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The Diachrony of Semantic Gender Agreement: Findings from Middle Dutch

  • Margot Kraaikamp (a1)
Abstract

This paper presents the results of a corpus study of pronominal gender agreement in Middle Dutch. In present-day Dutch and in several other Germanic varieties, pronouns show semantic gender agreement that is based on the degree of individuation of the referent. Dutch pronouns show variation between this type of agreement and lexical gender agreement. This study investigates how old semantic agreement based on individuation is. In particular, it aims to answer the question of whether semantic agreement has developed in response to the change from the Germanic three-gender system to a two-gender system or dates back to before this change. The results show that agreement based on individuation already existed in Middle Dutch, when the original three-gender system was still in place. This shows that this type of agreement did not develop in response to the change from three to two nominal genders. The semantic interpretation of the genders along the lines of individuation apparently existed already and could be an old Germanic, possibly Indo-European, feature. What seems to have changed over time is the proportion of semantic to lexical agreement, as semantic agreement appears to occur more frequently in present-day Dutch than in Middle Dutch. This shift in agreement preference may be due to the loss of adnominal gender marking and the resulting reduced visibility of lexical gender in the noun phrase.

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Corresponding author
University of Amsterdam, Spuistraat 134, 1012 VB Amsterdam, The Netherlands, [mkraaikamp@outlook.com]
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Journal of Germanic Linguistics
  • ISSN: 1470-5427
  • EISSN: 1475-3014
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