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Open Access Analogical change and grammatical gender in ancient Greek

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Analogical change and grammatical gender in ancient Greek

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image of Journal of Greek Linguistics

Analogical change is often invoked to explain evolutionary patterns witnessed in gender systems, despite the fact that analogy as a linguistic principle is still relatively poorly understood. Taking an apparently simple analogical change from the history of Greek as a starting point, namely the shift of 2nd declension nouns in -os from the Feminine gender to the Masculine, this paper demonstrates that such changes in gender can best be explained from the point of view of category formation rather than by traditional conceptions of analogy (proportional analogy, levelling, etc.). It argues instead that usage patterns (frequency, saliency) and principles of animacy best explain the phenomena witnessed and, in contrast to other accounts of changes in gender, it focuses on principles of change in the gender of individual words. Detailed and quantitative historical data for a small set of nouns which display this change are also presented which begin to indicate where changes in gender first take place in the paradigm. The results suggest that highly animate nouns may play an important role in restricting certain changes within the gender system as a whole. This new approach offers potentially fruitful avenues for further research on principles of analogical change and their application to the evolution of grammatical gender.


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