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GRAMMATICAL GENDER: A CASE OF NEUTER IN OLD ENGLISH AND LANGUAGES OF EUROPE

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Author(s): Junichi Toyota, Flavia Vlasa Florea

Journal: Facta Universitatis. Series : Linguistics and Literature
ISSN 0354-4702

Date: 2009;

Keywords: grammatical gender | neuter | Proto-Indo-European | gender system | reproduction | historical analysis | gender assignment

ABSTRACT
The gender assignment of some neuter nouns such as 'child' or particularly 'girl' has been a puzzle, since their referents are human animate and possess natural sex. Why isn't the feminine gender used for a girl? In this paper, we argue that this peculiar gender assignment can date back to a period when Proto-Indo-European wasspoken (ca. 6,000 years ago). The gender system in Proto-Indo-European was binary between active (animate referents) and inactive (inanimate referents) and the choice of gender was partially related to the ability to reproduce. The use of neuter for smallchildren or girls can be seen as a residue of the world view commonly employed by Proto-Indo-European speakers. Therefore, historical analysis is indispensable in this case to reveal an underlying semantic system of gender assignment.
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