Christopher Hammerly · [S-Lab] Conceptual and morphophonological grammatical gender assignment in French
Background: It is commonly known that French has two grammatical gender classes: masculine and feminine. Crucially, every nominal in French is assigned gender, but the mechanism by which assignment occurs differs across nominal categories (Corbett, 1991). This leads to a distinction between semantically interpretable and uninterpretable sub-genders. The interpretable sub-gender (represented by upper-case “M” and “F”) is assigned to nominals with a target referent that possesses a salient and relevant biological sex property. This sub-gender denotes the sex of the referent—masculine is assigned to nominals with a male referent and feminine to those with a female referent (example 1). The uninterpretable sub-gender (represented by lower-case “m” and “f”) is assigned to nominals with a target referent that does not possess a salient or relevant biological sex property based on certain morphophonological properties of the nominal’s surface form. The uninterpretable sub-gender has no semantic import, and is assigned to all nominals denoting inanimate objects (example 2) and some denoting animate beings (example 3). The conceptual and morphophonological assignment systems are in competition to be employed with any given nominal in French.
(1) a. l’étudiant (M/m) “the (male) student” b. l’étudiante (F/f) “the (female) student”
(2) a. le table (M/m) “the table” b. la table (F/f) “the table”
(3) a. le souris (M/m) “the mouse” b. la souris (*F/f) “the mouse” Puzzle: There are three concerns to fully account for the sub-gender alternations in French: (1) on what linguistic element is gender housed? (2) how can operations such as Merge, Agree, Linear-ization, Spell-Out, and Encyclopedia Access be integrated into a real-time derivational model of lexical production? and (3) how can the competition between the conceptual and phono-morphological assignment systems be reconciled in this model?
Proposal: Under the anti-Lexicalist assumptions of Distributed Morphology, both the masculine and feminine interpretable and uninterpretable gender features can be housed on the functional nominal categorizing head n (Kramer, 2013). These heads are paired with a root, which is an open-class index with purely differential value (Acquaviva, 2009). For gender assignment to occur, both the root and the semantically and grammatically correct gender-specified nominalizing head must enter the derivation via Merge. To do this, I create a lexical production model called the Cascaded Interactive Derivation. In this model, parallel activation from the Encyclopedia, the set of conceptual information associated with a nominalized root through Encyclopedia Access, and the Vocabulary, the set of phonological content inserted at terminal nodes via Spell-Out, are allowed to compete to activate and Merge the correct n-root pairing. When the biological sex of the referent is salient and relevant, conceptual activation from the Encyclopedia takes precedence and an inter-pretable sub-gender is Merged. Otherwise, phonological activation from the Vocabulary is stronger and an uninterpretable sub-gender enters the derivation. Once the proper elements are Merged, two other operations occur: (1) Agree, which leads to the valuation of gender on heads such as D or V; and (2) Linearization, which results the correct serial order of terminal nodes and morphemes.
Conclusion: The present proposal represents a radical departure from the traditional assumption of a modular linguistic derivation by replacing it with a parallel and interactive production model. I show that this model provides a neat way to account for the assignment of grammatical gender to French nominals, and is highly consistent with recent experimental evidence on the relationship between linguistic knowledge and conceptual representation (e.g. Bender, Beller, & Klauer, 2011).
References Acquaviva, P. (2009). Roots and lexicality in Distributed Morphology.YPL2-Issue 10 (May 2009) Special Issue-York-Essex Morphology Meeting (YEMM). University of York. Bender, A., Beller, S., & Klauer, K. C. (2011). Grammatical gender in German: A case for linguistic relativity?. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64(9), 1821-1835. Corbett, G. G. (1991). Gender. Cambridge textbooks in linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge. Kramer, R. (2013). Gender in Amharic: a morphosyntactic approach to natural and grammatical gender. Language Sciences.