On grammatical gender as an arbitrary and redundant category

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In this paper I give an overview of tendencies in the research on grammatical gender within the Western linguistic tradition. More specifically, I focus on the recurring claims concerning the supposed semantic arbitrariness, and formal and non-functional character of this category. Representative examples are given from every period of linguistic activity, from the ancient Greek scholars up to contemporary descriptive and typological studies. Particular attention is given to the most influential works, e.g. those of the Neogrammarians and European as well as American structuralists within 19th and 20th century scholarship. While examples have been drawn mainly from the research on Indo-European, the tendencies described are also indicative of the research on other families and on systems traditionally referred to as “noun classes”. Finally, I consider these claims in the light of the evidence that is now available of the semantic regularity of gender, its discourse functions and cognitive correlates.


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