Loss of the feminine gender in Norwegian
At the risk of starting a spate of linguistics posts, I have a question about Norwegian which I wanted to put to some native speakers.
In this thread
on a linguistics forum, I was talking about three-gender dialects and two-gender dialects of Norwegian (my username is Echobeats).
Another poster (Åge Kruger), who is from Scotland but currently living in Norway, told me there was no such thing as a two-gender dialect of Norwegian, only dialects which have moved varying numbers of nouns from the feminine to the masculine gender. By way of example, he mentioned the noun fylle
, which always takes the definite form fylla
even in the speech of "ekte Bergensere" who believe they only have two genders in their dialect.
Later, there was a discussion about the definition of gender. The issue is that in order to say a gender exists, the allegedly gendered word has to force another
word to take a particular form. So, for example, in a three-gender dialect of Norwegian, the indefinite article is en
with one group of nouns, ei
with another group, and et
with a third group. This means we can distinguish three noun classes, or genders* (never mind han/hun/den/det
This means that when the variation occurs within the noun itself, we can't call it a gender; fylla
in Bergen dialect might just be an irregular definite suffix, which wouldn't distinguish a separate gender any more than an irregular plural does. In order to know, we need an example of a separate word having a different form when used with fylle
than when used with e.g. mann
. The problem is that "a drunkenness" and "my drunkenness" (en/ei fylle
and fylla mi(n)
) are pretty unnatural things to say, and I can't think of another word which varies according to masculine or feminine gender that would work. Unless we can find one, we can't prove whether or not any genuinely two-gender dialects exist.
So I turn to you, native speakers, to answer the following questions:
1. Do you know of any dialects which have lost all trace of the feminine gender, including the definite article in -a
2. Do you know of any words which are feminine in all dialects, even those which are closest to having eliminated the feminine? (I've heard that cows are always feminine; is this true?)
3. If so, can you provide an example of that word forcing feminine agreement on another word (e.g. ei, mi, di
) in such a dialect, as opposed to simply taking a definite form in -a
but then still appearing as en N
and N-a min
Please ignore the fact that all dialects use different pronouns to refer to male and female humans; I'm only concerned with gender on nouns.
Thanks a lot.
*NB in linguistic uses the term "gender" doesn't necessarily have anything to do with biological sex. It's synonymous with "noun class", and etymologically it simply means "kind" or "type". Swahili, for example, has eight genders, one of which is used for humans of both sexes. This is, incidentally, why I dislike people talking about someone's "gender" when they mean their sex.