A couple of weeks ago I posted about a weird sauna experience which was especially surprising because everything had been so normal so far. And of course things started to get even weirder after that.
There is a Finnish band, Eläkeläiset, which makes humppa (it's a music style) "covers" of famous rock songs (in Finnish of course). Like this: original, cover. And apparently this band is a Thing in Germany. We went to see their gig, and it was a weird cultural experience.
However, this blog post is not about that band or that gig, but I have a real (kitchen) linguistic theme here:
Germans have a cute habit of using the pronoun "it" when they talk about a baby, even when he/she is their own and the gender of the baby is definitely known. Like this: "Our baby was born a month ago. It only sleeps two hours max at a time."
"It" has actually been used when talking about babies in English too, but it's nowadays getting rarer.
I'm not 100% sure (hey, this is kitchen linguistics), but I think that Germans use "it" when talking about babies because of the gender system of the German language.
German naturally has separate pronouns for he, she and it (er, sie, es), like in English. But since inanimate objects also have a gender in German, the pronouns are used a bit differently than in English.
For example, Germans say: "Ich habe einen Brief bekommen, aber ich habe ihn noch nicht gelesen." - "I got a letter, but I didn't read him yet." A letter is a masculine, so "he" is used when referring to it. So, he is used with masculine nouns, she with feminine nouns and it with neuter nouns.
I've never heard a German make a "I didn't read him yet" type of a mistake when speaking English. Maybe Germans have a mental model where all English nouns are neuter.
Baby is neuter, das Baby, in German, and that's probably why "it" is often used when talking about babies, but always in a loving tone of voice. I find it awesome because of two subtle connotations: 1) a baby is not a "real human" yet, but it will become one when it grows up 2) babies are genderless, i.e., their gender is irrelevant.
In Finnish, we only have one word (hän) for he and she, and a separate word for it (se). So, "hän" is for humans, and "se" is for non-humans. But in spoken language, we also say "se" when talking about humans, so we really need to use only one pronoun.
This is also the reason why I cannot get he / she / him / her / his / her right in English - mostly I just randomly choose a gender and rely on it being correct in 50% of the cases. This leads into epic utterances like "she got his act together".
But when I say "her wife" or "his boyfriend", I'm usually not confusing genders, because both exist in my circle of friends. And sorry, all transgender folks, I don't use the wrong pronouns because your gender is so confusing - I use the wrong pronouns for everybody.