One Word, Two Genders

Categorization and Agreement in Dutch Double Gender Nouns

by Chiara Semplicini (Author)
©2016 Monographs XXII, 397 Pages


Dutch is a peculiar language in that certain nouns have more than one gender. This first academic study of double gender nouns (DGNs) in the Dutch language investigates this anomaly. First assigned a lexicological classification, the DGNs are then analysed contextually by means of a corpus study. DGNs are shown to be part of a generalized restructuring of Dutch gender as a whole. No longer a fringe phenomenon in the Dutch gender system, this study shows them to be catalysts in the transition towards a (more) semantic system, a process that is much more advanced than commonly assumed.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Preface
  • Note on the Text
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Theoretical Framework
  • Chapter 1: Gender between Nominal Classification and Agreement
  • Chapter 2: Gender as an Individuation Marker
  • Part II: The Dutch Gender System
  • Chapter 3: From the Original Formal System to the Mismatched System: The Evolution of Dutch Gender
  • Chapter 4: Gender as an Individuation Marker in Dutch
  • Part III: An Analysis of Dutch Double Gender Nouns
  • Chapter 5: Towards a Definition and Systematization of Dutch Double Gender Nouns: A Synchronic and a Diachronic Perspective
  • Chapter 6: Dutch Double Gender Nouns in Language Usage
  • Chapter 7: Beyond Double Gender Nouns
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Double Gender Nouns
  • Index of Key Terms
  • Series index

| ix →


Chapter 1

Figure 1: A continuum of nominal classification systems
Figure 2: The Inflection-Derivation continuum

Chapter 4

Figure 3: The redistribution of pronominal gender mapped on the Individuation Hierarchy (from Audring 2009: 127)

Chapter 5

| xi →


Chapter 1

Table 1: Differences between noun classes and classifiers

Chapter 3

Table 2: The Middle Dutch strong declension
Table 3: The Middle Dutch weak declension
Table 4: Adjective endings in Middle Dutch
Table 5: Strong and weak declension of the Middle Dutch nominal group
Table 6: Third person pronouns in Middle Dutch
Table 7: A comparison of two prescriptive accounts of the singular definite article inflections
Table 8: Dutch nouns classified according to the determiner they take (from the Woordenlijst 2005)
Table 9: The contemporary Dutch definite nominal group
Table 10: Gender distinctions for NP-internal targets in contemporary Dutch
Table 11: Gender agreement in Standard Dutch
Table 12: Gender distinctions for NP-external targets in contemporary Dutch ← xi | xii →

Chapter 4

Table 13: Gender agreement in southern Dutch
Table 14: Stages of acquisition of the Dutch determiners de and het (from Cornips et al. 2012: 380)
Table 15: The correlation between gender, definiteness and number in Dutch NPs

Chapter 5

Table 16: Article preferences for de- and het-nouns with meaning variation in the ANS
Table 17: Article preference for de/het- nouns without meaning variation in the ANS
Table 18: Grammatical and lexical classification of the nouns diamant, steen, matras and gordijn according to five different systematizations
Table 19: Correlation between pronominal gender and article selection for all 41241 tokens listed in the RBN
Table 20: Relative distribution of ID de/het-rows (arbitrary double gender)
Table 21: Relative distribution of ID de;het-rows (motivated double gender)
Table 22: ID compound nouns grouped according to their common morphological head
Table 23: Animacy values for the 1608 entries of the ID (de/het- and de;het-nouns)
Table 24: Concreteness values for the 1608 entries of the ID (de/het- and de;het-nouns)
Table 25: Individuation values for the 1608 ID entries (de/het- and de;het-nouns)
Table 26: Relative number of DGNs for each historical period ← xii | xiii →
Table 27: Percentages of diffusion of gender flexibility in each historical period till today (based on 3365 lemma types of Diachro_ID)
Table 28: Relative percentage of native (simple and derivate) words vs loanwords for each historical period represented in ID (based on 3365 lemma types of Diachro_ID)
Table 29: Animacy values for the 3365 DGNs contained in Diachro_ID
Table 30: Concreteness values for the 3365 DGNs nouns contained in Diachro_ID
Table 31: Individuation values for the 3365 DGNs contained in Diachro_ID
Table 32: Relative percentage of historical native (underived and simple) words vs loanwords which are still attested in contemporary Dutch (based on 3365 lemma types of Diachro_ID)
Table 33: Relative percentage of stable, unstable and new native (simple and derivate) words vs loanwords in ID
Table 34: Diachronic development for the nouns quoted in Figure 10
Table 35: Diachronic development for the nouns quoted in Figure 11

Chapter 6

Table 36: Distribution of DGNs comparing ID and the CGN Lexicon
Table 37: Total number of rows analysed in the CGN and relative distribution of gender values and their frequency (default vs marked values)
Table 38: DGN agreement patterns in the CGN ← xiii | xiv →
Table 39: Gender distribution and semantic properties of the 658 DGNs contained in the CGN
Table 40: Exclusive neuter agreement patterns: A few examples of quantitative and geographical differences
Table 41: Exclusive non-neuter agreement patterns: A few examples of quantitative and geographical differences
Table 42: Relative distribution of default vs marked gender for the 42 de/het-words with neuter default gender
Table 43: Relative distribution of default vs marked gender for the 47 de/het-words with non-neuter default gender
Table 44: Overview of the 10 DGNs which display a balanced proportion of neuter and non-neuter gender
Table 45: Total amount of intra-speaker gender shifts in the CGN divided according to the target involved
Table 46: Intra-speaker variation in the CGN (only definite NPs)
Table 47: Intra-speaker variation in the CGN (adjectival instability)
Table 48: Total amount of intra-speaker shifts in web data
Table 49: Total shifts found in spoken and web data

Chapter 7

| xvii →


At the time I was prompted to investigate the phenomenon of ‘double gender’ in Dutch – more than five years ago for my PhD project – I did not imagine the variety of issues that would arise upon analysing the subject deeply. Though gender is commonly described as a morphosyntactic category (like number and case) and as a nominal classification system (like noun classes and classifiers), it is non-prototypical in so far as – apart from its agreement-creating effects – it seems to lack a defining function. This state of affairs, however, suggests that gender may have a more subtle function, which may become visible through the emergence of mismatches like those displayed by Dutch double gender nouns (DGNs), i.e. de/het-words. Indeed, when I became intrigued with this subject I started from the assumption that gender variation may also be related to semantic or pragmatic functions, but this hypothesis necessarily needed to be proved through careful analysis of literature and linguistic data.

To better understand the way gender flexibility in Dutch could be motivated by reasons other than dialect or chance, I spent a lot of time getting familiar with nominal classification and agreement in typological perspective. In particular, I searched for cross-linguistic evidence that real-world entities are basically categorized according to common features and that, in language usage, different perceptions of a certain entity may be responsible for different choices on the part of the speaker. Indeed, in a cross-linguistic perspective there are lots of cases which demonstrate not only that speakers frequently exploit the categorizing systems available to them, but that they do so according to recurring cognitive patterns.

To analyse the phenomenon of double gender in Dutch – as a non-native speaker – I had to learn the language and the way its gender system developed over time and works today. Crucially, when I began focusing on de/het-words I had to contend with a big limit, namely the lack of a uniform and systematic classification of such words. Besides, to assess whether de/het-nouns could be considered as a matter of conceptual agreement I had ← xvii | xviii → to carry out repeated investigations on corpus and web data whose results prompted me to extend my analysis to nouns with stable gender, i.e. either neuter het-nouns or common gender de-nouns, which turned out to be a shrewd choice.

This book relies on a huge amount of data (original lexicological and corpus-based databases) which due to space limitations could not be included here. Those interested in the data can contact me at semplicini@yahoo.it.

Many people have contributed, directly and indirectly, to the making of this book. My sincere thanks are due in the first instance to my friends and colleagues Prof. Gunther De Vogelaer and Prof. Letizia Vezzosi. I wish to record here my gratitude to them, since without their precious linguistic suggestions and their special way of encouraging and pushing me, when necessary, I don’t think this research would ever have been published.

I would also like to thank Prof. Jacques Van Keymeulen, for his constant support during the time I spent in Belgium, Prof. Silvia Luraghi for her fresh insights into my research, and Prof. Vincenzo Lo Cascio for helping me find a way to analyse the Dutch lexicon.

I am grateful to all the linguists who discussed with me the issue of gender during the conferences I attended in the past years, especially Jenny Audring, Elma Blom, Jan Klom, Margot Kraaikamp and Freek van de Velde, who gave me precious advice during the Colloquium Genus in beweging (University of Muenster, January 2014).

I am also deeply indebted to the anonymous reviewers of Semplicini (2012), Semplicini (2013) and Semplicini (forthcoming): these papers were the basis for Chapter 6, some sections of Chapter 5 and Chapters 1 and 2, respectively.

Last but not least, special thanks go to all the friends who took care of me with love and patience and to Luca who helped me understand that every day is unique and that life always gives you another chance.

February 2016

Chiara Semplicini

| xix →

Note on the text

Word-by-word alignment is provided for short examples.

For longer extracts only relevant (gender-marking) glosses are added.

| xxi →


I-VII class number (in noun class systems)
3 third person pronoun
ACC accusative case
ADJ adjective
C common gender
CLF classifier
DAT dative case
DEF definite
DET determiner
F feminine gender
v feminine gender (in historical sources)
GEN genitive case
INDF indefinite
M masculine gender
m masculine gender (in historical sources)
N neuter gender
o neuter gender (in historical sources)
NEG negative
NOM nominative case
NN non-neuter gender
NP noun phrase
POSS possessive
PRT particle
SG singular
UNINFL not inflected
TOP topic ← xxi | xxii →

Other abbreviations


XXII, 397
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (May)
Double Gender Nouns Dutch Gender as an Individuation marker
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XXII, 397 pp., 17 fig.

Biographical notes

Chiara Semplicini (Author)

Chiara Semplicini holds a PhD in General Linguistics and Romance Philology after completing a thesis on Dutch double gender nouns in 2012. She has participated in many conferences and workshops and has published widely on the issue. Her research interests include German philology, Germanic languages, cognitive linguistics, gender, morphology and semantics.


Title: One Word, Two Genders
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