn't gramatically correct to refer to countries as persons in English. It could be argued if that is applicable to planets with names like Venus or Saturn but is would still be what is called a "poetic licence" to do so in English, althoug one is named after a goddess and the other after a god. The only poetic licence that has become fully standard in English, as far as I know, are "ships" due to the strong tradition in the British Navy to regard ships as female protectors.
Anyway,as far as languages with genders go, syntax can also make a female country name become a male in the speaker's mind. Try if you can do this in a Slavonian language and I'll put an example in my native Catalan. You'll realise that countries are'nt truely gendered and have to follow the laws of internal syntax:

"Catalunya és el meu país."
"Catalonia is my country."
"Catalunya és la meva nació"
"Catalonia is my nation."

Catalunya is feminine but "country" is masculine whilst nation is feminine. This means that I have to put the whole sentence in masculine or feminine "el meu" instead of "la meva". The normal speaker, who says these sentences, thinks immediately of his country as "masculine" or "feminine" depending on which of the two sentences he has just said. and not "feminine." This is just an easy example.
The thing wouldn't work at all with a gir'ls name since syntax would always oblige us to fill the rest of the sentence in femenine:
"Maria és bruna amb els ulls blaus"
"Maria is brunette with blue eyes."
I could never say: "Maria és bru" since only "Pere" (Peter) can be "bru"
As you can see, in languages with genders, we can transvestite most of our thoughts at will and not everything is at seems.