Why are Countries Referred to as Her or She?—We constantly hear people, including ourselves, use feminine pronouns when discussing specific locations such as countries, schools, and the like. In Nigeria, the national vow begins, ‘…to serve Nigeria with all my strength/ to protect her unity/ and to uphold her honor and glory….’ Similarly, Americans sing in ‘God Bless America,’ ‘Stand beside her and lead her.’ This allusion to countries as a woman is not limited to these two. Numerous nations throughout the world are referred to as her.
In this post, we’ll examine why some countries choose the feminine pronoun over the male or neutral pronoun.
Unlike many other languages, the English language does not distinguish nouns by gender. That is, the English language lacks masculine and female nouns. Nouns are simply that—nouns. However, in certain other languages, such as French, nouns are classified according to their gender. A cat, for example, is referred to as ‘la chat.’ This indicates that the noun is feminine. By contrast, a dog is referred to as ‘le Chien,’ indicating that it is a masculine noun. In French, the noun dog is spelled masculine regardless of whether the dog is male or female.
Countries’ Gender Attribution History
One can trace the origins of the gender differentiation between countries in the English language all the way back to Latin. Apart from French, Latin is another language that has had a significant influence on the English language. As with French, this language features masculine and feminine nouns. For example, the term ‘terra firma,’ which translates as ‘earth’ or ‘firm ground,’ is feminine. As a result of the feminine connotation in Latin and the fact that the earth is viewed as a great source of food and nourishment for our forefathers, we refer to our planet as Mother Earth rather than father or a neutral pronoun.
It is believed that all land came to be referred to like her as a result of this. You’ve probably heard people refer to their countries as their ‘Motherland’ or ‘her sovereignty.’
This is not true in every country. In Germany, for example, the country was dubbed ‘Vaterland’ during the second world war. This is a gender-neutral pronoun, yet it signifies ‘Fatherland’ in English. This term is no longer in use.
Why Are the Majority of Countries Addressed as Her or She?
There have been numerous justifications for the centuries-old practice of referring to countries as female. Many people believe that the reason countries are referred to as her or she is because the country is viewed as a mother from whom all citizens are born.
Additionally, feminine pronouns are employed to refer to countries during times of conflict. This is because the majority of people are constantly on the lookout for measures to safeguard their country’s dignity and pride. Thus, they regard their country as a feminine entity whose dignity and pride must be protected. This explanation has been condemned as misogynistic, as it portrays women as weak and perpetually in need of protection, in contrast to their male counterparts.
Another way of looking at this is that countries, like ships, are viewed as protective mothers that wrap their children in their powerful arms and keep them safe from harm. She is thought to care for them and provide emotional support in addition to feeding. These are concerns that a father may not be able to address immediately. A fatherland is envisioned as one that fights or offers military defense. It does not portray a parent who attends to their children’s emotional or nutritional needs in the way that a motherland would.
Typically, the gender distinction in the English language occurs between living or animate nouns and nonliving entities. Male and female are subcategories of living beings, yet often plural pronouns such as ‘they’ are used to refer to gender binary nouns.
Adults are classified as animate and hence use either he or she as appropriate. Previously, children, particularly newborns, were referred to as ‘it,’ but that trend has shifted recently. Animals are typically classified as inanimate and hence use the pronoun ‘it,’ however, this is subject to the writer’s choice, the context of the discussion, and their style of writing.
Leaders and politicians frequently use the term “homeland” to refer to their country. Others choose to use the term ‘motherland’ to allude to their mother’s respect.
As is frequently the case, leaders and indeed politicians are known to influence the population using words, turning the tables in their favor, and presenting themselves as blameless. For example, Stalin, who is famed for his heinous abuse of political power, was reportedly accusing his opponents of committing crimes against the Motherland.
Rather than accusing them of conspiring against him, which would appear to be a personal quarrel that he should resolve with them, he made it appear as though those people were enemies of the country, thereby garnering support for prosecuting those individuals and legitimizing his poor leadership actions.
Linguists have been deciphering the underlying meanings of these statements that endow geographical phenomena with alive characteristics. ‘Founding fathers,’ and ‘Mama Africa,’ are considered to have extensive historical roots.
Inanimate objects, such as geographical entities, are rarely referred to in the English language as male or female. Because the standard pronoun for such nouns or locations is the inanimate pronoun, ‘it,’ many English language learners are surprised to hear that there is an exception for countries.
In comparison to other European languages, some of which are related to English, the majority of them have gender pronouns for nouns, and there are no logical reasons for assigning different genders to objects such as tables and chairs, so learners will be forced to mindlessly memorize the gender of each noun.
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Some have argued that the reference to countries as her or she stems from the respect that citizens of a country feel for their female nationals. Women, for example, are highly appreciated and adored in Russia. They are viewed as individuals who must be protected and treasured with all one’s might. As a result, Russians refer to their beloved homeland as ‘Mother Russia,’ and they are willing to sacrifice anything to protect her.
This article has been helpful in answering the question “Why are Countries Referred to as Her or She?”
However, the use of feminine pronouns for countries has come under fire from some places due to its perceived sexist tone. The majority of people scoff at the notion of their country being a lovely lady in distress who is perpetually in need of protection.
As much as some may argue that these are meaningless terms, it is becoming increasingly clear that in order to preserve national variety and advance the idea of a society that values equality for all genders, even the words we use are critical.