Gender assignment in Old English

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Old English has a three-gender formal assignment system, there are more than scanty instances where the same noun shows more than one gender. The phenomenon has been so far generally neglected both in textbooks and linguistic literature. In the present paper, the author classifies the Old English data, selected through a corpus analysis of electronic corpora and complete literary works on the base of a comparison with relevant data from typological investigations and historical linguistic studies, and shows that Old English gender variance depends on semantic and pragmatic factors that interfere with grammatical gender assignment, a linguistic fact that is cross-linguistically common. More precisely, besides the cross-linguistically frequent semantic traits such as [± animate] [± human], gender assignment in Old English seems to be sensitive to semantic roles. This parameter does not conflict with the previous semantic ones, since all of them can be derived from the more general feature [± individuated]


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