A clever tweet caught my eye this morning:

It prompted me to think of another aspect of gender and Brexit – in language.

Brexit – the noun – is gendered in most European languages, simply because all nouns are gendered. The Guardian had an article back in 2016 exploring this, but they covered rather few European languages. Here, thanks to an interesting Twitter debate, I am going to explore this more comprehensively.

Key:
{m} – masculine
{f} – feminine
{n} – neuter
{c} – common (as used in Danish, Swedish)

 

Latin Languages

French
le Brexit {m}
Masculine. Reasoning is unclear – some argue that imported nouns are allocated a gender, while trying to work out an adequate root of the word has caused some discussion. It is la sortie {f}, but exit as an imported word is {m} – in contrast to Italian.

Italian
la Brexit {f}
In Italian exit – l’uscita – is {f} and exit as an imported word is also {f} in Italian (in contrast to French). Thanks Guglielmo Meardi for the explanation. Further detail here.

Spanish
el Brexit {m}
Rule of thumb is words from English are masculine – as explained here.

Portuguese
o Brexit {m}
Borrowed words usually masculine – explained here.

Romanian
Brexitul {n}
Masculine singular, feminine plural, so neuter – thanks Arnold Platon for this extraordinary explanation! The essence is that it is phonetic – a word ending in t is allocated masculine singular.

Latin
Brexitus {m}
4th dec masculine noun – top marks to David Landon Cole for the nerdiness here!

 

Slavic Languages

Slovenian
tisti Brexit {m}
Thanks Marko!

Croatian
Brexit {m}
Thanks Marko R and Gabi A

Bulgarian
Брекзит {m}
Thanks Margarita
!

Polish
Brexit {m}
Note there are no definite articles in Polish. In Polish there is a rule – if it ends with -a, it’s feminine, if it ends with -e or -o, it’s neuter and the rest is masculine. So Brexit is masculine. Thanks Monika Kosinska!

Czech
Brexit {m}
Thanks Andrew.

Slovak
Brexit {m}
Thanks Paul Kaye, explained with an example here.

Russian
Брексит {m}
Masculine, because Exit (выход) is masculinethanks Eliot Rothwell

 

Germanic and Nordic Languages

German
der Brexit {m}
Masculine based on the der Austritt {m}, meaning exit.

Danish
en Brexit {c} OR et Brexit {n}
Common gender (Danish has Common and Neuter genders) seems to be more common – see for example en hård brexit in Politiken, but neuter also used. No consensus established. Thanks Thomas W!

Swedish
en Brexit {c} OR ett Brexit {n}
See this from Dagens Arena that talks of ett hårt Brexit, neuter. Meanwhile en hård Brexit (common gender) also seems to be used. Seems Swedish does not have an agreed gender for Brexit yet. Even SAOL allows both, priority for en – thanks Duncan Hill.

Norwegian
en Brexit {m}
Masculine. Unlike Danish and Swedish, Norwegian has masculine, feminine and neuter (except in the Bergen dialect). Christer explains it thus: «that Brexit over there» = «den Brexiten der borte», where the ending -en is masculine. Otherwise it would be Brexita (feminine) or det Brexitet (neutral), which would both sound contrived and awful he says.

Icelandic
Það Brexit {n}
Neuter. Thanks Asta! Icelandic still has masculine, feminine and neuter.

Dutch
de Brexit {m} (probably)
This is complex. Richard Tol told me it was de Brexit, and no-one has disputed that. A comment from Peter Ede below explained more. A huge discussion broke out on Facebook too, with Alexandra and Lauren contributing. Essentially masculine and feminine still exist in Dutch (in a way they do not in Danish or Swedish – all explained here), but their use is indistinguishable with the definite article. So we think Brexit is masculine, but do not know for sure.

 

Other Languages

Greek
το Brexit {n}
Neuter – thanks Nikos!

Maltese
il-Brexit {m}
Thanks Dani

Latvian
Breksits {m}
The s at the end indicates a masculine noun. x is not used in Latvian, so x is substituted with ks. Thanks Tija!

Lithuanian
Brexitas {m}
Thanks Ernestas!

Irish
Breatimeacht {m} (pronounced Brat-im-ocht)
Means Brit-leaving – thanks Ronan Delaney, who then did some super follow up – there’s even a joke in it, for you Irish speakers! More detail from Kilian McDonagh as well.

Chinese
脱欧 (tuō’ōu) – no gender
M
eans “breaking off from Europe” rather than “Britain breaking off”

Regional dialects
We’re opening a whole new area here!

 

Nouns in Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Turkish, Farsi and Japanese do not have genders.

6 Comments

  1. Pingback: Mapping the gender of Brexit | A.P.

  2. Finnish doesn’t have gender on nouns. Actually it doesn’t even have gender for personal nouns. He and she are both “hän”.

  3. Peter Ede

    Lovely piece, but I’m afraid Dutch actually no longer has masculine and feminine definite articles. Similar to Danish, Dutch simply makes a distinction between “de” for common nouns, and “het” for neuter nouns. It’s been like this for a very long time. You’d have to go back to pre-1934 spelling reform days to find any kind of distinction in declension regarding masculine and feminine nouns – and even then they were very small differences related to the accusative, genitive and dative cases. Masculine and feminine nouns have long shared the same form of the definite article “de” in the nominative case. Even going way back to Medieval Dutch, the language had a unified definite article (“die”). See: I knew my degree in Modern and Medieval Dutch would come in useful at /some/ point!

  4. A pedantic subnote: You’ve picked the ablative case out of the Latin headline. The nominative (which is the normal case to cite) would be Brexitus.

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