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The Gender Gap

In foreign languages, gender (in its grammatical sense) goes way beyond the masculine, feminine (and sometimes neuter) equivalents of “the.” Gender affects not only articles, but pronouns, adjectives, and participles of verbs as well. Added to this is the fact that certain nouns take a masculine article even though they might apply to a woman and vice versa. Over the years, some denominations have changed based on women filling roles previously held only by men, and vice versa, and also by simple changes in usage. It can be daunting.

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For starters, let’s talk about a word that’s feminine but applies to everyone: la persona (the person). However masculine a person might be, he’s a person, and persona is feminine! For Italians this doesn’t cause any psychological problems... it’s just a matter of grammar. In the following example, Charles is clearly un uomo (a man), but he’s a persona, too. We can’t see the ending of the article, because it’s elided, but we know it’s “la” because the adjective ultimo (last) has a feminine “a” ending to agree with its feminine noun, persona. In fact even questa (this) as a modifier has to agree with the feminine persona

 

Charles Ferrant. Questa è l'ultima persona che ha visto il Conte.

Charles Ferrant. This is the last person who saw the Count.

Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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There’s a fun example of gender ambiguity in the very first episode of Commissioner Manara, Part 4. At police headquarters, Manara is told that the new inspector is in the other room. What makes it fun is that “inspector” is a masculine noun in Italian. The viewer is led to expect a man, not only because ispettore takes a masculine article, but because, at least in the past, it’s always been a position more often filled by men than women (although in part 3 we are introduced to ispettore Sardi, a woman). Ispettrice as a feminine form of ispettore does exist, but Sardi doesn’t use it, and it doesn’t appear in the dictionary.

 

È arrivato il nuovo ispettore, l'esperto di scena del crimine.

The new Inspector has arrived, the crime scene expert.

Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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The noun esperto is also masculine (although some dictionaries do admit the feminine version esperta). In fact, if we use esperto as a noun, it’s masculine (most of the time, even referring to women) but if we use it as an adjective, it must agree with the person. So, if we’re talking about a woman, we’ll say: 

È molto esperta.


She’s very skilled.

To add to the ambiguity, much of the time pronouns are left out altogether, so it’s impossible to say whether the inspector is a he or a she.

 

Ma adesso è di là e sta familiarizzando con i colleghi.

But now he's in there getting to know his co-workers.

Caption 51, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Yabla has chosen to have the translation pronoun agree with ispettore, to maintain the dramatic surprise upon discovering that the inspector is a woman, but it could just as well have agreed with the person the speaker knows is a woman, and been translated as “she.”

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Further study:

For some simple but thorough explanations of grammatical gender see this article. Have another look at Lesson 15, A Few Words About “Some” (Qualche and Alcuni) where, towards the end, there’s some talk of gender when using modifiers. Grammatical gender is a subject that will keep coming up, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, when you learn a new word, learn its article at the same time. In most cases the vocabulary reviews connected with the video include the articles with the nouns. Approfittane! (Take advantage of it!)  

 

Grammar

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