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One Word, Two Genders

Categorization and Agreement in Dutch Double Gender Nouns

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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 5: Towards a Definition and Systematization of Dutch Double Gender Nouns: A Synchronic and a Diachronic Perspective

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CHAPTER 5

Towards a Definition and Systematization of Dutch Double Gender Nouns: A Synchronic and a Diachronic Perspective

In the Modern Age, grammarians’ artificial attempts at standardization dealt not only with grammatical case, but also with gender. While early grammars and wordlists mostly obscure the possibility to date back precisely the merger of masculine and feminine gender in real communication contexts, they indeed highlight an early division of labour between neuter and non-neuter gender for nouns that can refer to different kinds of entities (§ 5.1). Remarkably, this state of affairs also emerges in the most authoritative contemporary Dutch grammar (ANS), at least for those DGNs which allow a mass/count interpretation (§ 5.2). However, for nouns not displaying such flexibility, but still showing double gender, no explanation is provided. This unequal treatment is further complicated by the fact that existing accounts of Dutch DGNs do not state how many nouns belong to this category. The vagueness about the number of de/het-words is confirmed by a comparison of contemporary dictionaries and lexical databases which report the phenomenon, providing different classifications (§ 5.3). This fuzziness not only prevents a coherent understanding of DGNs, it also constitutes the primary limit for assessing the scope of the phenomenon in present-day Dutch. Thus, to go deeper into Dutch DGNs a reliable point of departure is needed, roughly speaking a list of de/het-nouns. To achieve this objective I have carried out a synchronic investigation by comparing 4 lexicological sources. This comparison has...

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