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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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3. Innovative attributive morphology as a case marker 99


99 3. Innovative attributive morphology as a case marker 3.1 Introduction In this chapter, the motivation behind deviations from historical gen- der agreement between attributives and their head nouns as observed in specific case contexts is examined. Presented in a simplified way, they fall into the following four categories: -es in genitive contexts, -Vn in dative and post-prepositional contexts, -ne in accusative con- texts, and -re in dative and post-prepositional contexts. An explana- tion of the first three is not difficult if the fact is duly recognized that gender-distinctive forms are at the same time case and number dis- tinctive and that gender therefore is not the only factor that may trig- ger ‘mis-agreement’. The ending -es, which only distinguishes the masculine and the neuter from the feminine, is a positive genitive case and singular number marker;1 demonstratives with -Vn function as an unambiguous dative case marker, distinguish numbers only when constructed with feminine nouns, and mark either the masculine or neuter in singular contexts and no particular gender at all in plural contexts;2 and -ne is a positive marker of the accusative case and the singular number as well as the masculine gender. These endings, be- ing respectively the only unambiguous genitive, dative, and accusa- tive case markers, appear to have been employed analogically as such without any regard to gender. Post-prepositional forms, which could historically stand in all cases but the nominative, have come to be represented mostly by the dative. 1 There are, however, 2...

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