Noun classification in Africa between gender and nominal declension (deriflection)

Understanding ‘gender’ as noun classification combined with grammatical agreement, the project will investigate gender and its relation to deriflection in African languages. It starts out from the uniform approach to gender analysis as laid out in Güldemann and Fiedler (2019), which uses four analytical core concepts: (i) Agreement class, (ii) Gender (class), (iii) Nominal (form) class, and (iv) Deriflection (formerly: Declension) class. All these concepts are interdependent but nevertheless must be separated strictly in description and analysis. The project combines two main objectives, one typological and one historical-comparative one.

The goal of the typological project component consists in the further development of a robust typological approach to gender systems on the basis of the above four analytical categories. In the centre of the project’s investigation are languages that have a complex and/or theoretically interesting number deriflection profile involving an intricate interplay with gender (notably Kadu, Cushitic, Kordofanian, Kx’a, Tuu,) that often leads to a complex interaction and competition between formal and semantic gender assignment. This will also be used to establish a continental typology of gender systems.

The goal of the historical-comparative component is the reconstruction of gender systems in Niger-Congo on different genealogical levels. After having investigated in the first phase languages of five geographical pools of Niger-Congo with functioning gender and associated deriflection systems, the second phase focuses on languages that only retain a deriflection system, but also continues working on languages showing a canonical gender system. The project aims at overcoming the traditional research across Niger-Congo that was biased towards a partly deficient approach, originating in Bantu studies, to conflate agreement and noun form classes under the philological concept of “noun classes.” This resulted in incomplete or even inappropriate reconstructions of gender systems in other families and a partly misleading evaluation in typological gender research. In order to improve the reconstruction of earlier language states, the above cross-linguistically uniform approach, which deals with gender and nominal deriflection separately and ensures the comparability of systems, is applied. Moreover, the historical-comparative analysis together with the consideration of areal distributions and language contact is hoped to shed light on the still enigmatic history of the largest language family in Africa and at a global level.

Principal Investigators
Güldemann, Tom Prof. Dr. phil. (Details) (African Languages)

Duration of Project
Start date: 04/2020
End date: 04/2023

Research Areas
African, American and Oceania Studies, Linguistics

Research Areas

Last updated on 2021-04-01 at 17:52