Rethinking Agreement in Spoken Arabic: The Question of Gender

In: Annali Sezione Orientale
Simone Bettega Università di Torino

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This paper proposes a re-discussion of the question of the number of genders in Arabic. Only varieties of Arabic that display gender distinction in the plural are considered here. In these varieties, it is argued, all nouns fall into one of three distinct agreement classes (or genders), and this in spite of the fact that only two separate genders surface at the morphological level. In other words, a discrepancy exists between the number of target genders and that of controller genders. This situation is not unique to Arabic, and finds parallels in other languages of the world. In addition, the article discusses the role of feminine singular agreement with plural controllers. This type of agreement is not restricted to any particular controller type and always exists in variation with plural agreement. Therefore, it is not to be regarded as a separate agreement category, but rather as an indicator of the referent’s level of individuation. Finally, the last section of the article concentrates on the possible diachronic implications of the analysis proposed above

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