The loss of feminine gender in Norwegian: a dialect comparison

Abstract

It is well known that grammatical gender systems may change historically. Previous research has documented loss of the feminine gender in several Norwegian dialects, including those spoken in Oslo and Tromsø (Lødrup in Maal og Minne 2:120–136, 2011; Rodina and Westergaard in J Ger Linguist 27(2):145–187 2015). In these dialects, the change is characterized by replacement of the feminine indefinite article ei (e.g., ei bok ‘a book’) with the masculine form en (e.g., en bok). Child and adult native speakers of the Trondheim dialect (N = 71) participated in two production experiments that tested gender marking in indefinite and double definite forms, using an identical methodology to the Tromsø study. Results show that both children and adults are affected by the change. The Trondheim-Tromsø comparison reveals that the change is more advanced in the Trondheim dialect. We conclude that the loss of the feminine gender reflects a general development taking place across a number of dialects at the current time, presumably due to the high prestige of a spoken variety of one of the written standards of Norwegian.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Alsos, Kjersti. 2016. Genus i tromsødialekten: En komparativ undersøkelse av genussystemet fra to ulike områder i Tromsø - i et sosiolingvistisk perspektiv [‘Gender in the Tromsø dialect: A comparative study of the gender system in two different areas of Tromsø – in a sociolinguistic perspective’]. Master thesis, UIT The Arctic University of Norway.

  2. Anderssen, Merete. 2006. The acquisition of compositional definiteness. PhD dissertation, University of Tromsø.

  3. Beito, Olav T. 1954. Genusskifte i nynorsk [’Gender change in nynorsk’]. Oslo: Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi.

  4. Conzett, Philipp, Åse Mette Johansen, and Hilde Sollid. 2011. Genus og substantivbøying i nordnorske sprÅkkontaktomrÅder. [‘Gender and noun declension in North Norwegian contact areas’] Nordand Tidsskrift for AndresprÅksforskning 6: 35–71.

  5. Corbett, Greville G. 1991. Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Dalen, Arnold. 1978. Trondheimsmålet. [’The Trondheim dialect’] Trondheim: Nidaros Mållag.

  7. Dalen, Arnold. 1990. Talemålet i Trondheim. [’The spoken dialect in Trondheim’.] In Den store dialektboka, ed. Ernst Håkon Jahr, 119–140. Oslo: Novus.

  8. Enger, Hans-Olav. 2004. On the relation between gender and declension: A diachronic perspective from Norwegian. Studies in Language 28(1): 51–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Faarlund, Jan Terje, Svein Lie, and Kjell Ivar Vannebo. 1997. Norsk referansegrammatikk [’A reference grammar of Norwegian’]. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

  10. Fintoft, Knut and Per Egil Mjaavatn. 1980. Språksosiologiske forhold i Trondheim bymål. [‘Sociolinguistics aspects of the Trondheim dialect’.] Trondheim: Tapir.

  11. Gvozdev, Aleksandr Nikolaevič. 1961. Formirovanie u rebenka grammatičeskogo stroja Russkogo jazyka. [‘Language development of a Russian child’.] Moscow: APN RSFSR.

  12. Haugen, Einar. 1966. Language conflict and language planning: The case of modern Norwegian. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Haugen, Einar. 1976. The Scandinavian languages: An introduction to their history. London: Faber.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hockett, Charles F. 1958. A course in modern linguistics. New York: MacMillan.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Hoel, Ivar. 1915. Kristiansundsmålet. Maal og minne. 1–63.

  16. Hårstad, Stian. 2010. Unge språkbrukere i gammel by: En sosiolingvistisk studie av ungdoms talemål i Trondheim [’Young language users in an old city: A sociolinguistic study of adolescents’ speech in Trondheim’]. PhD dissertation, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

  17. Jahr, Ernst Håkon. 1998. Sociolinguistics in historical language contact: The Scandinavian languages and Low German during the Hanseatic period. In Language change: Advances in historical sociolinguistics, ed. Ernst Håkon Jahr, 119–139. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

  18. Jahr, Ernst Håkon. 2001. Historical sociolinguistics: The role of Low German language contact in the Scandinavian typological split of the late Middle Ages. Lingua Posnaniensis 43: 95–104.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Johannessen, Janne Bondi, Joel Priestley, Kristin Hagen, Tor A. Åfarli, and Øystein A. Vangsnes. 2009. The Nordic Dialect Corpus - an advanced research tool. In Proceedings of the 17th Nordic Conference of Computational Linguistics NODALIDA 2009, Vol. 4, eds. Kristiina Jokinen and Eckhard Bick. [NEALT Proceedings Series 4], 73-80. Tartu: Tartu University.

  20. Kristoffersen, Gjert. 2016. Apikal istedenfor palatal/n/og/l/i nordnorsk: En kompromissform? [‘Apical instead of palatal/n/and/l/in North Norwegian: A compromise form?’] In Helt fabelaktig! Festskrift til Hanne Gram Simonsen på 70-årsdagen, ed. Hans-Olav Enger, Monica I. Norvik Knoph, Kristian E. Kristoffersen, and Marianne Lind, 81-95. Oslo: Novus.

  21. Kupisch, Tanja, Natascha Müller, and Katja Cantone. 2002. Gender in monolingual and bilingual first language acquisition: Comparing Italian and French. Lingue e Linguaggio 1:107–147.

  22. Lohndal, Terje, and Marit Westergaard. 2016. Grammatical gender in American Norwegian heritage language: Stability or attrition? Frontiers in Psychology 7: 344. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00344.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Lundquist, Björn, Yulia Rodina, Irina Sekerina, and Marit Westergaard. 2016. Gender change in Norwegian dialects: Comprehension precedes production. Linguistics Vanguard 2(1): 69–83. https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2016-0026.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lødrup, Helge. 2011. Hvor mange genus er det i Oslo-dialekten? [’How many genders does the Oslo dialect have?’] Maal og Minne 2: 120–136.

  25. Norsk ordbok, ed. Hellevik, Alf. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget (1966).

  26. Rodina, Yulia, and Marit Westergaard. 2012. A cue-based approach to the acquisition of grammatical gender in Russian. Journal of Child Language 39(5): 1077–1106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Rodina, Yulia, and Marit Westergaard. 2013a. The acquisition of gender and declension in a non-transparent system: monolinguals and bilinguals. Studia Linguistica 67(1): 47–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Rodina, Yulia and Marit Westergaard. 2013b. Two gender systems in one mind: The acquisition of grammatical gender in Russian-Norwegian bilinguals. In Hamburg Studies on Linguistic Diversity 1 [‘Multilingualism and Language diversity in urban areas: Acquisition, identities, space, education’], 95-126. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  29. Rodina, Yulia, and Marit Westergaard. 2015. Grammatical gender in Norwegian: Language acquisition and language change. Journal of Germanic Linguistics 27(2): 145–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Rodina, Yulia, and Marit Westergaard. 2017. Grammatical gender in bilingual Norwegian-Russian acquisition: The role of input and transparency. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 20(1): 197–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Røyneland, Unn. 2005. Dialektnivellering, ungdom og identitet. Ein komparativ studie av språkleg variasjon og endring i to tilgrensande dialektområde, Røros og Tynset. [‘Dialect leveling, youth and identity. A comparative study in language variation and change in two neighboring dialect areas, Røros and Tynset.’] Doctoral dissertation, University of Oslo.

  32. Røyneland, Unn. 2009. Dialects in Norway: Catching up with the rest of Europe? International Journal of the Sociology of Language 196(197): 7–30.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Stabell, Kristine M. 2016. “Vi sir aldri ei”. En studie av femininum i altadialekten [‘”We never say ei”: A study of feminine gender in the Alta dialect’]. Master thesis, University of Stavanger.

  34. Stausland Johnsen, Sverre. 2015. Dialect change in South-East Norway and the role of attitude in diffusion. Journal of Sociolinguistics 19: 612–642.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Stemshaug, Ola. 1972. Sosiolingvistiske forhold i Trøndelag [’Sociolinguistics relations in Trøndelag’]. In Trøndermål. Språkarv og språkforhold i Trøndelag og på Nordmøre, ed. Arnold Dalen and Ola Stemshaug, 48-66. Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget.

  36. Taeldeman, Johan. 2005. The influence of urban centres on the spatial diffusion of dialect phenomena. In Dialect change: Convergence and divergence in European Languages, ed. Peter Auer, Frans Hinskens, and Paul Kerswill, 263–284. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Torp, Arne. 2005. The Nordic languages in the 19th century. In Nordic languages. An international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages, vol. 2, ed. Oscar Bandle, Kurt Braunmüller, and Ernst Håkon Jahr, 1425–1436. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Trosterud, Trond. 2001. Genustilordning i norsk er regelstyrt. Norsk Lingvistisk Tidsskrift 19: 29–57.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Trudgill, Peter. 1974. Linguistic change and diffusion: Description and explanation in sociolinguistic geography. Language in Society 1: 179–195.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Trudgill, Peter. 1983. On dialect: Social and geographical perspectives. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Trudgill, Peter. 2013. Gender maintenance and loss in Totenmålet, English, and other major Germanic varieties. In In search of Universal Grammar: From Old Norse to Zoque, ed. Terje Lohndal, 77–107. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Vagstein, Anne. 2009. Hvor mange genus har norsk? En diskusjon av genusinndelingskriterier. [’How many genders does Norwegian have? A discussion of criteria for gender categorization.’] Master thesis, University of Oslo.

  43. Vandekerckhove, Reinhild. 2009. Urban and rural language. In Language and Space: An International Handbook of Linguistic Variation, ed. Peter Auer and Jürgen Erich Smith, 315-332. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

  44. Venås, Kjell. 1993. On the choice between two written standards in Norway. In Language conflict and language planning, ed. Ernst Håkon Jahr, 263–278. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Vikør, Lars S. 1995. The Nordic languages: Their status and interrelations. Oslo: Novus Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Westergaard, Marit (in press). Language acquisition, microcues, parameters, and morphosyntactic change. In Richard D. Janda, Brian D. Joseph and Barbara S. Vance (eds.), Handbook of historical linguistics, Volume 2. Wiley/Blackwell Publishers.

  47. Westergaard, Marit and Yulia Rodina. 2016. Hvor mange genus er det i Tromsødialekten? [‘How many genders does the Tromsø dialect have?’] Maal and Minne 2: 159-189.

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We are also indebted to all the participants and to research assistants Inger Martine Mosfjeld and Malin Andrea Næss for their help in collecting the data.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Guro Busterud.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Busterud, G., Lohndal, T., Rodina, Y. et al. The loss of feminine gender in Norwegian: a dialect comparison. J Comp German Linguistics 22, 141–167 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10828-019-09108-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Grammatical gender
  • Language acquisition
  • Language change
  • Syncretism
  • Dialect
  • Norwegian