Gender fluidity in Chamalal

Speaker Kristian Roncero
Affiliaton(s) MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
Workshop Lecture Series "Language: Documentation and Theory (ELAR / ZAS)"
Date 10.12.2021
Time 16:00 o'clock

Language: Documentation and Theory

The Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (BBAW) together with the Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS) are delighted to announce the launch of a new lecture series. Our aim is to give a forum to linguistic work that advances or is based on the documentation of underdescribed languages, thus not only supporting linguistic research but also honoring the UNESCO International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032). For inquiries, please contact Mandana Seyfeddinipur (ELAR) or Manfred Krifka (ZAS),

Due to Corona measures, participation in the lecture room of ZAS is restricted (please inform Manfred Krifka if you want to join). Participation is possible via Zoom (Meeting-ID 636 0651 0838, Meeting Link 


Most dialectological and variationist studies have focused on phonology or morphophonology. Some work has been published documenting variation in morphosyntactic feature values. However, most dealt with variation in the number of CASE values (e.g. Krasovitsky 2019, Walstrom 2015, for southern Slavonic), and less frequently with NUMBER values (e.g. Corbett 2000: 42-44, for Slovene). Variation within GENDER values is rare or it has been rarely documented (e.g. Audring 2006, for Dutch), and in most instances is between two-three GENDER value systems, namely MASCULINE/FEMININE vs NEUTER.
The situation I have encountered in Gakvarian Chamalal (Andic, Nakh-Dagestanian) is particularly striking due to three factors. The first one is to do with the distribution of variation. I have documented two next-door neighbours for whom there are two different systems. They were born and raised in N. Gakvari, native and fluent speakers of Chamalal and within the same age-range and social class. Yet, for NG3 Chamalal has four GENDER or NOUN CLASS values (I-IV), whilst NG9’s idiolect has five CLASSES (I-V). This is a good example of what Dorian (2010) calls “sociolinguistically neutral intra-speaker variation”, which she claimed to be more common than what Western linguists have often described.
The second factor is that most Andic languages have only three CLASSES, especially, in languages surrounding Chamalal, including its closest relative Godoberi (Kibrik et al. 1996). CLASSES I-II are reserved for male and female humans respectively. I have not observed any variation between speakers with nouns belonging to those classes and even the speakers showed a very strong intuition about the semantic motivation of these two CLASS values. The distribution of the remaining CLASSES (III-V) does not show any semantic or (morpho)phonological motivation, having run computer assisted tests with extensive word lists. In fact, there are animate nouns in GENDERS III-V. Therefore, the V-CLASS (already documented in Bokarev’s (1949) grammar) is probably an archaism retained by some Chamalal speakers.
The third factor is the particular relevance of this morphosyntacic feature for the entire system. GENDER AGREEMENT in Chamalal affects not only the constituents of the NP (such as adjectives and demonstratives), but also verbs, which agree in CLASS/NUMBER with the subject/object/experiencer (ABSOLUTIVE/AFFECTIVE). Moreover, as in other Nakh-Dagestanian languages, some uncommon or “unexpected targets” (Bond et al. 2016) such as postpositions and adverbs cans also agree in CLASS. Given the ubiquity of CLASS AGREEMENT, we would expect to have little variation, yet, surprisingly, the system manages to function within that fluidity between classes.
In sum, I study how in Chamalal two CLASS-value systems coexist (with four and five CLASSES, respectively) and its implications. On the one hand, for the syntax; and on the other hand, for CLASS assignment of neologisms and the reclassification of nouns of the missing CLASS. Hence, besides presenting structured data from recent fieldwork I deal with the theoretical issues that they raise regarding NOUN CLASSES.

Keywords: Chamalal; gender; Nakh-Dagestanian; morphosyntax; typology; variation


Audring, J. (2006). Pronominal gender in spoken Dutch. Journal of Germanic Linguistics, 18(2), 85-116.
Bokarev, A. A. (1949). Očerk grammatiki čamalisnkogo jazyka. Moscow/Leningrad: AN SSSR.
Bond, Oliver, Greville G. Corbett, Marina Chumakina and Dunstan Brown (eds) (2016). Archi: Complexities of agreement in cross-theoretical perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Corbet, G. G. (2000). Number. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dorian, N. C. (2010). Investigating variation: The effects of social organization and social setting. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kibrik, A. E. (ed.), Tatevosov, S. G., & Eulenberg, A. (1996). Godoberi. Munich/Newcastle: Lincom Europa.
Krasovitsky, A. (2019). Case Loss in Pronominal Systems: Evidence from Bulgarian. In: Baerman, Matthew, Bond and Andrew Hippisley (eds.). Perspectives on Morphology. Papers in Honour of Greville G. Corbett. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Wahlström, M. (2015). The loss of case inflection in Bulgarian and Macedonian. Helskinki: Slavica Helsingiensiana.