All Nordic languages: Gutt og jente, osv.

serbianfan

Senior Member
British English
Have you noticed that the usual words for 'boy' and 'girl' are completely different in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic (I think) and German? Whereas the words for 'man' and 'woman' show much more similarity between the languages, as do the words for various everyday things such as 'house', 'chair' and 'table'. I wonder how this came about? Maybe there are other everyday objects that have completely different names in those five languages, but I can't think of any offhand:confused:
 
  • Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Have you noticed that the usual words for 'boy' and 'girl' are completely different in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic (I think) and German? Whereas the words for 'man' and 'woman' show much more similarity between the languages, as do the words for various everyday things such as 'house', 'chair' and 'table'. I wonder how this came about? Maybe there are other everyday objects that have completely different names in those five languages, but I can't think of any offhand:confused:
    The same is also true in the Slavic and Romance family. I think that the reason of this universal feature can be explained that this kind of words changes more often over time than other nouns.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, after I posted this I realised that it's the same in Romance languages. Maybe I should post this on the 'all languages' forum. In the old days, children were third class citizens (women were the second class ones) in Europe. Today grown-ups make sandpits for children to play in, then if there was a pile of sand outside their house, they were no doubt told not to play there because they'd get dirty. There must be some sociohistorical/sociolinguistic reason for the fact that the words differ so much, but I can't figure out what it is.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Yes, after I posted this I realised that it's the same in Romance languages. Maybe I should post this on the 'all languages' forum. In the old days, children were third class citizens (women were the second class ones) in Europe. Today grown-ups make sandpits for children to play in, then if there was a pile of sand outside their house, they were no doubt told not to play there because they'd get dirty. There must be some sociohistorical/sociolinguistic reason for the fact that the words differ so much, but I can't figure out what it is.
    Note that words for child, son and daughter don't vary so much in the language families. The reason may be that they were much more used than girl and boy. Girl and boy were somehow redundant and that's why they were changed much often.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, I'm pretty sure you're right, Ben Jamin. 'Boy' and 'girl' were used much less than 'son' and 'daughter' in the old days. People didn't talk about 'gutter leker med ditt og jenter leker med datt' - they weren't interested in children's play or in children in general, only their own, to some extent. Someone might ask 'Hvor mange børn haver De, herr Fredriksen?' and the answer would be in the form of 'Jeg haver tre sønner og to døtre'. A quick search on Google suggests that 'sønner og døtre' is hardly used any more in that context in Danish and Norwegian, but people do probably talk more about 'sons and daughters' in English.

    Otherwise, I don't think there's much point in moving this thread to the 'All Languages' forum, because there doesn't seem to be much interest in it here, and the contributors to 'All Languages' seem to be all Europeans, and we've already discovered that this phenomenon is similar in Romance and Slavic languages.
     
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