Chapter published in:The Diachrony of Classification Systems
Edited by William B. McGregor and Søren Wichmann
[Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 342] 2018
► pp. 107–134
Diachronic and synchronic aspects of the simplification of grammatical gender in an obsolescent language
The case of Irish
The comparison of two corpora of spoken Irish – one representative of a traditional variety as spoken in 1964, the other of the language spoken today on Irish-language media – reveals a number of differences in the way gender agreement is marked on different agreement targets. The difference is minimal in terms of article–noun agreement and most conspicuous with pronominal agreement. An intermediate position is occupied by noun–adjective agreement within the noun phrase. This study suggests that the gender system of Irish, historically based on both semantic and morphological assignment, is becoming purely semantic, similar in this to the gender system which characterized the final stages of a number of now-extinct Celtic varieties. In their final stages, these exhibited a purely semantic gender assignment system, whereby feminine agreement was limited to anaphoric pronouns with female antecedents. Within the noun phrase, feminine agreement markers were only found in a few fossilized expressions. Irish currently appears to be at an intermediate stage along the path towards a similar system.
Published online: 14 May 2018
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