This study investigates, theoretically and empirically, the role of animacy in the development of gender systems. The theoretical background is a grammaticalisation approach to language change. Concerning gender, this presupposes that classifications begin as semantic distinctions in the realm of animacy with flexible, contextually based agreement between the gender-marking elements. This kind of gender is called contextual gender. In the course of time, these classifications will spread into other areas, they become desemanticized and the agreement relation grammaticalizes into one of government where the inherent gender of the head noun controls the gender of the agreeing elements, irrespective of contextual factors. When this leads to a great number of violations of the principles of contextual agreement in the realm of animacy, a new cycle of semantic classification will begin, creating layers of classifications. For German and Swedish two different layers are discerned respectively.
The empirical starting point of this project was the observation of two opposite developments in the area of female person reference in Germany and Sweden. As a consequence of feminist critique of language, mainly targeted at the use of so-called masculine generics, in Germany the use of female gender-specific nouns increased substantially, the major means being female derivation with –in, so-called motion. Although similar means for female derivation exist in Swedish, i.e. -inna and -ska, the number of derivations used is decreasing.
In order to isolate socio-cultural and historical facts from language-internal mechanisms behind the diverging tendencies, a historical sketch of the development of equal rights, of language criticism and of the development of the female suffixes is drawn for the respective countries. It is obvious, that the German strategy to achieve gender-fair language use is established by making women visible by means of motion, while in Sweden the use of genderneutral forms for a long period of time has been regarded as a sign of equality. This ‘neutral’ use of former masculine and male-specific forms has been made possible by the merging of the two nominal genders masculine and feminine into uter (Sw. utrum).
A contrastive study of comparable German and Swedish newspaper texts shows that the lack of motion in Swedish is partly compensated by composition and attribution with genderspecific lexemes. Still, the 64% gender-specific noun phrases in Swedish cannot compare with the 95% in German. But the use of gender-specific forms for well over half of the person references calls into doubt the general opinion shared by most Swedes that Swedish has a gender-neutral person reference system. Linguistic asymmetry persists as long as genderspecification is restricted to one half of the gendered population, whatever the means for specification.
The almost exclusive use of gender-specific forms in German is seen as indicative of a grammaticalisation process. Haspelmaths invisible hand explanation of grammaticalisation is used to show how the development of -in in German fulfils just about every requirement on a grammaticalisation process – language-external as well as -internal – while -inna and –ska neither are promoted sufficiently by the speech community nor does there exist a paradigm that could accommodate them. In contrast to Swedish, where the suffixes remain strictly derivational, it is demonstrated that -in is turning into an inflectional marker. The German gender sub-system for person reference is developing into a semantically based system with genderflexible person denominations.
A study of the pronouns agreeing with non-personal-agents in a parallel corpus of EUdocuments shows that other aspects than purely referential or formal ones impinge on the choice of agreement forms. Non-personal-agents in certain contexts expose both agency and intentionality, which turns them into suitable agreement partners for animate pronouns. In Swedish, all animate pronouns are sexed, leaving a “Leerstelle” for these inanimate but agentive and intentional referents. In German, this problem is covered by the polysemy of the personal pronouns. Non-personal-agents are shown to be one possible source for the spreading of a linguistic innovation from the realm of animacy into inanimate contexts via semantic and thematic roles that share important features with animates proper.
The last study makes use of different types of German monolingual corpora in order to investigate the agreement between inanimate nouns with female inherent gender – from nonpersonal-agents and abstracts to concrete nouns – and agent nouns which can potentially expose agreement by female derivation. Although the results are rather heterogeneous, they allow the formulation of the hypothesis that agreement is more likely to occur with nouns for which a metaphorical bridge to stereotypical conceptions of femininity can be constructed and that key collocations with high frequency such as die Kirche als Trägerin or die DNA als Trägerin der Erbinformation contribute significantly to the spread of the agreement pattern.
Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis , 2004. , 273 p.
agreement, animacym contrastive linguistics, corpus linguistics, German, grammatical gender, grammaticalization, inflectional morphology, language change, non-personal agents, person reference, pronouns, Swedish