Thursday, April 24, 2014

Missing something important

Hunting for some charts already digitized for Ukrainian grammar, I found a very basic website. Its "Lesson" on Ukrainian Feminine begins by saying "we need to know what the role of Feminine is in the structure of the grammar in Ukrainian." Fine, yes indeed we do. But then it says (straight off the site, including their rather idiosyncratic transliteration):
Ukrainian feminine refers to female qualities attributed specifically to women and girls or things considered feminine. The complement to feminine is masculine. Here are some examples:

he is happy vіn shtaslivij - він щасливий
she is happy vona shtasliva - вона щаслива
he is American vіn amerikanecj - він американець
she is American vona amerikanka - вона американка

man cholovіk - чоловік
woman zhіnka - жінка
father batjko - батько
mother mati - мати
brother brat - брат
sister sestra - сестра
uncle djadjko - дядько
aunt tіtka - тітка
bull bik - бик
cow korova - корова
boy hlopchik - хлопчик
girl dіvchina - дівчина
In fact, every single feminine noun on that list is a female person or animal.

Then we get this exercise:
Below is a list of objects, can you determine whether they're feminine, masculine or plural in Ukrainian? Memorizing this table will also help you add very useful and important words to your Ukrainian vocabulary.
There's a real problem here, and it's not just that suddenly the student is being asked to conclude that words like "kitchen kuhnja - кухня" are somehow "things considered feminine", or to try and guess how these words are "considered feminine":
jacket kurtka - куртка
lamp lampa - лампа
map karta - карта
newspaper gazeta - газета
while words like these are "considered masculine":
knife nіzh - ніж
letter list - лист
hat kapeljuh - капелюх
house budinok - будинок
No, while that's a very problematic way to present grammatical gender (forks are girls, but knives are boys! Pens are girls but pencils are boys!) it's fairly common and might work. No, it's in in words on the list like
coat paljto - пальто
ink chornilo - чорнило
window vіkno - вікно
soap milo - мило
Because they are not "feminine, masculine or plural". They're neuter, and how the poor student is supposed to guess that when "neuter" isn't even a concept in the course. In fact, the first list has two masculine nouns that end in o, so the student is likely to believe all the others are masculine as well... Trying to cope with Ukrainian without knowing the neuter is an impossible task.

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At 10:38 AM, April 26, 2014 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

If you haven't already read it, don't miss David Sedaris's essay "Make That a Double", from his book Me Talk Pretty One Day. He talks about coping with grammatical gender in French (after wondering what connection these objects have with penises and vaginas) by always talking about them in twos, so the article doesn't matter.

At 1:40 PM, April 30, 2014 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

That won't really help in Ukrainian, at least not always - the genitive and accusative plural forms are different by gender, too.


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