- Semantic gender agreement: Dutch and German compared
- Linguistics in Amsterdam
- Volume | Issue number
- 9 | 1
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication (ACLC)
This paper compares pronominal gender agreement in Dutch and German. Pronouns do not always agree with the gender of their antecedent: instead of agreeing with the lexical gender of the noun, they show semantic gender agreement. This is known to occur with human referents in both Dutch and German. In Dutch, pronouns can agree semantically with non-human referents as well, based on their degree of individuation. This type of agreement has been found in several Germanic varieties. It has been suggested for Dutch that this type of agreement resulted from the loss of the three-way nominal gender system. However, it has not been systematically investigated to what extent this type of agreement also exists in Germanic varieties that still distinguish three nominal genders, such as German. This paper presents the results of a pronoun elicitation experiment conducted both in Dutch and in German, testing pronominal reference to non-human referents with varying degrees of individuation. Two types of pronominal reference were tested: anaphoric and deictic reference. The results show that semantic agreement based on individuation occurs in both languages, in particular with animals, abstracts and masses. Semantic agreement is more frequent in deictic reference than in anaphoric reference in both languages. The languages differ with respect to the total frequency of semantic agreement, which is significantly higher in Dutch. This difference may be explained by the reduced visibility of lexical gender in Dutch compared to German. The findings suggest that semantic agreement based on individuation is a shared Germanic feature and that the difference between Dutch and German with respect to this kind of agreement is mainly one of degree.
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