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I think the title sums it up but since every single thing in the universe can be referred to as a noun and German assigns every noun a gender who gets to decide the gender?

Furthermore, other European languages have similar issues other than English. Is there some sort of agreement on gender? If something is female in German does it tend to be female in other European languages?

Going forward all new nouns such as I just bought a new 'iPhone' will be of neutral gender? A thousand years from now new things will be invented so it's not just an issue now but far into the future as well.

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Well, perhaps it might be that gender in related languages is - based on historical reasons - often equally but in general: No, you can't conclude from one to another. There are some rule of thumbs when to use which gender (probably in all languages) and if you create a new word it likely will follow these rules, too. I am not sure, however, if there's any commission for deciding the gender. This question also seems to be a bit broader and would be of more interest on linguistics - including comparison of different languages, respectively their way to handle such a thing. – Em1 Nov 15 '12 at 18:14
    
When talking about grammatical genders, you always have to keep in mind, that not the thing named by the noun has a gender. It's the word that has a grammatical gender. So when there are synonymes (more than one word for the same thing), they can differ in grammatical gender: »Der Wagen«, »die Karre« and »das Auto« can be used as nouns for the very same car. This is even true for person. A spitefully woman can be »die Furie«, »das Weib« or »der Trampel«. – Hubert Schölnast yesterday

There is no fixed "rule" to define the gender of a loanword in German. This means that we have to look them up in a dictionary when in doubt.

Still, some principles hold true for many loanwords that have been nicely summarized with some examples in the essay on the "Gender of foreign nouns" from canoo.net:

  • The "origin principle": Foreign nouns have the same gender as in the original language
  • Analogy with other words having the same ending
  • Analogy with the German translation
  • Analogy with other nouns belonging to the same semantic group

Some of these principles will also hold true for new words that are not loanwords. Dictionaries such as Duden will then over time list the variation used the most to make this the "valid" form that can be taught to children in school. Still sometimes more than one variation persist.

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Dann gilt wohl Nr. 3: Le tour - die [Rund]fahrt -> die Tour – Takkat Nov 16 '12 at 15:44
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Das Genus kann sich außerdem (ver-)ändern: Das Blog ist tot, es lebe der Blog – cgnieder Dec 22 '12 at 12:50
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@Takkat: Wenn man nicht weiß wann welche dieser Regeln gilt, dann helfen sie einem nicht bei der Bestimmung und sind keine Regeln, sondern Kaffeesatzleserei. – user unknown Jul 16 '13 at 23:18
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@userunknown: genau deshalb in meinem ersten Satz: es gibt keine Regeln, man muss es nachschlagen. Die Grundprinzipien (die natürlich keine Regeln sind!), die zur Anwendung kommen habe ich aus Canoo.net zitiert. Was daran "not useful" sein soll ist mir gänzlich schleierhaft. – Takkat Jul 17 '13 at 6:11
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Es handelt sich hier um Beobachtungen, nach welchen Richtlinien sich das grammatische Geschlecht neu ins Deutsche aufgenommener Begriffe mit einer gewissen Wahrscheinlichkeit konstituiert, nicht um Regeln, die dem Lernenden klare Anhaltspunkte geben können. Mehr als das ist auch nicht möglich, da, wie wir alle wissen, gerade für Fremd- und "frische" Lehnwörter oft der eine dieses, die andere jenes Geschlecht gebraucht, jeweils mit einer anderen Begründung. Das heißt aber nicht, dass es überhaupt keine Gründe für Geschlechterzuweisungen gibt, sondern nur, dass sie nicht einheitlich gelten. – Martin Schwehla Mar 18 '15 at 22:54

Das Geschlecht fremdsprachlicher Wörter kann sich nach unterschiedlichen Kriterien richten:

  1. nach dem Geschlecht möglicher deutscher Entsprechungen. Dabei kann es sich um inhaltliche Äquivalenzen (bei synonymen Wörtern) handeln – z. B. die E-Mail (zu die Post) –, aber auch um grammatische: Beispielsweise sind alle englischen Wörter auf -ing (Fixing, Franchising, Leasing, Setting) Neutra, weil sie im Deutschen substantivierten Infinitiven entsprechen.

  2. nach der Analogie grammatischer Formen, insbesondere von Wortendungen. So sind z. B. die aus dem Französischen gekommenen Wörter le garage, le bagage im Deutschen Feminina, weil sich mit dem unbetonten Endungs-e in der Regel das feminine Geschlecht verbindet. […] Wörter auf -er (z. B. Computer, Plotter, Streamer) sind im Deutschen meist männlich (vgl. Denker, Läufer usw.).

  3. nach dem Wortgeschlecht in der Ausgangssprache (so der Komplex, die Ovation, das Epos). Demnach können Wörter gleicher Endungen unterschiedliches Geschlecht haben (der Status, aber das Corpus; der Penis, aber die Meningitis). Das Kriterium greift freilich überall dort nur bedingt, wo in einer Ausgangssprache das grammatische Geschlecht anders als im Deutschen unterschieden wird (etwa im Englischen, Französischen und Italienischen). Bei Wörtern aus solchen Sprachen kann das Genus im Deutschen schwanken: der oder das Graffito/Curry/Essay/Pub; die oder (schweiz.) das Malaise.

source: duden.de

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A link to the source you quoted would be great. – Takkat Nov 15 '12 at 20:33
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Hm. Angeblich soll dieser Text im Duden-Newsletter 2004 erschienen sein. Ältesten Eintrag den ich finde, ist aber 2006 datiert. Das Zitat findet sich aber auch hier unter "Genus von Fremdwörter". In jedem Fall handelt es sich um eine 1:1 Kopie und es wäre sinnvoll, diese auch als solche zu kennzeichnen. – Em1 Nov 15 '12 at 22:47
    
Zu ~er (die Diskussion hatten wir schon mal): Die Mutter, die Tochter, die Schwester, die Butter, ... . Das Futter. – user unknown Nov 16 '12 at 1:44
    
In den von @TheBaj genannten Fällen bezeichnet die Endung -er einen Agenten (Person oder Ding), und zwar auch in den Fremdwörtern. In den genannten nicht maskulinen Beispielen ist das nicht der Fall. – Ansgar Esztermann Nov 16 '12 at 9:08
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@Em1: Der Text stammt aus dem Duden-Newsletter vom 23.1.2004; die Quelle ist dort angegeben als: Duden, Das Fremdwörterbuch. Mannheim 2001 – mthomas Nov 16 '12 at 21:40

ON GERMAN GRAMMATICAL GENDER

The other answerers have already highlighted numerous aspects of how a preference for a particular grammatical gender may come about. However, you actually asked a different question, namely who sets the gender. I believe this has indeed a clear answer:

All speakers set the gender, subconsciously influenced by the principles discussed in other answers. This is not a static process. Sometimes competing candidates remain for quite a long time. For example: der/das Joghurt.

You can watch the process at work too! When das Virus was introduced, many people spoke Latin and preferred the gender from the donor language. As familiarity with Latin becomes extinct, people increasingly see "-us" as a strictly male ending. Accordingly, der Virus has entered newspapers - Associated Ngram. Note, that the Ngram is probably strongly dominated by medical literature, with correct usage. Still, it shows a trend.

I recently had some business at university, so I decided to attend the class in General linguistics. With numerous examples, the teacher discussed a very similar topic. Namely how the plural of imported words was formed. A striking example was Pizza. She reported, that some years ago "Pizzas" had been the dominant plural. Then it steadily declined in favour of "Pizzen". She could support this with questionnaires from students of each year. She also asked us, before starting the lecture.

A weak argument for the absence of any reliable rules is the comparison between Austria and Germany. It could also point to Austrian bias towards neuter for new words. The following differences appear in writing:

G: die Email / A: das Email

Der Service / das Service

Der Keks / das Keks

Die Cola / Das Cola

These have struck me, but there are many more, even compared to this list on Wikipedia. Note, however, that such differences remain by no means exclusive to foreign words. I would therefore assume the gender of German words was fixed in much the same way hundreds of years ago.

Some languages, such as modern Greek (as I learned in school) , show a mild preference for assigning neutral gender to foreign words. This is not the case for (BRD-) German. It might be for the Austrian variant, but I don't have sufficient data.

REGARDING OTHER EUROPEAN LANGUAGES

You also asked how much the genders were correlated across different European languages. You should first notice European languages have very different paradigms of grammatical genders. Greek and German have masculine, feminine and neuter . Italian and French have masculine and feminine (let's not get nitpicking...), Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian have common and neuter. See here for more details.Wikipedia on list of languages by grammatical gender paradigm.

That being said, I can't say whether the correlation is zero, but it is certainly not reliable when wanting to guess genders. It may also heavily depend on the language pairs chosen. I compare (German, Greek, french, Italian) genders for a given meaning and for the last two, which I don't speak, I use Leodict. Note, that these results are sloppy illustrations at best, since there are different words for each meaning in each language and we would need a huge sample.

room (n,n,f,f)

Apple (m,n,f,f)

Heart (n,f,m,m)

Shit (f,n,f,f)

well (m,n,f,f)

Cookie (m,n,m,m)

Hair dryer (m,n,m,m)

dog (m,m,m,m)

broom (m,f,m,f)

cabbage(m,n,m,m)

This sloppy example suggest, there might be striking similarities between Italian and French, but less among other pairs. In fact, Wikipedia makes such a claim, without citing evidence:

In fact, nouns in Spanish and Portuguese (as in the other Romance languages such as Italian and French) generally follow the gender of the Latin words from which they are derived. When nouns deviate from the rules for gender, there is usually an etymological explanation: problema ("problem") is masculine in Spanish because it was derived from a Greek noun of the neuter gender, whereas radio ("radio station") is feminine, because it is a shortening of estación de radio Wikipedia claim without evidence

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Very good answer. I've moved to Germany at the end of the 1990s and there was no agreement on the gender of E-Mail yet: der E-Mail (wie der Brief) would have been my pick, but in fact already at that time feminine and neutral were winning. After a few years, only feminine E-Mails survive. – Delio Mugnolo yesterday

Here is an answer to the issue addressed in the second paragraph of the question. Let us take Swedish which is a language closely related to German. There is no way or algorithm how you can deduce the gender in German from the gender in Swedish. First of all, in Swedish there are two categories of gender: utrum and neutrum. Some examples of Swedish-German word pairs are:

  • bok (utrum) | Buch (neuter)
  • ö (utrum) | Insel (fem.)
  • fönster (neutrum) | Fenster (neuter)
  • språk (neutrum) | Sprache (fem.)
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There are several foreign-words that have different genders in different parts of the Germanosphere.

OTOH:

Die E-Mail vs. Das E-Mail

Die Cola vs. Das Cola

Der Joghurt vs. Das Joghurt

So there are no general rules, just hints.

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While you are at it, it's worth noting that even some pure-bred German words are gender-fluent.. E.g. Tisch and Butter can have any genus depending on region. – Chieron Apr 13 at 11:34

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