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Gender. Maarten Mous. Semantic aspects of gender. Male / Female Agentives (but) Male / Female singulatives of animals/people. Not semantically based. examples of “wrong” gender m/f in multiple reference various values for gender for similar concepts (e.g. gourds). Semantic effects. size

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Maarten Mous

Semantic aspects of gender

  • Male / Female Agentives (but)

  • Male / Female singulatives of animals/people

Not semantically based

  • examples of “wrong” gender

  • m/f in multiple reference

  • various values for gender for similar concepts (e.g. gourds)

Semantic effects

  • size

  • endearment / pejoration

  • significance

Meaning of shift to feminine

  • diminutive

  • endearment / pejoration

  • insignificant

Meaning of shift to feminine

Similar functions in neighbouring Omotic, Semitic of Ethiopia, including Amharic.

Example of Western OromoClamons (1992: 69)

  • asmall number of lexically specified words have invariant gender (m) or (f);

  • the rest of the words are variable in gender;

  • if the referent is sexed, its sex will determine its gender;

Example of Western Oromo

  • if the referent is not sexed, unmarked gender is partly determined by the quality of the final vowel:

  • nouns ending in non-low vowels are (f), those ending in low vowels or consonant are (m)

  • but the other gender may be used expressively;

  • anumber of the nouns in the remaining category have an unmarked gender that is not predictable on the basis of formal properties and have to be lexically specified

  • still these too may shift in gender for expressive purposes.

The meaning of (p)

  • In some languages all (p) nouns are m.r.; all m.r. nouns are (p). Or (p) is semantically predictable: Agaw, Dullay.

  • Oromo verb agreement of m.r. nouns is (p) or (f); (f) for collective

  • Option of semantic agreement of (p) on the verb for (m/f) nouns in some languages (Alagwa, partly Somali)

  • (p) agreement on the verb for the resolution of gender conflict in coordinated subject noun phrase

The meaning of (p):Underived (p) nouns (Alagwa)

  • Plural words daaqaay (p) ‘children’ tikay (p) ‘women, wives’ yawa (p) ‘cattle’ aaraa (p) ‘goats’ baaluu (p) ‘days’

  • Liquids and collectives ilba (p) ‘milk’ mintsartú (p) ‘fresh (of milk)’ ma'ay (p) ‘water’ qubu (p) ‘hair’

  • Time xwa'i (p) ‘evening’ amasi (p) ‘night’ aansí (p) ‘former times’ piray (p) ‘night till dawn’ matlatlee (p) ‘morning’

  • Geographical concepts tsiindo (p) ‘west’ aluu (p) ‘behind’ pahaa (p) ‘valley’ rawa (p) ‘top, sky’ tsee/aa (p) ‘savanna, grassland’

The meaning of (p):Underived (p) nouns (Alagwa)

The rest:

  • fayee (p) ‘marriage settlement, bride price’

  • kwa/u (p) ‘house of many poles (?)’

  • neetla (p) ‘devil’

  • tse/era (p) ‘healed wound’

  • umpumáy (p) ‘small-pox’

Bantu noun class system


Main characteristics

pervasive agreement


singular / plural pairing

few roots in multiple classes

class membership is reconstructable

Semantic aspects

semantic agreement with human/animate

derivation within the noun class system

association in form / meaning

Semantic aspects: derivation

Shift to class n for diminutive, to class m for augmentative

Shift to class 14 for abstract concepts

Other semantic distribution: land/language/people; fruit/tree

Positioning into class r for verbal noun

Shift to (empty) class 16,17,18 for concepts of location

Shift to other class for plural

Semantic aspects: what remains

Characterisation of tendencies:

long/thin in 11

tree like things in 7

liquids in 6

round in 5

These are reminiscent of functions of numeral classifiers.

Synchronic value difficult to determine.

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