I rather like the hypothesis put forward by some historical linguists to explain why the English language eschews declensions of gender. Let’s journey back in time to what are commonly known as the Dark Ages: obscured from our view by the swirling mists of widespread illiteracy, they were in fact eventful centuries that witnessed the birth of modern Europe, with all its languages, communities and identities.
The large island off the northwest coast of the continent was an attractive destination for wave after wave of immigrants – many of them originating in what is now Germany and Scandinavia. First came the Saxons and Angles, joined later by Jutes and Danes. Despite their gory reputation, most Vikings were farmers, not marauders. And so these communities – each speaking a variation on a Germanic theme – had to rub along with each other, trading, intermarrying: above all, communicating.
As the years went by, this ongoing communication between linguistic groups gradually transmuted inflections, eroding instances of gender clash and leaving case all but discarded. In the end, as the historians have it, the island of Great Britain gave birth to a Germanic language with a slimline grammar that makes it good at adopting words from other tongues, tolerant of grammatical heterogeneity – and an ideal lingua franca for our globalised times.