Publication details [#60948]

Sarvasy, Hannah. 2016. Sexless babies, sexed grandparents. Nungon gendered person terms. International Journal of Language and Culture 3 (1) : 115–136.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Language as a subject
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins
Journal DOI


Languages that lack grammatical gender often still index the sex of humans and higher animates through lexical means (Braun 2001). In the Papuan language Nungon, natural sex is indicated lexically, with gendered person and kin terms. Certain person terms may also function as nominal modifiers. Indexation of sex in these person and kin terms is partially dependent on age. The older the speaker or focal person for the kin relationship, the more likely that his/her sex will determine the term chosen to refer to the addressee or secondary person in the kin relationship. Most kin and person terms for small children disregard the sex of the child; such terms instead employ the sex of the focal person to describe the relationship with the child. Unlike with children, there are no completely gender-neutral terms for adults, although the dedicated male person terms amna, “man” and ketket, “boy” function in certain contexts with generic reference, meaning “human” and “youth.” Generic application of amna, “man” relates to syntax: amna as object argument of deverbal participle expressions has generic reference, as does amna under negation. Thus, indexation of sex is seen to be partially dependent (per Aikhenvald & Dixon 1998) on negation.