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While most French/Spanish noun cognates share the same gender (both descending from the same vulgar latin root), there are many exceptions having opposing genders (e.g. la couleur / el color; la douleur / el dolor). What explains this divergence?


1. This Quora answer, Dan Lenski (BA Linguistics; PhD Physics) lists but also explains one.
2. The Genders of French and Spanish Noun Cognates: Some Statistics and a List., Teschner, Richard V., Canadian Modern Language Review, v43 n2 p256-66 Jan 1987.
3. Wordreference

  • 2
    In reality outside of certain general-but-imperfect rules for cognate endings, there are few ways to predict when the gender will change between Romance languages with any degree of certainty (color can be feminine in Spanish, for instance). This is why new vocabulary is always listed in E(sp)SL texts with an article included. But you may look at this article too: Volman, R. J. "Similarities of Gender in Basic Spanish and French Vocabularies". The Modern Language Journal 43:1 (1959): 21-?. Print. – user0721090601 Jan 16 '16 at 2:36
  • This question just occurred to me as well (cp. Spanish fuente, French font). I see that the answer is not as definite as one might hope. Ah well! – Luke Sawczak Aug 23 '17 at 14:46
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Firstly realise that within languages with gender, there are inconsistencies and regional differences. That is, the process is happening even today. Especially given that the Romance languages in question are part of a geographically unbroken dialectical continuum, examining that process will give you insight on how it unfolded in the past.

Similarly, one way to look at this question is across all Latin languages, including Latin itself, and certainly the languages like Catalan, Occitan, Franco-Provençal and Italian which share some features of Spanish and French.

(It may also worth considering the influence of other languages, like Basque, Gaelic, Germanic and Arabic, and the prescriptions based on Latin that lasted long after Latin was hardly spoken.)

The resource I would suggest would be Wiktionary. Consider dolor: it was masculine in Latin but that varied a great deal among its descendants, including within the Iberian peninsula.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/dolor

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