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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 6: Dutch Double Gender Nouns in Language Usage


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Dutch Double Gender Nouns in Language Usage

Dutch (pronominal) gender is now said to be undergoing a transition from a formal to a conceptual system. In spoken language, pronouns are increasingly used according to semantic rather than formal rules. This is why Dutch nouns seem to behave as hybrid controllers at least in spontaneous conversation (cf. Chapter 4). The instability of Dutch gender, however, is not confined to pronominal agreement, since there are many nouns which are associated in lexicological sources and dictionaries with two (lexical) genders (cf. Chapter 5). Interestingly enough, the investigation of these sources indicates that, at least for nouns allowing mass/count reading, article choice should rely on semantic reasons, namely non-neuter and neuter gender for bounded and unbounded conceptualizations, respectively. Accordingly, at least in some cases, double gender lines up with the resemanticization of pronouns. Indeed, accepting that a noun like diamant [diamond] can trigger either the article het or de depending on whether it refers to a substance or an object – as stated in contemporary lexicological accounts – necessarily implies that the phenomenon of double gender primarily pertains to agreement in context, i.e. a property of NPs, and only secondarily may be treated as a matter of (re)-assignment, i.e. a lexical property of the noun (diamant was originally a masculine noun). This state of affairs may also have some relevance for other DGNs. Starting from this assumption and relying on the data obtained through the investigation...

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