Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

A formal typology of gender (ToG)

The main objective of the proposed research is to develop a formal typology of gender in the framework of Distributed Morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993, Halle 1997, Marantz 1997, among others). The typology will show how gender is structurally assigned in different languages, as well as within a single language. It will be able to account not only for strict gender systems (e.g., semantic or grammatical), but also for mixed gender systems (e.g., semantic and grammatical simultaneously) that are considered problematic for theories of gender assignment. This typology will potentially be able to account for gender systems in any language of the world.

The proposed research will have important implications for formal/semantic correlation (or form/function) in grammatical categories. The problem of diversity of grammatical categories is among the core issues of modern linguistic theory. How can we explain the tension between language diversity and language universals? Does the same semantic concept always correspond to the same syntactic category? I will show that within a single syntactic category (gender), the same function does not correspond to the same form. That is, there is no 1:1 correlation between form and function of gender, which has important implications for the syntactic–semantic mapping of categorization. As such, this work has the potential to trigger a whole new direction of research on categorization.

This is multidisciplinary research. The anticipated results will be of interest to language educators, language-area specialists, language typologists, and theoretical linguists. The findings will be also relevant to the fields of Education and Endangered Aboriginal Language Documentation, Maintenance, and Revitalization, as some languages investigated here are endangered and on the verge of extinction (e.g., Manambu, Mian, Nuuchahnulth).