The incomplete story of feminine gender loss in Northwestern Latvian dialects


The aim of this paper is to show that Northwestern Latvian dialects (also called Tamian) are insufficiently characterized by placing them on a simple linear hierarchy of feminine gender loss, which is how they are traditionally approached in Latvian dialectology. While Lithuanian and Central and High Latvian dialects all have very similar and fairly canonical gender systems, various Northwestern Latvian dialects display a wealth of underexplored non-canonical gender properties, such as the reactivated topic marker gender relic, honorific feminine gender, pronominal adjectives behaving differently from attributive adjectives, the noun ‘boy’ turning into a hybrid feminine noun, and a third controller gender restricted to some diminutives. Feminine gender loss is traditionally explained by Livonian (Finnic) substrate. It is shown in this paper that the developments in NW Latvian have multiple causes, one of them being apocope (loss of short vowels in final syllables), a common feature of NW Latvian dialects which prompted many developments making NW Latvian different from Central Latvian dialects and which is also ultimately due to language contact. Apocope and other developments made the system more complex. The non-canonical gender properties described in this paper are the effect of subsequent developments reducing system complexity again.




NW Latvian dialects; Latvian; gender; loss of gender; agreement; complexity; reactivated topic; diminutives; pronominal adjectives; honorific gender; phonological erosion; Dundaga


Published : 2017-12-31

Wälchli, B. (2017). The incomplete story of feminine gender loss in Northwestern Latvian dialects. Baltic Linguistics, 8, 143-214.

Bernhard Wälchli
Stockolms universitet, Institutionen för lingvistik, SE-10691 Stockholm  Sweden