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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 7: Beyond Double Gender Nouns


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Beyond Double Gender Nouns

The contextual analysis of Dutch DGNs sketched in Chapter 6 aimed at detecting whether the selection of gender in context can be motivated by semantic and pragmatic factors. Unfortunately, most DGNs are fairly infrequent in spoken and web data. Moreover, DGNs often appear either as bare nouns or in single mentions. The examples discussed in Chapter 6, however, indicate that when lexical gender is unstable, speakers can exploit this flexibility to construct different perspectives towards the referent. This is especially evident in cases of intra-speaker variation when the same DGN is used in subsequent NPs and displays different genders. Yet the analysis of spoken data also shows that gender shifts are not confined to the domain of DGNs. I observed, for instance, that both de-nouns and het-nouns, i.e. stable gender nouns according to contemporary lexicological sources (henceforth, SGNs), can trigger a different agreement from the expected (grammatical) one. That the CGN contains potential new DGNs suggests (and confirms) not only that the category attracts new members, but also that regularities behind adnominal gender selection may be exploited to construct meaning with nouns having stable lexical gender. For example, in the CGN, the common gender noun snoep [sweet] takes exclusively neuter gender, while the neuter gender noun maillot [singlet] takes exclusively non-neuter gender.1 Though we may be dealing with speech errors, these deviations do make sense from a conceptual viewpoint: snoep refers to a substance, whereas maillot can...

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