15

As "user unknown" stated in the comments of another question, there should exist German dialects, where "es" is a common pronoun (instead or beneath "sie") for a woman. ("es" as pronoun is translated to "it", "sie" as pronoun is translated to "her".)

Richtig ist, dass "es" sehr abwertend klingt. In manchen Dialekten ist Es aber für Frauen in Gebrauch (Es Gerda hat Kopfweh).

[My free translation: "It is right, that "it" sounds disrespectful. But in some dialects is "it" used for women (It Gerda has headache).]

To be honest, I can not believe this, and so I want to ask:

In which dialect is "es" a common pronoun for a woman?

12
  • 6
    Not my dialect, so I will not post this as a definitive answer, but it may be a clue toward one: That way of referring to women could commonly be heard in German comedy series Familie Heinz Becker, which was based in Saarland and employed heavily dialect-based dialogue. – O. R. Mapper Jan 7 at 14:03
  • 8
    But is it really a pronoun? In the example "es" is used as a non-standard (albeit neutral) article. – Jann Poppinga Jan 8 at 6:33
  • 4
    @JannPoppinga In various dialects of Saarland we definitely use it as a pronoun, e.g. "Ähs hat gesaad, ähs hätt Koppweh" ("Es hat gesagt, es habe Kopfweh", "She said she had a headache") – waldrumpus Jan 8 at 8:51
  • 5
    Also note, that Mädchen (girl) is neutral in German: "Das Mädchen hat seinen Fussball aufgepumpt" "The girl inflated *its football", "Anna hat ihren Fussball aufgepumpt" "Anna inflated her football", "Adam hat seinen Fussball aufgepumpt" "Adam inflated his football" - and note that incidally "its" and "his" is both "seinen", i.e. "X hat seinen Fussball aufgepumpt" could be a kid of any sex or gender or whatsoever. – Burgmeister Jan 8 at 9:21
  • 4
    Additional to the mentionned comments, "Es Gerda" doesn't translate to "It Gerda", but is a short form for "Das Gerda". Using an article before a name is usual also in dialects which don't use the neutral form for "girls". – glglgl Jan 8 at 12:14
25

I am from a region where it is normal to refer to a woman with the pronoun "es" (Region of Kaiserslautern). After joining university I was asked that question by some people not familiar with the dialect, since they also found it disrespectful.

The explenation I usually give, which is also to some extent in the source given by Björn Friedrich:

It comes from a time when unmarried women were still referred to as "Fräulein" instead of "Frau", so the correct pronoun would be "das Fräulein Meier". Today this is not used anymore, but it is still common to use "es" (dialect for "das") when referring to good friends, in general people you would call by the first name and use "du" when talking to them, and to use "die" when talking about people you would only call by the last name.

For example:

  • "Die Frau Becker war eine gute Lehrerin" ("Mrs. Becker was a good teacher")
  • "Ich hab heute es Anna beim Radfahren gesehen" ("I saw Anna riding her bike today")

When talking in the dialect it is not at all seen as disrespectful when using "es", everybody is doing it, but I would never use it in standard German.

6
  • Because all three answers are good answers, I will mark this as "favourite", for whichs user the reputation counts most :) The explanation with "Fräulein" is logical for me, and the point about disrespectful or not was (even when I forgot to write it in the question, big sorry!) the reason to ask the question. – Allerleirauh Jan 8 at 8:31
  • 1
    @Allerleirauh I think the explanation with Fraeulein was made up after the fact. The real reason goes deeper, note that Maedchen is also neutral while Junge is male. – Nobody Jan 8 at 12:54
  • 1
    @Nobody That kind of goes into the same direction: Mädchen and Fräulein has neutral gender, Frau female. The origin most likely comes from both words, but the usage, especially today, is still as explained above. You could also add, that in the time, where womens had less rights, a female child or unmarried woman had their father as her legal guardian, and after marriage her husband. This changed her social status. – patrick95 Jan 8 at 13:02
  • 12
    @patrick95: The reason that Mädchen and Fraulein are neuter is simply that all diminutives formed with -chen or -lein are neuter. For example, das Jungchen. – TonyK Jan 8 at 16:16
  • @patrick95: Are you sure, the "es" or "das" are only used for unmarried women and girls? I had that suspicion myself but think I could contradict it from examples, indeed comedy in TV. IMHO it is used for married women and women of unknown marriage status as well, but I might be wrong. – user unknown Jan 10 at 14:00
34

Below is a map from the Atlas der deutschen Alltagssprache1 that shows how article forms for females are distributed. As you can see, neutral article forms (yellow and pink dots) are common in western regions of Germany, in particular in the Rhein–Main–Saar area.

Artikelform vor weibl. Vornamen

The neutral forms are also the subject of research. For example, I found an article by Nübling, Busley, and Drenda2 (in German) that investigates this phenomenon, although I cannot assess how representative this work is.


1 Atlas zur deutschen Alltagssprache. Url: https://www.atlas-alltagssprache.de/artikelform/
2 Nübling, Busley, Drenda (2013) Dat Anna und S Eva – Neutrale Frauenrufnamen in deutschen Dialekten und im Luxemburgischen zwischen pragmatischer und semantischer Genuszuweisung. Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik. Band LXXX, Heft 2. Url: https://www.germanistik.uni-mainz.de/files/2015/08/N%C3%BCbling_Busley_Drenda-2013-ZDL-das-Anne.pdf

10
  • 2
    Alas, why is there no way to merge answers... – phipsgabler Jan 7 at 14:17
  • 4
    Danke für die Karte! Visuelle Unterstützung ist immer gut :) Ich kenne "des" (mehr gesprochen wie "däs") als Artikel für kleine Mädchen, wobei dann meist die Verniedlichung benutzt wird ("des Ännchen" zum Beispiel), hab aber die Verbindung überhaupt nicht gezogen... – Allerleirauh Jan 8 at 8:34
  • 1
    @phipsgabler Just as a side note: Actually, there is a way to merge answers: You could make your answer a community wiki answer, copy paste this answer into it ans refer to Björn Friedrich as the original author. Answers on stackexchange are posted under a Creative Commons License. Also see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/12527/… – jonathan.scholbach Jan 8 at 10:39
  • 3
    +1 for spreading atlas-alltagssprache.de I feel, this useful resource is still underrepresented on german.SE. When it comes to dialectal / regional variety of German, too often answers rely on personal experience, although scientifically collected empirical data is available. So, good job! – jonathan.scholbach Jan 8 at 10:44
  • 1
    Note that this map does not reflect that there are Austrian dialects (if not most) in which the word "die" is pronounced like "de", so it becomes "de Anna". – rexkogitans Jan 8 at 10:44
9

This seems to be the case for many western middle German dialekts, mostly along the Rhein, and in some places in Swizerland (thus being Allemanic dialects). This article will contain more ("Dat Anna und S Eva – Neutrale Frauenrufnamen in deutschen Dialekten und im Luxemburgischen zwischen pragmatischer und semantischer Genuszuweisung"):

In dialects in western Germany and Switzerland and Luxembourgish, given names for females are of neuter gender, e.g., dat Anna, s Eva, while those for males are masculine, even when usually neuter diminutives are formed (e.g., alem. de Hanseli 'ART.M Hans.DIM'). This onymic neuter is the unmarked norm in many dialects; if a feminine form also exists then it expresses social and emotional distance from the named woman.

See also this abstract.

As for pragmatics and politeness: as long as this is true dialectal usage (and not pejorative abuse of standard language), it seems not to be negatively connotated at all, but ranging from neutral to even intimate. It is very strongly marked as dialect, though, if used within non-dialectal contexts, and may thus be confusing for listeners not familiar with it.

3
  • I don't speak any of the mentioned dialects though, so feel free to comment improvements. – phipsgabler Jan 7 at 14:15
  • 3
    In Switzerland, while this used to be common in some regions, a significant proportion of more progressive women might object to being referred to in that way. They will know it's just dialect when you do it the first time, but if you ignore their request it quickly becomes offensive. – Nobody Jan 7 at 21:47
  • 1
    Thank you for the additional point about politeness, it was the reason I asked this question (sorry, that I did not mention it there...) – Allerleirauh Jan 8 at 8:35
0

Some forms of the possessive dative pretty much depend on neutral gender because they would otherwise result in strange juxtapositions of high German and dialect idioms: "War dem Susi sein Vadder ooch da?" ("was Susan's father present as well?") would not really work as "War der Susi ihr Vadder ooch da?".

A typical dialect using the neutral gender for females is Saarländer Platt. In fact, there has been considerable criticism of the "Heinz Becker" locally-colored sitcom since for the sake of an all-German audience, the dialect is considerably rectified, notably lending females a female grammatical gender.

1
  • Welcome to German.SE. Do you have any (internet) source at hand to (link and) quote? Sounds like there should the one or other article about Heinz Becker or the Saarländer Platt itself? Like stefan-im-www.de/Saar-Dateien/… and scroll down to "S" -> 's – Shegit Brahm Jan 10 at 16:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.