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motherland/vodka
May 5, 2003 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Fatherland or Motherland.I was wondering why people say Motherland for Russia and Fatherland for Germany.I googled and didn't find an answer but did find an artistamp exhibit that artistically tried to answer the question.1,2,3,4.And at the same site found a collection of other cool artistamps.1,2,3,4. And also found a neat gallery of cigarette packages from around the world.But my question still remains to be answered.(Oh,who cares,Motherland is where the vodka is.)
posted by JohnR (19 comments total)

 
Rodina = motherland in Russian

Good question though, I'll try and find out.
posted by knapah at 2:48 PM on May 5, 2003


fatherland and motherland are coming in as a synonym in my searches....is there a linguist in the house?

Motherland \Moth"er*land`\, n. The country of one's ancestors; -- same as fatherland.

don't remember anything about it in my russian class many years ago.

(for those with a russian font)
mother, ???? (maht)
motherland, ?????? (rodina/ radeena)
father, ???? (otyets - could be ahtyets)
fatherland, ????????? (otyechyestva)
home, ??? (dome)
homeland, ?????? (rodina/ radeena)

for any real russian speakers, sorry about that, its been 10 years.

anyways...interesting that homeland and motherland are basically the same, though i think something like 'Mother Russia' would be more common, and i don't remember that one. Can't find a single thing online about why some countries would use Mother vs. Father. [if you can't google it, it doesn't exist, right?]
posted by th3ph17 at 3:06 PM on May 5, 2003


crap. it worked in preview. *sigh* mysterious alphabet, isn't it? takes years to master...
posted by th3ph17 at 3:07 PM on May 5, 2003


Chalk this one up to historical usage. In French, for example, everything is either masculine or feminine, so thus the dog, "le chien," is male, while the language, "la langue," is female. This gendering is less seen in English, where we have a neutered case to denote non-masculine or -feminine, or generally inanimate objects, but gendering still occurs, such as when Scotty refers to the Enterprise in Star Trek: "She's givin' all she's got, Cap'n!" Also, in French, the definite article is gendered, either "le" (masculine) or "la" (feminine), whereas in English, we've got the catch-all "the."

I'm not sure about Russian, but in German, at least, there's a third (neuter) case, as in English, and the corresponding definite article (das). It's not, however, always used to denote inanimate objects as English does. Thus while boat is "das Boot," day is considered feminine, "die Tag." So now you ask "yes, but we're not talking about definite articles! What gives?"

Well, this gendering extends not merely to the articles but to the entire language. It's not odd to see these objects or concepts as one gender or another; it's merely a matter of course for the language and the thought of the language's native speakers. Thus Germans consider their home country to be masculine, the Fatherland, and by extension, Russians consider Russia to be feminine, the Motherland, or Mother Russia, and nobody gives two thoughts to it.

In either case, the people feel that their nation is parental, whereas I sincerely doubt that modern Americans feel that way toward their country (I, for one, don't), and I would be interested in seeing how this parental feeling plays out worldwide and how it varies in response to colonialism.

It's going to be impossible to say "Well, in 1743 such and such was coined and blah blah blah," so it really boils down to "the language's own evolution has left us with the usage as it stands today, and we can't know exactly how it came to be."
posted by The Michael The at 3:58 PM on May 5, 2003


The artstamps are wonderful - thanks, JohnR. See also this thread - more about Donald Evans, and some other good artstamp links.
posted by iconomy at 4:34 PM on May 5, 2003


It's not odd to see these objects or concepts as one gender or another; it's merely a matter of course for the language and the thought of the language's native speakers.

Ah, but here's the rub: The German words related to "nationhood" are overwhelmingly neuter or feminine. "Country" and "people," for example, are das Land and das Volk respectively.

Then it's die Heimat (the homeland) and die Nation (the nation) and die Regierung (the government) and die Erde (the earth) -- all of which are feminine. The only related masculine word I can think of at the moment is der Staat (the State).

Also, the current word in question, Vaterland, takes a neuter article, as in the German national anthem: fuer das deutsche Vaterland. In short, color me perplexed.
posted by Ljubljana at 4:57 PM on May 5, 2003


I think it has something to do with the way that the countries are perceived. Don't forget that for many Australians, England is seen as the Motherland. For many Americans too, but that's a much more dysfunctional family...
posted by chrisgregory at 5:42 PM on May 5, 2003


Ljubljana beat me to it.

"Fatherland" seems to me simply to be a Germanic rendering of the Latin "patria". Patria, although literally referring to fathers, is feminine, because countries are feminine in Latin. (So is the French descendant, la patrie).

So I think TMT's theory is just plain wrong.

Incidentally, Maori has no genders for nouns. The word for land is "whenua", which is also the word for placenta. Babies' placentas are traditionally buried on tribal land, so the "people of the land" are tangata whenua both literally and figuratively.

Brittania is typically personified as a busty babe in a helmet, (just like France). And when we were still colonies, she was "Mother England". On the other hand, there's John Bull...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:44 PM on May 5, 2003


Incidentally, TMT: "gender" is an intrinsic quality of a noun. "Case" indicates its relationships to other nouns. Nouns don't have cases on their own. Where you say "neuter case", you mean "neuter gender".

Also, in languages that have genders, I don't think native speakers really think about gendered nouns as having a sexual quality. Germans do not drive their masculine cars (der Wagen) or their neuter cars (das Auto) along the feminine street (die Strasse). Not consciously, anyway.

Paging languagehat!
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:53 PM on May 5, 2003


If I may provide a tidbit of information:
In both Norwegian and Swedish, who are influenced by German, it is "fatherland" ("Fedrelandet" and "Fäderneslandet" respectively).

In both languages the word for "country" is sexless.

My apologies to any Swedes/Norwegians, it's been a while.
posted by spazzm at 6:35 PM on May 5, 2003


Eh...I mean "genderless". Sorry.
posted by spazzm at 6:36 PM on May 5, 2003


Not consciously, anyway.

Maybe not, but there's a growing body of evidence that supports The Michael The's contention that gender has significant effects on the perception of native speakers of a language.

Also, Mike, what are you doing on the 9th? Party of Helicopters at Knitting Factory...
posted by saladin at 7:16 PM on May 5, 2003


Well, in 1743 such and such was coined and blah blah blah...

Actually, I'm not of much help here; this is something I've wondered about myself, and I'm sure somebody must have written a book on the subject, but I haven't seen it. As th3ph17 points out, Russian uses both (otechestvo 'fatherland,' rodina 'motherland'), so they're not mutually exclusive. I don't think it has much to do with grammatical gender (and, as i_am_joe's_spleen points out, grammatical gender isn't seen as sexual anyway). In googling around, I've found the following links; I don't understand either one very well, but for what it's worth:

Metaphor: Motherland or Fatherland?:
"I was intrigued by the question of whether there may be a difference in national identification that depends on whether a male or female metaphor of parenthood is used."

a speech by Russian Communist Party leader Zyuganov:
"Fatherland is language, culture, and distinctiveness. Today we are deprived of the right to know our own history. Read our textbooks on history and literature--you'll see that the main things on which the Russian consciousness is based have been expunged. The best examples of culture are expunged from there. There is no longer any Pushkin, Dostoevsky, or Tolstoy; no Sholokhov, no Nekrasov. No Soviet history, no patriotism, not even the word Motherland."

Make of them what you will.
posted by languagehat at 7:29 PM on May 5, 2003


Germans are traditionally a warrior conquest (male) culture and Russia is traditionally a peasant farmer (female) culture.

For example in Germany it is common for the eldest son to inherit the house, money, car, everything while the rest of the siblings get nothing. In this way tradition and heritage is passed down from eldest son to eldest son and the others are on their own to go out and make a name for themselves. This is why my grandfather came to America, there was no hope of a future for him in Germany as the youngest son during difficult economic times. It keeps family dynasties alive and undiluted and Germany has some ongoing business families that have been around since the 1400s. In America with estate taxes and the democratic notion of sharing inheritance such family dynasties are usually diluted and weakened with time.
posted by stbalbach at 7:29 PM on May 5, 2003


Although America's form may suggest a feminine or neuter gender, it's become an aloof, rich bastard father.
posted by hobbes at 7:50 PM on May 5, 2003


joe's spleen:
I am a latin teacher and tend towards pedantry. So here is my correction, I think that you are right that vaterland is a calque of patria; however, there is no Latin rule for gender of "countries" (an anachronist term for Romans, btw). Patria is originally an adjective modifying terra. by the way patra or patre is greek for fatherland, and somebody suggesting that americans don't harbor the same notions as other nations about their relation to their homeland are probably right, but then again where does the word 'patriotism' comes from? I would say that this is not a linguistic issue at all; rather, it is an anthropological one, an issue of the relation between individual, family and state. so i must point out that when saying 'patria' a roman was probably not saying "the country that is my father," but more likely "the country" or "land of my father." That is an atavistic notion just as the romans were an atavistic culture, and we are really not. I know next to nothing about German linguistics and culture and even less about russian, but my guess is that in general this issue probably has its origins in about 3000b.c. on the steppes of russia. has anybody read Emile Benveniste? He is a comparative linguist who writes about indo-european culture and issues just like this one.
posted by mokujin at 8:06 PM on May 5, 2003


Incidentally, TMT: "gender" is an intrinsic quality of a noun. "Case" indicates its relationships to other nouns. Nouns don't have cases on their own. Where you say "neuter case", you mean "neuter gender".

My bad. You are correct.

Ah, but here's the rub: The German words related to "nationhood" are overwhelmingly neuter or feminine. "Country" and "people," for example, are das Land and das Volk respectively.

Interesting. Note that German compound words, as an arbitrary rule, take the article of the last word, hence "der Vater" and "das Land" become "das Vaterland."

Also, in languages that have genders, I don't think native speakers really think about gendered nouns as having a sexual quality. Germans do not drive their masculine cars (der Wagen) or their neuter cars (das Auto) along the feminine street (die Strasse). Not consciously, anyway.

So I think TMT's theory is just plain wrong.

I strongly disagree. In my writing about gender in the articles before, I was only trying to point out instances of gendering in language to use it as a cognate to the effect of "Fatherland" or "Motherland" on the language and speakers, as when I wrote "Well, this gendering extends not merely to the articles but to the entire language." Even though the German word "Vaterland" has a Latin root, it is still "Fatherland," and a father is still by definition masculine. I was taught that Fatherland does carry a sense of paternity (there's that Latin/Greek root again!), though this was just by my (admittedly excellent) high school German teacher, so perhaps I'm wrong. I still think that gender in language carries more import than many (joe's spleen, languagehat) believe.

About the Latin root, definitions do change. While patra is the Greek root of patriotism, I doubt that more than a few English speakers actually know this. Now patriotism simply means "love for or devotion to one's country" and it's had the sense of "father" stripped from it. Patri, patre, or patra no longer carry any import of "father" to English speakes. Contrast this to "Vaterland" which doesn't use "patr" but instead contains the modern word (exactly) for father.

This is a strongly anthropological, rather than linguistic, issue, as mokujin points out, and saladin's link is especially pertinent. As an aside, a great deal of modern linguistic anthropology deals with the issue of gender in language and its interaction with the speakers of said language. Some good examples of this can be found in the writings on Don Kulick on the Travesti, a group of Brazilian transgender prostitutes living in Italy (though this deals with aspects of language a bit different from what we've discussed here).

Party of Helicopters? Nice.

Thanks to everyone for a great thread.
posted by The Michael The at 6:34 AM on May 6, 2003


I am amazed by the ammount of BS about "German traditions" in this thread.

Anyways, why is it mother tongue (Muttersprache)? :)
posted by zerofoks at 12:51 PM on May 6, 2003


In Polish, the idiom is Fatherland (ojczyzna, pronounced oy-CHIZZ-nah). You would expect Poland to be closer, both linguistically and culturally, to Russia than to Germany. Historically it was certainly more of a peasant country than a warrior country. And Polish and Russian are so close as to occasionally be mutually intelligible if people speak slowly.

Also, the Polish word for Poland (Polska) is feminine, but you would never say anything like "Mother Poland". That would just sound ridiculous.

So I suspect this difference is arbitrary rather than an inevitable result of other cultural forces.
posted by maciej at 12:11 AM on May 7, 2003


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