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Genre (Tuesday, 2011 May 24)

May 24th, 2011

You can’t write a Woman’s Studies paper on grammatical gender in nouns. You just can’t. Masculine and feminine nouns are an orthographic issue, not a social one, and nowhere is this clearer than the fact that in French, the word for vagina is masculine (le vagin). It’s just like spelling — there’s no objective, logical reason that "through" shouldn’t be spelled "throo" or "thru" — but the language has evolved in a certain way and you have to respect that. Get it wrong and you look unsophisticated. Accordingly, today’s word is genre, meaning gender, and it’s le genre.

I’ve been getting it wrong a fair amount lately with some surprising nouns — la forêt, but le verre. As a general rule of thumb you can guess from the ending — -tion or -sion is always feminine, for example, and so is -té, but -isme is always masculine — but then there are a bunch of exceptions and not-quite rules and models that you internalize — like the oft-suggested rule-of-thumb that -e is feminine. Some important ones to remember are une fois, one time, le lycée, and le marché. And then there are some minimal pairs that I tend to find baffling: une boisson, a drink, but un poisson, a fish. Le soir, the evening, but la nuit, night. La tasse, cup, but le verre, glass.

Flashback to stage, a conversation in my remedial French class with Hilarion and also Jenny and Ryan, who also hadn’t made their level — Hilarion asks what genre of spouse we would like. We exchange confused glances — is he trying to feel us out for homosexuality (still illegal as far as I know)? But no, Hilarion’s asking us what kind of person we’d like in the English sense of genre — drama, comedy, science fiction, horror, etc. I haven’t heard anyone else use this word in this sense since then — instead they use type or qualité, which could be translated as "kind".

Today we had conseil de classe, which means going over the report cards and deciding, for each student, whether they should progress to the next year, stick around in the same class for another year, or be excluded from the school. It’s about as menial as it sounds, but it’s a lot better than rempli‘ing the report cards in the first place or their accompanying livrets, which are like report cards but are submitted when a student takes a nationwide exam, I think with the idea that the graders can try to figure out whether the student knows what he’s talking about or not. It’s hard to fault Cameroon for its documents, since they encourage information flow and transparency in a way that is sorely lacking, but on the other hand I glanced at a page of student grades and noticed that a student could have a sexe of G, F, or M. I know it’s just a trivial inconsistency, but I’m kind of charmed by the idea that Cameroon has three different genres of sexes.

Conseil de classe is interesting by itself for the revealing look into the grades of the student body. 10 is nominally passing, but because we’re en brousse we passed students with 9 or above, as long as their number of unjustified absences was less than 50 (hours over the entire year). 12 or above is tableau d’honneur, and 14 or above is encouragements, and at either one you get nominated for (lycée) scholarship. Despite the massacre I delivered unto my students, the large majority of at least my 4e students advanced to 3e. I only saw one student in the three classes we conseiled that had above a 14 average — and that was Parfait, one of the boys who comes here all the time.

Conseil de classe marks the last of my official duties as a teacher in the school year 2010-2011, and I’m simultaneously thrilled about my newfound free time, nervous that I won’t be able to find something to do with it, and terrified that I’ll still have way too much to do before upcoming visits to Yaoundé and between all my vacation travel. I’ve been playing a lot of Advance Wars and if I had any Chuck left I’d probably be watching that too. The Boys keep feeding the cat things, which is fine except when he horks them right back up, which is not fine because the Boys are long gone at that point and I get to clean it up. We’ve already started doing some kind of club informatique on Thursdays from 12-15h, and my goal is that the students each produce something creative and original, even if it’s just a drawing using the GIMP. But by and large things are much more quiet, and I’m optimistic that come September, I’ll be somewhat un-burnt-out, ready to be a teacher again for another 10 months.

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