Article published in:Linguistics in the Netherlands 2012
Edited by Marion Elenbaas and Suzanne Aalberse
[Linguistics in the Netherlands 29] 2012
► pp. 41–54
Neuter gender in a sexless language
The case of Zulu
In some Germanic languages, neuter gender is used both as a lexical gender and for certain grammatical functions, while in Romance languages, neuter gender is only employed for grammatical functions. Zulu, a Bantu language, has a much more elaborate noun class system than those languages, but one not rooted in sex or animacy as in Germanic or Romance. However, it is shown that Zulu noun class 17 is used for the same range of grammatical functions as neuter gender in Indo-European. Specifically, Indo-European neuter gender and Zulu class 17 are used when the referent has no specific noun class properties, for expletive subjects, and as the subject of nominal predication, even when the referent is human. Aside from its use in some languages as a gender for nouns, then, neuter gender can be understood as a cluster of grammatical functions, independently of the way the lexicon is organized.
Keywords: neuter gender, nominal predication, noun class systems, lexicon, neutral agreement
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Published online: 02 November 2012