Question for native German speakers, simply out of curiosity . . .
I'm curious--when a new word enters the German language, how is its gender decided? I'm going through the "communication" skills lessons right now, and I'm coming across words like radio, television, internet, website, computer, monitor, etc . . . they all have various genders assigned, but I'm wondering how? Who decides that radio is neutral, but computer is masculine?
I think that by default most of them end up being neutral but a lot of the time they're decided by unofficial rules about how the word sounds. For example words that end in "chen" are always neutral (this is why "das madchen" is not feminine). nouns ending in "keit", "heit", "ie" or "schaft" are always feminine. words ending in "ner" are always masculine. There are probably some exceptions, but learning things like these have made german gender a lot easier for me. Basically, gender is decided by the sound of the word as opposed to the masculinity/ femininity/ neutrality of whatever the word refers to.
Many of the words mentioned have roots that have already been present in the German language:
Der Fernseher (the television) is a more or less direct translation, as tele means something far away (far=fern) and seher means seer, viewer, watcher. Das Internet is probably neuter due to 'the net' means 'das Netz' in German. Monitor is of Latin root and was surely introduced into the language before any computers were around. Originally, it corresponded to a person, so it is masculine.
By the way, some nouns have different genders in Austria and Germany.
Concerning your "new word- which gender?" question I'd like to add one "hot button issue" for german native speakers.
Here it is: Nutella
I assume you know that brand? Well if not: it is a famous brand for a chocolate cream.
and basicly nobody is quite sure about its gender. it aint any word with any deeper roots, so also no way to define its gender.
here you can also have the wiki article http://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/Nutella most important part: Substantiv, m, f, n so there they say it has 3 different genders so to say
hillarious, dont you agree? and allways quite an amusing quarrel for breakfast!
Have a nice day~
"gender" in language doesn't necessarily mean male/female/neuter, but is rather simply a classification system for words. We could call words genders 1/2/3 or a/b/c instead, but we use masculine, feminine, neuter.
While gendered languages often have the actual gender of the word (if it is a person for example) match the grammatical gender, it is best o simply memorize the gender of a word before anything else.
Also, genders in new words can change. For example, Pepsi at one time was neuter; however, it changed after a few years to feminine.
A German expat asked me what the gender of "Pie" because she and her sister argued over it. She used das Pie and her sister would use der Pie. I told her I would of used das Pie because it was from foreign extraction. She thought about it for a moment and agreed with me and told me she was going to inform her sister it was das Pie. LOL!