The lexical and typological trajectory of Indo-European gender evolution

Gerd Carling, Marc Allassonnière-Tang, Silvia Luraghi, Sunny Pydugadu, Olof Lundgren, Filip Larsson

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The lexical and typological trajectory of Indo-European gender evolutionGerd Carling, Marc Allassionère-Tang, Silvia Luraghi, Sunny Pydugadu, Olof Lundgren &Filip Larsson(Lund University, University of Lyon, Pavia University, Pavia University, Lund University & Lund University)Keywords: Indo-European, gender, typology, evolution, phylogeneticsIndo-European is a family with a relatively strong and stable gender system. Many branches of the family have preserved a system of three genders:masculine, feminine, and neuter. Some branches have collapsed the three-gender system into a system of two, losing either the Indo-European neuter (resulting in masculine-feminine systems) or the feminine (resulting in commune-neuter systems)(Matasović, 2004). The current paper will investigate the evolutionary trajectory of Indo-European gender systems, from the root of the family tree and until present day. We will focus on the following issues:The general evolutionary tendency of the masculine, feminine, and neuter in nominal and pronominal gender, investigated both on lexical andgrammatical data.The tendency of Indo-European in the light of general principles of gender change andloss. For our purpose, we make use ofthreedifferent data setsfrom theopen access databaseDiACL(Carling et al., 2018), containing150 languages (ancient, Medieval, and modern) from the Indo-European family:1) adata set ofvarious gender features, 2) adata set with nominal and pronominal gender features(same source), 3) two openly available data sets with culture vocabulary and basic vocabulary lexemes, which have beencoded for cognacy and gender .To investigate the trajectory of Indo-European gender in typology and lexicon, we apply a phylogenetic comparative model, which reconstructs the evolutionary path of each gender feature (commune-neuter, masculine-feminine, masculine-feminine-neuter) as well as of each individual gender (commune, masculine, feminine, neuter), for nouns and pronouns, from the root of the tree and to present day. Preliminary tests indicate that on the whole,from the root (Proto-Indo-European) to the present, Indo-European gender wasfirst strengthening (increasing, becoming more frequent, distinguishing more genders) and then weakening(decreasing, becoming less frequent, merging genders)and that the process ismore pronounced in nouns than in pronouns (i.e., pronouns change moreslowlythan nouns).As an example, Old English had initially he and heo, but only those dialects who changed heo -> sche kept the masculine/femininedistinction (= strengthening),whileothers merged to one pronoun (= weakening) (Curzan 2003:45).Generally, the weakening is most pronounced by the neuter and least pronounced by the masculine. When we redothe analysis onthe lexical data, reconstructing the gender evolution for each cognate in our set, we notice that the tendency by lexemes is even more pronounced than by grammar features. Over time, masculine, feminine and neuter drift apart, with the masculine becoming stronger and the neuter and feminine becoming weaker. With the theoryin mind that the feminine gender emerged in early Indo-European (Luraghi, 2011), we hypothesize that Indo-European is currently on the way to weakening,or even losing,itsgender system.It is possible that individual branches, such as the Slavic branch, show a continuous viable gender system.The procedure is most pronounced in ourlexical data, butwe hypothesize thatgrammar will follow eventually. For that purpose, we look specifically at procedures that are indicative ofgender change and loss (Allassonnière-Tang et al., submitted; Corbett, 1991, 2013; Van Epps, Carling, & Sapir, In press)in our data: loss of morphology, fluctuations in the lexicon, increase of lexemes with vacillating gender, and mechanical adaption of loans to one single gender. We will analyze and evaluate these processes based on the complete family, indifferent branches, as well as by differentsemantic categories.Allassonnière-Tang, M., Olof Lundgren, Maja Robbers, Sandra Cronhamn, Filip Larsson, One-Soon Her, . . . Carling, G. (submitted). Speaker migration as a historical coincidence drives linguistic diversity of nominal categorization systems. Submitted to a journal. Carling, G., Larsson, F., Cathcart, C., Johansson, N., Holmer, A., Round, E. R., & Verhoeven, R. (2018). Diachronic Atlas of Comparative Linguistics (DiACL) –A Database for Ancient Language Typology. PLoS ONE, 13(10). doi:, G. G. (1991). Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.Corbett, G. G. (2013). Gender typology. In G. G. Corbett (Ed.), The Expression of Gender(pp. 87-130). Berlin -New York: Mouton de Gruyter.Luraghi, S. (2011). The origin of the Proto-Indo-European gender system: Typological considerations. Folia Linguistics, 45(2), 435-464. Matasović, R. (2004). Gender in Indo-European. Heidelberg: Winter.Van Epps, B., Carling, G., & Sapir, Y. (In press). Gender assignment in six North Scandinavian languages: Patterns of variation and change. Journal of Germanic Linguistics.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Aug 31
EventAnnual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea
- Online, Athens, Greece
Duration: 2021 Aug 302021 Sep 3


ConferenceAnnual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea
Abbreviated titleSLE 2021
Internet address

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics

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