UZH-Logo

Losing the ‘neuter’: the case of the Spanish demonstratives


Stark, E; Pomino, N (2009). Losing the ‘neuter’: the case of the Spanish demonstratives. Probus, 21(2):217-247.

Abstract

This paper explores the semantic features of the so-called “neuter” in the demonstrative system of Modern Spanish and presents a diachronic analysis of the semantic as well as morphophonological changes which have taken place from Latin to Spanish.

We show that the semantic features commonly assumed as being associated with gender (or classification), and more particularly, with the “neuter”, (e.g., [(in)animate]), are not able to capture the semantic difference between “neuter” and feminine / masculine, neither in Latin nor in Spanish. For Latin, we argue that the relevant difference for this classification is based on the fact that the neuter is underspecified for a feature [discrete] (vs. presence of the feature [discrete] for masculine / feminine) and elaborate a feature geometry for demonstratives which captures this fact. As the opposition between [discrete] and [non-discrete] is strictly speaking not a matter of classification, i.e., one of gender, but a specification of the operation of individuation, this leads ultimately to the reduction of the Latin classification-node in the geometry and to the Modern Spanish feature geometry. There, the absence of [individuation] results in what mistakenly is called “neuter”, i.e., in expressions whose referent does not have to be individuated (vs. feminine/masculine, with a specified feature [individuation]).

We present a detailed morphophonological analysis of the Latin pronominal morphology, which is based on a realizational approach and which uses case feature decomposition and the morphological schemes proposed by Wiese (Zur lateinischen Nominalflexion: Die Form-Funktions-Beziehung, IDS Mannheim, 2003). This analysis leads us to the conclusion that there are no specific morphological schemes for the neuter in the Latin demonstratives (Vd, i.e., /ud/, being the mere default in our analysis). The most intriguing fact here is the absence of genuine neuter endings in the plural, both in Latin and in Modern Spanish. We do not consider this a mere coincidence, but as a hint at the fundamental semantic change mentioned above, the feature [individuation] being superordinate to [group] (for plural). Finally, we describe the important morphological change in the pronominal system from Latin to Spanish, i.e., the reduction from a five-case-system to a two case-system, in detail and argue, based on the notions of underspecification and default, that Spanish /o/ just preserves the default status of Latin /ud/, being thus no “neuter” gender marker at all.

This paper explores the semantic features of the so-called “neuter” in the demonstrative system of Modern Spanish and presents a diachronic analysis of the semantic as well as morphophonological changes which have taken place from Latin to Spanish.

We show that the semantic features commonly assumed as being associated with gender (or classification), and more particularly, with the “neuter”, (e.g., [(in)animate]), are not able to capture the semantic difference between “neuter” and feminine / masculine, neither in Latin nor in Spanish. For Latin, we argue that the relevant difference for this classification is based on the fact that the neuter is underspecified for a feature [discrete] (vs. presence of the feature [discrete] for masculine / feminine) and elaborate a feature geometry for demonstratives which captures this fact. As the opposition between [discrete] and [non-discrete] is strictly speaking not a matter of classification, i.e., one of gender, but a specification of the operation of individuation, this leads ultimately to the reduction of the Latin classification-node in the geometry and to the Modern Spanish feature geometry. There, the absence of [individuation] results in what mistakenly is called “neuter”, i.e., in expressions whose referent does not have to be individuated (vs. feminine/masculine, with a specified feature [individuation]).

We present a detailed morphophonological analysis of the Latin pronominal morphology, which is based on a realizational approach and which uses case feature decomposition and the morphological schemes proposed by Wiese (Zur lateinischen Nominalflexion: Die Form-Funktions-Beziehung, IDS Mannheim, 2003). This analysis leads us to the conclusion that there are no specific morphological schemes for the neuter in the Latin demonstratives (Vd, i.e., /ud/, being the mere default in our analysis). The most intriguing fact here is the absence of genuine neuter endings in the plural, both in Latin and in Modern Spanish. We do not consider this a mere coincidence, but as a hint at the fundamental semantic change mentioned above, the feature [individuation] being superordinate to [group] (for plural). Finally, we describe the important morphological change in the pronominal system from Latin to Spanish, i.e., the reduction from a five-case-system to a two case-system, in detail and argue, based on the notions of underspecification and default, that Spanish /o/ just preserves the default status of Latin /ud/, being thus no “neuter” gender marker at all.

Altmetrics

Downloads

3 downloads since deposited on 05 Mar 2010
0 downloads since 12 months
Detailed statistics

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Romance Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism
470 Latin & Italic languages
410 Linguistics
440 French & related languages
460 Spanish & Portuguese languages
450 Italian, Romanian & related languages
Language:English
Date:2009
Deposited On:05 Mar 2010 14:34
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:54
Publisher:De Gruyter
ISSN:0921-4771
Publisher DOI:10.1515/prbs.2009.007
Related URLs:http://biblio.unizh.ch/F/?local_base=UZH01&con_lng=GER&func=find-b&find_code=SYS&request=000969859
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-30451

Download

[img]Filetype: PDF - Registered users only
Size: 410kB
View at publisher

TrendTerms

TrendTerms displays relevant terms of the abstract of this publication and related documents on a map. The terms and their relations were extracted from ZORA using word statistics. Their timelines are taken from ZORA as well. The bubble size of a term is proportional to the number of documents where the term occurs. Red, orange, yellow and green colors are used for terms that occur in the current document; red indicates high interlinkedness of a term with other terms, orange, yellow and green decreasing interlinkedness. Blue is used for terms that have a relation with the terms in this document, but occur in other documents.
You can navigate and zoom the map. Mouse-hovering a term displays its timeline, clicking it yields the associated documents.

Author Collaborations