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Gender, prescriptivism, and language change: Morphological variation in Hebrew animate reference

  • Erez Levon (a1)

Beliefs about a language rarely correspond to how it is used. This is especially true for Hebrew, a language that has been subject to continued ideological “preservation” efforts ever since its (re)vernacularization in the early 20th century. Recently, attention has turned to the maintenance of Hebrew gender morphology, which is perceived in both scholarly and popular opinion as threatened by a process of leveling to gender syncretized forms across a range of word classes and inflectional paradigms. In this article, I investigate the extent to which sociolinguistic evidence supports this perception in cases of animate reference. I argue that while the claim of widespread gender neutralization of these forms is descriptively valid, its characterization as a change-in-progress is inaccurate. Rather, I suggest that Hebrew is already fully syncretized for gender in certain relevant morphological contexts and that the perception of an ongoing process of change reflects a prescriptive belief about how Hebrew should be, not how it actually is.

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Language Variation and Change
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