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Plural as value of Cushitic gender: a psycholinguistic study

PpluralhD students: Mulugeta Tsegaye
Supervisors: Prof. dr. Maarten Mous (LUCL) and prof. dr. Niels O. Schiller (LUCL)

Gender and number are intriguingly related in Cushitic languages. Although masculine and feminine are the accepted gender values across all Cushitic languages, there is evidence suggesting a third gender value in some Cushitic languages.

In contrast to other languages that have three-way gender distinction systems, this third value is not neuter in Cushitic. In terms of agreement, this third gender value requires the same agreement pattern as the third person plural. As a result, it is called "plural" gender. Two conflicting hypotheses have been put forward to analyze the gender systems of Cushitic languages. The first one comes from Corbett and Hayward (1987), in which only two gender values are recognized and the third value is analyzed as part of the number feature. The second one is the position taken in most descriptive studies on Cushitic languages and argued for in Mous (2008), in which three gender values are recognized and the so-called "plural" gender is treated as proper gender value. Thus, this third value "plural" raises the question whether nouns with this value are represented and processed only as part of the number feature or whether "plural" is a proper gender value. We are examining this issue by applying a picture-word interference (PWI) tasks to Cushitic languages (namely Konso and Bayso, lowland east Cushitic languages of Ethiopia).