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Unhistorical Gender Assignment in Layamon’s «Brut»

A Case Study of a Late Stage in the Development of Grammatical Gender toward its Ultimate Loss


Seiji Shinkawa

This book explains how and why grammatical gender disappeared from English through a detailed analysis of unhistorical gender assignment within the noun phrase in Layamon’s Brut, one of the most important Early Middle English texts. Such deviations do occur capriciously but not randomly, suggesting a development of innovative functions of the attributive forms concerned.
These innovations are mainly of two types: gender-insensitive uses as a case marker and a shift from a bipartite to tripartite system of defining words, the, that, and this. The author discusses these innovations, focusing on their implications for the subsequent development and eventual loss of grammatical gender.


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2. Historical and unhistorical gender forms of demonstratives and adjectives 25


25 2. Historical and unhistorical gender forms of demonstratives and adjectives 2.1 Introduction In this chapter, I will give an analysis of grammatical and ungram- matical gender forms of demonstratives and adjectives within the noun phrase in both versions of La(amon’s Brut and try to determine the state of preservation of grammatical gender and the types of de- viation that can be distinguished. In so doing, a set of difficulties presents itself owing to a lack of information on vowel length. The same spelling of þe, for example, might represent two distinct forms, one with a short vowel and the other with a long one. It is possible that þe found with feminine nouns in nominative singular contexts has a long vowel sound, since it could be regarded as a reflex of Old English s&o with analogical þ- from the oblique cases (see Hoffmann 1909: 8-9), though the Old English form itself is assumed to have had variants with a short vowel (Hogg 1992b: 143). It is unlikely, however, that it always retains this vowel quantity, demonstratives rarely carrying full stress and long vowels in an unstressed syllable tending to be shortened. Thus, vowel length, information about which is not clearly available to begin with, is too unreliable and too incon- sistent to be a distinctive feature of demonstrative forms. It can there- fore be ignored without incurring any practical problems. 26 2.2 The simple demonstrative (Old English se/s&o/þæt) 2.2.1 The distribution of forms Table 1...

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