Masculinity of the English Language
“It [English] is the language”, Jesperson concludes, “of a grown up man having very little childish or feminine about it”. While analysing and comparing English with many languages, as a philologist he marked out certain characteristics of English, which he found decidedly masculine. The evolution of the language as a masculine one, in fact, coincides with the rise of the Anglo-Saxon people and the subsequent world domination. Perhaps the national spirit for domination contributed much to making English a masculine language. The masculine traits of the language are as follows:
I. Sound System in English:
The sound system of the English language is characterised by certain masculine traits. The consonants are well defined. They belong to their own types, and they are precisely pronounced; for instance, ‘t’ is always pronounced as ‘t’ as in ‘bat’, ‘d’ is always a ‘d’ as in ‘desk’ and so on. These consonantal sounds are much less modified by the following vowels compared to that in some other languages. Except in the cases of diphthongs, English vowels retain their distinctive separate qualities; for instance, ‘a’ has a separate sound from ‘e’. Again, it is found that a large number of words end in two or more consonantal sounds which, though sometimes seem to make the language harsh and rough, brings in considerable energy to the language. But it must be admitted that under the impact of the refined languages like Latin and French, hard consonantal sounds have been softened. This is nowhere prominent than in the evolution of the consonant ‘r’.
II. Simplification of Endings:
It is found that modern English has forsaken certain superficialities which characterised Old English. Modern English has got rid of many endings in nouns, verbs and adjectives, which were mainly ornamental and made the language take a feminine look. For instance, the word ‘land’ has numerous endings in singular and plural in various cases like the nominative, objective, dative, possessive etc—‘land’, ‘ landes’, lande’, ‘landas’, ‘landa’, ‘landum’.
A third masculine characteristic of the English language is that it has rendered many words of two syllables or more into words of one syllable. It is easily to be seen that there is always a greater force in uttering a word of one syllable than in uttering a word of two syllables. The tendency towards monosyllabism has led to the condensation of bigger sentences into smaller ones in many cases.
IV. Business-like Shortening of words and Sentences:
[Napoleon once called the Englishmen “a nation of shopkeepers”. Whether he was correct or not is a matter of great dispute; but the history of the last few centuries shows that England had been a colonising nation, and colonisation had been an off-shoot of capitalism. Perhaps overseas trading for many centuries had an impact on the language; for,] English is marked by business-like shortening of words and sentences. The brevity is one of the masculine characteristics, which makes the language concise and terse.
V. Sobriety in Expression:
Compared to other European peoples, Englishmen dislike strong or hyperbolical expressions and avoid exaggerated ejaculations and try to bring sobriety and restraint in expression. Not only that they try to keep up sobriety in intonation. This is also evident in the fewness of diminutive endings in English.
The virile qualities of English are further illustrated by the fixed word order, except in few rare cases, where there is qualitative change in the normal circumstances.
A look at the tense system in English makes it amply clear. One finds here that the differences between the past tense (He saw) and the present perfect tense (“He has seen”) and the past perfect tense (“He had seen”) are well maintained as compared with similarly formed tenses in Danish and German. Again, logicality is also found in the comparatively recent development of the expanded or progressive tenses. Similarly, English maintains correctly a very subtle distinction between simple past tense (“I wrote”) and present perfect tense (“I have written”). This logical aspect of the language is said to be decidedly masculine.
However, it is now proved that masculinity and femininity are identities fixed by certain mechanisms of a particular culture, and the mechanisms operate in order to favour a particular class, and in the case of a male dominated society anything which women practice as subversive activity is termed derogatorily ‘feminine’. So far from being a glorified status, masculinity should be discussed in terms of the politics of marginalisation and domination in the English culture.