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Gender and Noun Classification$
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Éric Mathieu, Myriam Dali, and Gita Zareikar

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198828105

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198828105.001.0001

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Productivity vs predictability

Productivity vs predictability

Evidence for the syntax and semantics of Animate gender in four Northeastern-area Algonquian languages

(p.249) 12 Productivity vs predictability
Gender and Noun Classification

Conor McDonough Quinn

Oxford University Press

The nominal gender distinction in Algonquian languages known as Animate versus Inanimate has long been observed to correlate closely with semantic animacy, even as superficially ‘unpredictable’ Animates at first suggest an ultimately formal and rote-lexicalized character. In Chapter 12, drawing on data from four Northeastern-area Eastern Algonquian languages, the author shows that Animate assignment is neither purely formal-lexicalized, nor based on a single elusive shared semantic feature, but instead is an emergent phenomenon: a mutable, ongoing lexicon-structuring process that builds up a set of lexical-semantic ‘families’ to which AN status is assigned. This is seen most strikingly in Passamaquoddy-Maliseet and Mi’kmaw speakers’ robust knowledge of the gender assignment of novel items and foreign words, with similar patterns seen in Penobscot and Western Abenaki corpora. Language-internally, the phenomena of ‘dual animacy’ and ‘variable animacy’ also support this view, as does the observation that Animate assignment appears to change diachronically across Algonquian by semantic cluster, i.e. by ‘family’, rather than by individual lexeme. Establishing that the phenomenon is dynamically synchronically productive (and far more predictable than not), the author aims to encourage further research in this heretofore neglected area, and so also presents preliminary questions about the falsifiability of the model and what adequate semantic and syntactic accounts would require, and finally observes how this new line of investigation might substantially help Algonquian language reclamation/revitalization efforts.

Keywords:   animacy, gender, semantic gender, formal gender, lexicalization, gender acquisition, lexical structure

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