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Gender assignment and word-final pronunciation in French: Two Classification Systems

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thesis
posted on 17.07.2020, 01:44 authored by Margaret à Beckett
Previous phonological, morphological and semantic analyses of gender in French cannot fully account for gender assignment and changes in word-final pronunciation for French nouns or for loan words entering the French lexicon. The writer's own experiences, and the extensive research of Tucker et al. (1977) into the ability of native French speakers to predict gender assignment accurately, suggested the potential for underlying rule-based phenomena. Until now, the intuitive recognition of the significance of word-final phonology that suggested some formal link with gender assignment has provided only limited predictability.
This thesis argues that French gender assignment and work-final pronunciation can be explain more adequately with reference to semantic principles similar to those of the morpho-syntactically complex classifier systems found in languages of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. Like some of those languages, French involves not one but two separate, independent nominal classification systems. The primary classification system relates to gender though agreement and is semantically determined in terms of a limited range of oppositional features linked to masculine or feminine. An equally important secondary nominal classification system, also semantically determined, reflects a different set of oppositional features encoded on the noun through word-final surface phonetic constraints. Features pertaining to gender concern binary oppositions in form, mode of existence, and quantity. Many of the features in the French system occur as organising principles in other languages (eg. animate:inanimate, etc.). For living entities, attributes concern nature and the various ways that organic matter is perceived.

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