Facultative Animacy in Polish

Oscar Swan


INTRODUCTION. 'Grammatical' gender is a largely semantically empty noun trait whose existence is typically revealed through the triggering of agreement rules on the part of items in a sentence with which the noun is in construction. For example, the fact that the Latin word res is feminine in gender requires that the modifying adjective public- take the feminine ending -a. 'Natural' gender refers to perceptual categories with which people tend to view reality- male, female, animate, concrete, abstract, and so onwhich may have means of formal expression in a language. Present-day Polish provides an illustration of the process by which a natural gender can become "grammaticized" by the extension of a formal marker of natural gender to nouns outside the range of the natural gender category, making the feature referentially unpredictable. In Polish, the Genitive=Accusative feature of masculine nouns, traditionally a sign of referential animacy, is being applied more and more to concrete nouns of all sorts, gradually turning the category 'animate' from a natural into a purely grammatical gender designation.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/cbp.1988.104


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