A Typological Note on the Category of Gender in Old English


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The collapse of grammatical gender and its subsequent replacement by natural gender is in our understanding well established as part of the progressive simplification of the inflectional system, one of the most fundamental structural developments in the history of English. The major systemic reasons for this replacement are phonological (levelling of vowels in the endings), morphological (analogical restructuring in the paradigm as the central organisational principle of inflectional morphology) and those often labelled ‘psychological’ (i.e. the conflict between gender and sex in nouns such as wif, ‘woman’, classified as of neuter gender).
The purpose of this note is to offer a typological perspective on the beginnings in Late Old English of the collapse of gender distinctions in the morphology of the noun and noun phrase, with the aim of contributing to our understanding of typological change and its subtle mechanics.


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