Redefining the Hypernym Mensch:in in German

Gender, Sexuality, and Personhood

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Chapter: 2.2.5 The Wesen as a Human Being

As already mentioned in the Methodological Preliminaries the input lemma Wesen (being n) has a special feature, it is the only one of the three hypernyms that can also denote an abstract entity and not only human beings, which of course were not included in the present corpus. Another peculiarity is the composition of the Wesen-corpus. Due to only four references with 50% agreement, this limitation was extended to a 33% agreement. The Wesen-corpus has a total of 58 co-occurrences with 33-62% agreement with the input lemma Wesen. In it, masculines are the most represented (27) and account for almost half, 46.6%. Followed by 18 feminines with almost a third 31%. The neuters are represented only with 10 lemmas, 17.2%, which is somewhat surprising, since the hypernym Wesen (being n) is a neuter. In the case of Mensch and Person, the genus identity with the hypernym was decisive for the number of records. Mensch (man m), being masculine, has the most masculine records (65.2%) as well as Person (person f) has the most feminine occurrences ( in the corpus (51.3%).

With the Wesen-occurrences it is interesting that there is also a document without genus indication, namely with the Hindu goddess, Devi or Dewi (devi -), although from the meaning explanation it is clear that it concerns a female deity, thus a goddess. In addition, there is one each with feminine and masculine genus, again a kind of deity from the ancient Persian saga – Peri (Peri m+f). Peri  is an originally evil and to the light of the good striving fairy-like being of the old Persian legend. Furthermore, the Alien (alien m+n), which denotes an extraterrestrial and utopian being of alien planets, is indicated with a double gender. This masculine and neutral article assignment is quite surprising, since the most famous movie with the same title Alien (1979) by Ridley Scott is clearly eine Alien (a/f alien f), since it lays eggs and is thus clearly identifiable as female by its [+Bearing Ability]. 

A person reference that goes beyond the real human, and has a divine reference, is the Engel(angel m), a supernatural being usually thought of as a messenger of God, with wings (1), which is also used for humans. Again, the masculine genus is irritating when the predominantly feminine meaning (2.a), acting as a helper or savior, and especially (2.b), harmless or innocent human being, are considered. In the definition clearly masculine-human, but in the example phrases clearly predominantly feminine such as sie ist mein guter Engel (she is my good angel); mit ihrer Hilfsbereitschaft ist sie ein [wahrer] Engel oder sie ist ein Engel der Armen (with her helpfulness she is a [true] angel or she is an angel of the poor) (1.a). In def. (1.b) it then clearly emerges that it can also be a designation for women and children, but not for men. 

This closeness, not to say the restriction of the meaning of Wesen to a very specific group of persons, which includes both adults, namely Frauen (women f), and minors, namely Mädchen (girl n), is unique in comparison with the umbrella term Mensch (man m). Thus, contrary to Mensch, Person (person f) does not exhibit a clear demarcation between child and adult, as the boundary between female adults and children is fluid. All co-occurrences to human except the hypernym for the immature, thechild, are designations for adults and they usually denote men and are consistently genus-sexus congruent. This is because an equation of a man with male children is impossible and thus semantically excluded, which can also be noted among the partial synonyms of man. Thus, Bub or Junge (boy m) for a male child, Bursche (lad m) for male adolescents are clearly pronounced to differ from Mann (man m). The meaning category [+Chronological Age] in the sense of maturation processes is central with men, but not the confinement and meliorization to youthfulness with simultaneous pejorativization of age, since only the meaning category [+Biological Age] is central with women. It is reflected in the continuous evidence for the male adult, which does not include a single one for a male underage. 

Thus, this is equally evident in Hascherl  (poor thing n), with neutral genus due to the dialectal diminutive suffix -erl pejorative for women and children already a structural pejoratovization due to the neutral genus, which implies a reification of a female human being. That Hascherl is neutral as a person reference is of course not a dehumanization for children, since this applies to all children, female as well as male. The equation of underage with female is intended only for women, as the second sexin a post-patriarchal gender script. For in the word field haschen (to snatch), the regular and genus-sexus congruent 1Hascher  (poor guy m), a noun agentis, with the meaning, a poor, pitiable person is also found alongside the homonym 2Hascher (pothead m), someone who smokes hashish, to which Hascherin is then assigned as a secondary lemma. These categories of meaning [+Helplessness] and [+Neediness], conceptualized as typically feminine, show up in other feminine personal names such as the dialectal diminutive Armutschkerl, a pitiable, miserable being. In the article only the example sentence is feminine, which could also be coincidental, a correct definition of Hascherl (poor thing n) is actually missing, primarily for women and children.

Furthermore, it must be taken into account that the person reference Wesen (being n) is restrictively intended only for female humans and children, even if it is theoretically conceived as a hypernym for all humans. The question now arises: so what is a Wesen and for whom is it actually an umbrella term? In the article definition Wesenis limited to a thing in the def. (1a), (1b) and (2) – on the one hand to the special, characteristic of a thing, appearance, by which it differs from others (1a), as that lies in the Wesen (essence n) of art, on the other hand in philosophy for something that shapes the form of appearance of a thing, underlies it, determines it (as an inner general regularity) (1b), as the Wesen (essence n) of things or of nature. In the scope of def. (2), Wesen (essence n) denotes, Summe der geistigen Eigenschaften, die einen Menschen auf bestimmte Weise in seinem Verhalten, in seiner Lebensweise, seiner Art, zu denken und zu fühlen und sich zu äußern, charakterisieren (the sum of mental qualities that characterize a human/man in a certain way in his behavior, in his way of life, in his way of thinking and feeling and expressing himself). 

The levels of meaning (3a) and (3b) refer only to persons in the broadest sense and are interesting in this context. In the def. (3a), a Wesen (being n) is something that exists in a certain form, in a certain way (often only thought, imagined), appears in appearance, such as fantastic, earthly or physical beings, thus also man as a rational or social being, therefore embodies the general human as Mensch (man m). Being in the def. (3b) refers only to Menschen (human beings pl m) in the sense of Geschöpfe (creatures n) or Lebewesen (living beings pl n), restricted to women and children. Accordingly, all example phrases refer only to women, sie ist ein freundliches, stilles Wesen und das arme Wesen wusste sich nicht zu helfen (she is a friendly, quiet being and the poor being did not know how to help herself) or the quotation:  weil außer der Stewardess…kein weibliches Wesen (keine Frau) in Sichtweite war (because apart from the stewardess there was no female being (no woman) in sight); or to children the das kleine Wesen (Kind) wimmerte kläglich (little being (child) whimpering miserably), (cf. also Geschlechtswesen is explained inner-lexically only with the reference lemma Wesen (3b).

Although the gender-critical analysis of the lexicographic description of the main lemma Wesen already showed that it is rather a synonym for female adults and children, more masculine partial synonyms can be found. They cover, for example, the domain of religion with the meaning category [+Divinity]. This includes Gott (god m), Abgott (idol m), Götze (false god m) and Engel (angel m) in distinction to everything earthly like Erdenkind (earthly child n) or Erdensohn (earthly son m), for the Christian conception of God the Father and his children. If therefore of Erdenkinder (earthly children pl n) the speech is, the Menschenkinder (human children pl n) in the all-embracing sense are meant with it. Here it shows once more that the female children, the Erdentochter (earthly daughter f) is not specifically lexicalized. 

For besides the umbrella term for all children, the Erdenkind (earthly child n) poetically for the Mensch (man m) as an earthly, mortal being, and the specifically male one, the Erdensohn  with the identical meaning as Erdenkind, Erdentochter (earthly daughter f) shows a gender-linguistic gap. Pre-feministically, it can be demonstrated that the umbrella term child is used analogously to Bub or Junge (boy m) and to Sohn (son m) synonymously, i.e. generically masculine, analogous to the hypernym Mensch to Mann (man m), which is also the case here with earthly child and earthly son. The Töchter Gottes (daughter of God f pl) or Erdentöchter (earthly daughters pl f) in the metaphorical sense as counterpart to the Söhne Gottes (sons of God) are missing completely.

As for the gender specific pejoratives, once again a significant preponderance of feminine ones can be noted, four in all, even with a pejorative from the word field of basis lexemes, for Mädchen (girl n). This is the Gör (naughty girl f), in def. (1) it stands for a dirty or naughty child, in def. (2) for a cheeky and insolent little girl. Further four pejorative feminine person references are contrasted with a single masculine one. The feminine ones include the Ding (thing n), the Hexe (witch f) and the hypernym Kreatur (creature f) as well as the Hascherl (poor thing n), which has already been gender analyzed in more detail. The Unhold (ogre m), as the only masculine pejorative is neither a synonym for a base lexeme in the narrower, nor in the broader sense on Mann (man m), but represents a narrowed specific swear word. The Unhold is a malevolent person or someone who does evil, generically masculine and thus applicable to all men, but not restrictedly masculine.

Chapter: 2.2.6 Wesen-compounds: From Living Being, Past Rational Being, to Magical Being 

The corpus of Wesen-compostes contains 16 lemmas in total with a match of 33% with the input lemma -wesen. All of them are neutral, since the genus and numerus are determined by the base word of a compound in German. As Wesen has no other genus assignment than neutral, all composites are also neutral. Among the hypernyms, this is the case only with Mensch, where all three genera occur, der Mensch (man/male human m), die Menschin (female human f) and das Mensch (woman f/girl n). Among the Wesen-compounds, Lebewesen living creature stands out as the only hypernym among the composites and synonyms for the input lemma Wesen (being n). It includes all creatures with organic life, and here especially humans and animals, but not necessarily plants. Thus, only one compound has the meaning category [+Plant], the Einzelwesen (individual being n), it can mean individual in addition to individual human or living being. The term Individuum (individual n) in def. (3) also includes individual plants and animals and in def. (4) even smallest chemical particles of any kind. Depending on the context, they show a special aspect of the general human, the animal, the plant and the elements and function within a certain category again as umbrella terms. 

To remain with the general human, so the already explained Einzelwesen (individual being n), Geschlechtswesen (sexual being n), Lebewesen (animate/living being n), Menschenwesen (human being n) and the Vernunftwesen (rational being n) belong to it. The Lebewesen as human hyperonym is the most important one here beside the Geschlechtswesen. The input lemma Lebewesen  has as evidence (50-58%) a partial synonym for human being, Mensch (man m) and others for all Lebewesen: Nachkomme (offspring/descendent m), Geschlecht (sex n), Parasit (parasite m), Planktont (plankton m), Symbiont (symbiont m), and Trophobiont (trophobiont m) including special terms for animal or plant organisms. All are masculines throughout, although just terms for organisms in the broadest sense can occur feminine, masculine, and intersex and should be named accordingly. Although Lebewesen, a neuter, stands for all, female, male, and intersex humans, animals, and plants, the partial synonyms of Lebewesen are masculine only.

That which goes beyond the general human is called Überwesen (superbeing n), compare also the Übermensch (superhuman m). Thus, a Doppelwesen (twofold being n) is a creature which appears in twofold form, a Einzelwesen (individual being n) on the other hand is a creature which appears as a single one. Both can concern human beings, animals and plants, while Geschlechtswesen (sexual being n), although it actually concerns animals and plants as well, is limited to human beings. It is a gendered Wesen (being n) (3b), but restrictedly used for women and children, an equation that only happens to the Menschin (female human f), but not to the Mensch (male human m). The Mann (man m) as Mensch (human/man m) and vice versa is inscribed with both the human and the masculine, which makes him immune to restrictions to a male-only sexual being. Here one must speak of a symbolic disempowerment of the woman. Fabelwesen (mythical creature n), Gottwesen (devine being n), Mischwesen (hybrid creature n), Spukwesen (n) and Zauberwesen (magical beings n) are beings or appearances in the form of spirits or such that have sprung from the imagination like haunted creatures or mythical creatures. Ideas of deities, pre-femininistically only in masculine form God in Gottwesen (divine being n), also belong to the Wesen (being n).  

Hence the divine, only over the hypernyms Mensch (man m) and Wesen (being n) and further over Geschöpf (creature n) in the partial synonyms represented, is grammatically masculine and neutral, but that’s not the case with Person (person f), and therefore not a single deity is explicitly female. The hypernym Person most strongly represents femininity, not at least because of the feminine genus. Wesen, on the other hand, points to God, as holiness, entity, in the abstract sense and as deities, which are only masculine, except for the only gender-neutral Deva (devi -), actually a goddess, thus should be clearly feminine lexicalized, but is not. Apart from her, the Indian mother deity Deva, however, all manifestations including Gott (God m) himself, demon (demon m) or idol (idol m), which have something to do with divinity in the broadest sense, are usually masculine. This is also true for demonic beings or Mischwesen (hybrid beings pl n) consisting of different parts of animals, like the male Greif (griffin m), which consists of the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. Feminine exceptions are the Sphinx (sphinx f) or the Harpie (harpie f). The former is composed of the body of a lioness and the latter of a bird’s body and a woman’s head.

Thus, the spectrum of meanings of the hypernym Wesen (being n) presents itself as pointing beyond the human, in which the most diverse ideas of the animate have a place. While the synonyms for Mensch (human/man m) turned out to be predominantly male and for Person (person f) predominantly female, the so-called dritte Geschlecht (third gender n), i.e. intersexual as Zwitterwesen (hermaphrodite m), is documented in the corpus of Wesen-composites. The hypernym Mensch is usually equated with Mann (man m), the hypernym Person again with Frau (woman f), and thus only the heterosexual orientation is represented, but still under male leadership. None of the three hypernyms Mensch, Person and Wesen are actually conceived as the general human and thus for all human beings in terms of their sexuality, gender identity and sexual orientations, apart from heteromasculine determined heterosexuality. However, it is actually invisible, since it is equated with sexuality par excellence.