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LINGUIST List 20.4303

Mon Dec 14 2009

Books: Morphology/Phonology/Semantics: Beckett

Editor for this issue: Hannah Morales <hannahlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Ulrich Lueders, Gender Assignment & Word-final Pronunciation in French - Two Classification Systems: Beckett

Message 1: Gender Assignment & Word-final Pronunciation in French - Two Classification Systems: Beckett
Date: 09-Dec-2009
From: Ulrich Lueders <lincom.europat-online.de>
Subject: Gender Assignment & Word-final Pronunciation in French - Two Classification Systems: Beckett
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Title: Gender Assignment & Word-final Pronunciation in French - Two
Classification Systems
Series Title: LINCOM Studies in French Lingustics 09
Published: 2009
Publisher: Lincom GmbH

Author: Margaret à Beckett
Paperback: ISBN: 9783895869679 Pages: 836 Price: Europe EURO 88.60

Previous phonological, morphological and semantic analyses of gender in
French cannot fully account for gender assignment and changes in word-final
pronunciation for French nouns or for loan words entering the French
lexicon. The writer's own experiences, and the extensive research of Tucker
et al. (1977) into the ability of native French speakers to predict gender
assignment accurately, suggested the potential for underlying rule-based
phenomena. Until now, the intuitive recognition of the significance of
word-final phonology that suggested some formal link with gender assignment
has provided only limited predictability.

This thesis argues that French gender assignment and word-final
pronunciation can be explained more adequately with reference to semantic
principles similar to those of the morpho-syntactically complex classifier
systems found in languages of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America.
Like some of those languages, French involves not one but two separate,
independent nominal classification systems. The primary classification
system relates to gender through agreement and is semantically determined
in terms of a limited range of oppositional features linked to masculine or
feminine. An equally important secondary nominal classification system,
also semantically determined, reflects a different set of oppositional
features encoded on the noun through word-final surface phonetic
constraints. Features pertaining to gender concern binary oppositions in
form, mode of existence, and quantity. Features pertaining to word-final
pronunciation concern binary oppositions in dimension, time and space. Many
of the features in the French system occur as organising principles in
other languages (eg. animate:inanimate, etc.). For living entities,
attributes concern nature and the various ways that organic matter is

In some cases, alternative gender assignments may reflect multiple salient
features, eg. aigle (M/F) 'eagle' associated with contrasting
classifications (diurnal/masculine, free/feminine). For male:female pairs
of a kind (humans, animals), multiple features may also be expressed in
alternative word-final pronunciations, through retention or reduction of
the final consonant, or through different suffixes. These surface phonetic
constraints constitute a third system - a phonological template - whereby
the reduced/shorter forms co-occur with masculine gender, and non-reduced
more complex forms with feminine gender. These principles are found in the
early development of Old French and are maintained in agreements in Modern
French. This phonological template can account for strongly-held views
regarding associations between gender assignment and word-final pronunciation.

This account is motivated by the different treatments concerning historical
changes, loan words, synonyms, and alternative classifications found for
some nouns - except those few whose masculine gender has become
'fossilised', reflecting older sociocultural norms, or whose
reclassification to masculine appears to have been imposed. It provides an
explanation for gender assignment and word-final pronunciation that
challenges earlier accounts, and has implications for the many languages
where nominal classifications heretofore remain unexplained. This
explanation calls into question the dichotomy generally drawn between Noun
Class languages on the one hand and Classifier languages on the other since
the French systems reflect characteristics of both.

Linguistic Field(s): Morphology

Subject Language(s): French (fra)

Written In: English (eng )

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