The reconstruction of Indo-European gender

The distribution of nominal gender systems in Indo-European languages. The distribution of nominal gender systems in Indo-European languages.



I am taking up this blogg after a summer intermission. During the summer, I have been at International Conference of Historical Linguistics 24 in Canberra and at the 52nd Annual Meeting of Societas Linguistica Europea in Leipzig. In both places I talked about one specific topic, which have attracted my interest recently: gender evolution and gender assignment, specifically in Indo-European.
In a couple of coming blogposts, I will talk specifically about this issue. The first post will deal with the morphosyntactic reconstruction of the Indo-Europen gender system.

First of all, how do we define gender? The typical way in which this is done is to use the definition of agreement, which is visible on an agreeing article, adjective or verb. Normally, the gender system of a language is described in grammars, which is reflected in the dictionary of this language. However, this definition does not work for pronominal gender, which is more tricky. For defining pronominal gender, it is necessary to look at the occurrence of gendered forms in pronominal systems.

Gender is prototypically a property of nouns, and once the gender has been identified for all nouns in a language, an important issue is to try to define the underlying causes for gender assigment. There is plenty of research on this issue, both from a general typological perspective as well as with respect to individual languages.  According to the canonical gender literature (Corbett 1991, 2013, Corbett and Fraser 2000), there are three basic principles according to which gender is assigned in languages. These are phonological, morphological and semantic. A fundamental problem is that these rules typically compete in languages.

What is the situation in Indo-European?

  • Most languages have gender (masculine, feminine, neuter).
  • No language has ”purely” phonological, morphological, or semantic assignment.
  • Diachrony apparently plays a role: many language inherit larger or smaller parts of their gender system and gender assignment on nouns.
  • Most languages have competing rules for assignment.


The next issue is the reconstruction of Indo-European gender. For the reconstruction of the Indo-European gender system, based on a morphological reconstruction of systems in the various branches, there are three proposed suggestions in the literature. The option suggested by Hermann Hirt in the 1930s (Hirt 1934, 1937) was that Indo-European had no gender, which then later developed into a three-gender system by means of grammaticalization. The reconstruction of Delbrück and Brugmann (Brugmann & Delbrück 1893, 1897, 1900) contained three genders, like Sanskrit, Classical Greek and Latin, which later was either preserved or collapsed into a masculine-feminine or a common-neuter system. However, Brugmann and Delbrück were uncertain about the feminine gender, basically due to the formal correspondence in the reconstructed state of the feminine and the neuter (the -h2- suffix). Based on this formal similarity between the collective/neuter and the feminine, as well as the shape of the system of Anatolian with a commune and a collective/neuter, later Indo-European scholars agree that Indo-European had a two-gender animate-inanimate system (which is reflected in the Anatolian system), which later developed into a sex-based gender system with an additional collective gender, the neuter (see Table 1) (Luraghi 1911, Matasović 2004).
Basically, the model of Hirt implies that gender evolved by grammaticalization, the Delbrück model that the three-gender system of Indo-European either remained or collapsed. However, we must remember that both these models were constructed before the discovery of Anatolian.
The mainstream model is based on an idea of a typological evolution of the gender systems, which moves from an animate - inanimate to a sexus-based system, which retains the difference between animacy in the masculine feminine and the difference between abstract and concrete in feminine-neuter (table 1).

In brief, the mainstream model supposes that there is:

  • Trace of the old system in languages
  • Emergence of human~non-human distinction after the proto-language
  • Emergence of an abstract~conctrete distinction of non-human gender after the proto-language
  • Later mapping into a sexus-based system with retention of the concrete inanimate (neuter)
  • Continuation of the ancient assignment principles in various languages

Table 1. The developmental phases of the Indo-European gender system according to the mainstram model (after Luraghi 2009).
Stage 1 ANIMATE INANIMATE
Stage 2 HUMAN ABSTRACT CONCRETE
Stage 3 MASCULINE/FEMININE FEMININE NEUTER



The next issue in this process is to find out what happens if an evolutionary model is used for the reconstruction (Cathcart, Carling et al 2018, Carling 2019)? Gender reconstruction is an important question for evolutionary models, since the system reconstructed to Proto-Indo-European has been changed in most living languages (see Table 1).

I will discuss this issue in the next blogpost.


REFERENCES:
Brugmann, Karl, Delbrück, Berthold, and Delbrück, Berthold (1893), Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen : kurzgefasste Darstellung der Geschichte des Altindischen, Altiranischen (Avestischen u. Altpersischen), Altarmenischen, Altgriechischen, Albanesischen, Lateinischen, Oskisch-Umbrischen, Altirischen, Gotischen, Althochdeutschen, Litauischen und Altkirchenslavischen. Bd 3, Vergleichende Syntax der indogermanischen Sprachen, T. 1 (Strassburg: Trübner).
--- (1897), Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen : kurzgefasste Darstellung der Geschichte des Altindischen, Altiranischen (Avestischen u. Altpersischen), Altarmenischen, Altgriechischen, Albanesischen, Lateinischen, Oskisch-Umbrischen, Altirischen, Gotischen, Althochdeutschen, Litauischen und Altkirchenslavischen. Bd 4, Vergleichende Syntax der indogermanischen Sprachen, T. 2 (Strassburg: Trübner).
--- (1900), Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen : kurzgefasste Darstellung der Geschichte des Altindischen, Altiranischen (Avestischen u. Altpersischen), Altarmenischen, Altgriechischen, Albanesischen, Lateinischen, Oskisch-Umbrischen, Altirischen, Gotischen, Althochdeutschen, Litauischen und Altkirchenslavischen. Bd 5, Vergleichende Syntax der indogermanischen Sprachen, T. 3 (Strassburg: Trübner).
Carling, Gerd (2019), Mouton Atlas of Languages and Cultures. Vol. 1: Europe, Caucasus, Western and Southern Asia (Berlin - New York: Mouton de Gruyter).
Cathcart, Chundra, et al. (2018), 'Areal pressure in grammatical evolution.', Diachronica, 35 (1), 1-34.
Corbett, Greville G. (1991), Gender (Cambridge textbooks in linguistics, 99-0104661-0; Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press).
Corbett Greville, G. (2013), 'Gender typology', The Expression of Gender.
Corbett, Greville G. and Fraser, Norman M. (2000), 'Gender assignment: a typology and a model', in Gunter Senft (ed.), Systems of Nominal Classification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 293-325.
Hirt, Hermann Alfred (1934), Indogermanische Grammatik. T. 6, Syntax, 1 : syntaktische Verwendung der Kasus un der Verbalformen (Heidelberg: Carl Winter).
Luraghi, Silvia (2011), 'The origin of the Proto-Indo-European gender system: Typological considerations', Folia Linguistics, 45 (2), 435-64.
Matasović, Ranko (2004), Gender in Indo-European (Heidelberg: Winter).

 

Prononminal gender systems in Indo-European languages.
Prononminal gender systems in Indo-European languages.

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