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One Word, Two Genders

Categorization and Agreement in Dutch Double Gender Nouns


Chiara Semplicini

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.
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Chapter 3: From the Original Formal System to the Mismatched System: The Evolution of Dutch Gender


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From the Original Formal System to the Mismatched System: The Evolution of Dutch Gender

Standard Dutch (Standaardnederlands or Algemeen Nederlands (AN)) is an Indo-European language belonging to the West Germanic branch, spoken as their mother tongue by some fourteen million speakers in The Netherlands and six million Flemish speakers living in Belgium.1 Like many other Indo-European languages, Dutch has gradually moved its nominal morphology from synthetic to chiefly analytic. In particular, contemporary Dutch has a mid-way position between its West-Germanic cognates, i.e. German and English. Despite being grammatically similar to German (especially regarding syntax and verb morphology) the Dutch case system has been simplified to a greater extent than German, but to a lesser extent than English. In the history of the language the original formal system of declensions and nominal categories – which disappeared in English but is conserved in German – has undergone a drastic reduction: the opacization of morphological markers which originally signaled case, gender and ← 103 | 104 → number led to the loss of the case system (today mostly limited to pronouns and a large number of set phrases),2 the reduction in plural allomorphy and the disappearance of the original tripartite gender distinction (cf. § 3.1). In contemporary Dutch, gender controllers and targets no longer inflect for case and the partial overlap between gender and declension has been lost. Moreover, gender has become covert in nouns, adjectival declension has been highly simplified, and the original Indo-European distinction between masculine, feminine...

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