This article examines the approaches to grammatical gender in Northern Iroquoian languages, ranging from the earliest references made by French missionaries in the 1630s to contemporary studies. The author focuses on two motifs in descriptions of Iroquoian gender: the supposedly ‘primitive’ nature of its morphological expression, which was mentioned predominantly in 18th-century accounts of Huron, and the asymmetries between the expression of masculine and feminine reference, which have been the main topic of the accounts of Mohawk, Oneida and Onondaga since the late 19th century. By tracing the two motifs the close links that were established between gender and culture patterns are illustrated, frequently leading to contradictory explanations concerning diachronic scenarios as well as more general impressionistic properties attributed to the languages and their speakers.
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