I love Trader Joe’s. We live about midway between two of their stores, so I end up shopping there two or three times a week. My husband would probably starve to death if I didn’t keep our freezer stocked with Chicken Tikka Masala, Mac ‘n Cheese, and the like for his lunches. And their goat milk brie reminds me of the excellent cabra cheese I enjoyed in Spain last summer, with a firm crust and a soft center.
But ever since TJ’s introduced their Chicken Asada, my happy shopping mood is punctured every time I cruise the refrigerator case. The problem is that chicken (pollo) is masculine in Spanish, so Asada should really be be Asado. The abominably feminine Asada is no doubt a carry-over from the more famous Carne Asada, which Trader Joe’s also sells. However, TJ’s gets chicken gender right in their Pollo Asado (this is just chicken, no vegetables or sauce), and Pollo Asado pizza.
Wrong gender! Abomination!
Correct gender for pollo (with or without pizza) and carne
If you care about Spanish grammar, please contact Trader Joe’s to complain — maybe they’ll fix the product name if they hear from enough hispanophiles! Here is some suggested wording.
Please change the name of your Chicken Asada product to Chicken Asado, to match the (correct) gender you use for your ‘Pollo Asado’. Chicken (‘pollo’) is masculine in Spanish, so ‘asada’ is just plain wrong. ‘Asada’ is correct in ‘Carne Asada’, but that’s because meat (‘carne’) is feminine.
I drank a lot of coffee when I was recently in Spain, partly because of jet lag and partly because the coffee was so good. As in the U.S., it was always served with a small paper container of sugar. Who ever reads these containers? I do — when I’m in Spain — and was rewarded with a linguistic gem: one sugar packet I opened was labeled azucar morena (see picture). This was truly surprising, not because of the missing accent mark on azúcar, but because morena is a feminine adjective, and azúcar is masculine.
Or is it?
Although I had learned azúcar as a masculine noun, and had always seen it treated as such, It turns out that azúcar is one of a handful of Spanish nouns that are ambiguous in gender, meaning that either morena or moreno is legitimate. You can see this for yourself on wordreference.com or in the Real Academia Española dictionary.
I was familiar with this phenomenon from the examples of radio, esperma ‘sperm’, and reúma ‘rheumatism’. The latter two were borrowed from Greek as feminines because of their final -a, but have drifted toward masculine usage because the -ma masculine, most often seen in words of Greek origin, is associated with intellectual words such as tema, poema, and apotegma.
In its Nueva gramática de la lengua española, the Real Academia points out that words of ambiguous gender are relatively rare. Besides azúcar, they list:
- mar ‘sea’ (I believe that the feminine usage is confined to set expressions like pelillos a la mar ‘let bygones be bygones’)
- agravante ‘aggravating circumstance’
- armazón ‘shell, frame’ (as of a building)
- azumbre ‘liquid measure, corresponding to 2 liters’
- interrogante ‘question’
- maratón ‘marathon’
- prez ‘honor’
- pringue ‘grease, drippings’
- ánade ‘duck’
Now that I’ve written this post, I can finally throw out the sugar packets I brought home from Spain: a sweet reminder (jajaja) of how travel can open up new linguistic horizons.
[Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. ¡Scroll down for English translation!]
Últimamente he vuelto mi atención de los pluralia tantum al género gramatical (otra vez), y he investigado un poco la historia del género en otros idiomas relacionados al español. Ya sabía que el latín tenía tres géneros (masculino, feminino, y neutro), que heredó este sistema del proto-indo-europeo, que el francés y el italiano (como el español) solo tienen el masculino y el femenino), y que el alemán todavía tiene el neutro. He aprendido que:
- Todos los lenguajes romanos perdieron el género neutro. Esto implica que ya habría ido fallando en el latín vulgar.
- El alemán no es el único idioma indo-europeo moderno en preservar el neutro. Otros incluyen el gujarati (un idioma de India), el griego, y el ruso.
- El inglés no es el único idioma indo-europeo moderno en haber perdido completamente el género gramatical. Otros incluyen el armenio y el bengalí.
- El resultado romance (con el masculino y el femenino, pero sin el neutro) es el más común. Otros idiomas en esta ala incluyen el albanés, el hindi, los idiomas célticos, y los idiomas bálticos (el letón y el lituano).
- El polaco y el serbio (los dos eslavos) han sorprendentemente aumentado sus sistemas de género de tres a cinco géneros por medio de dividir el masculino en tres géneros distintos: objetos inanimados, seres humanos, y otras entidades animadas. Para una geek lingüística como yo, ¡esto es una de las cosas más interesantes que he aprendido en los últimos meses! Se puede enterar más de ello en Wikipedia (busca la expresión “five genders”) o, para una fuente más respetable, en las páginas 425-6 de Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, por Benjamin Fortson IV. Recomiendo este libro de todas maneras.
I’ve recently turned my attention from pluralia tantum back to noun gender, and did some research on the history of gender in languages related to Spanish. I already knew that Latin had three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), that it inherited this system from Proto-Indo-European, that French and Italian (like Spanish) only have masculine and feminine, and that German has neuter. Here’s what I’ve learned in the last few days.
- All Romance languages lost the neuter gender. This implies that it must already have been on its way out in Vulgar Latin.
- German isn’t the only modern Indo-European language to preserve the neuter gender. Others include Gujarati, Greek, and Russian.
- English isn’t the only modern Indo-European language to have completely lost gender. Others include Armenian and Bengali.
- The Romance outcome (masculine and feminine in, neuter out) is the most common. Other languages in this camp are Albanian, Hindi, the modern Celtic languages, and the Baltic languages (Latvian and Lithuanian).
- Polish and Sorbian (these are both Slavic languages) have actually jumped from three genders to five by splitting masculine into three categories: inanimate, human, and other animate. For a language geek like me, this is one of the most coolest things I’ve learned in the last several months! You can read about it on Wikipedia (search for the phrase “five genders”) or, for a more reputable source, on pp. 425-6 in Benjamin Fortson IV’s Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, which I strongly recommend in any case.