Gender assignment in loan words in the history of Icelandic : a synchronic and diachronic analysis

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2014-05

Authors

Brown, Collin Laine

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Abstract

Some such as Schwink (2004) have analyzed diachronic developments in Germanic gender as a whole, while others like Steinmetz (1985, 2001) and Trosterud (2006) have looked at diachronic changes in grammatical gender in the North Germanic languages. Specifically within the history of Icelandic, Steinmetz and Trosterud both argue for a neuter-default gender system for Old Norse (and for Modern Icelandic). This report looks at loan words from the Old Norse period drawn from historical sources, such as the Heimskringla (History of the Kings of Norway) and Laxdœla Saga, and compares their gender assignment then with their gender in Modern Icelandic in order to see if any of their originally assigned genders changed in the modern language. That none of the loans analyzed in this report changed their gender assignment from neuter to masculine as in West Germanic supports Steinmetz' and Trosterud's notions of Icelandic having a neuter-default gender system. These findings also support Schwink's view (2004:99), when he writes that Icelandic's gender system remains relatively unchanged from that of Old Norse.

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