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Norwegian: Det/Den gender

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by sjiraff, Feb 27, 2014.

  1. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member


    One thing I've noticed in Norwegian is a lot of natives seem to say "Den" when i'm not sure why exactly they do it.

    For example. a friend of mine said told me this joke: "Hva sa Wasa til knekkebrødet? Hei du, gi meg den!"

    Shouldn't it be det as opposited to "den" since it's brødet? I know sometimes there are exceptions, like people tend to say "Jeg har en lik en!" (Even if the gender of the word is neutral)

    Can someone explain why it is den instead of det, and would it be wrong of me to say "gi meg det" in this case because brød is intetkjønn?

    Thanks for any help!
  2. myšlenka Senior Member

    I have never heard that joke before (neither has Google it seems) and I don't really get it either.
    Are you sure about that example? The only "exception" I can think of is when you use det to refer to a more general notion than specific objects.
    A: Har du ski?
    B: Ja, det har jeg.
  3. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member

    Wasa is a brand of like bread products http://www.supermarket.no/media/cat...cfc699527/w/a/wasa-knekkebr_d-havre-280-g.jpg (I don't get it either to be honest, but i guess it has something to do with "hva sa" sounding like "wasa")

    Well, when I asked a native about that kind of thing he said even if you want to say "I have one like that!" and you're reffering to et bord, people say "jeg har en lik en" - but you would still say "jeg har et likt bord" he said.

    With regards to the joke, when I asked him he said "den" sounds more specific even though knekkebrød is intetkjønn! So it kind of shook my idea of how genders are applied, since i would have thought you should say "gi meg det" for "give me that!" if it's brød.
  4. myšlenka Senior Member

    I know what Wasa is, but I still don't get the joke. In the context you provided, there is no way that den/det can refer to knekkebrød.

    I can't say I've heard that before and it's possible that some people do say it, but it would make me raise my eyebrows.
  5. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member

    Yeah, I was surprised but when he said saying "den" is more specific I thought I'd missed something.

    So would you say the best way to say "I have one like that" is "Jeg har en likedan" or Jeg har maken? Or if it were a table, I should stick to "jeg har et likt bord/et slikt bord"?
  6. myšlenka Senior Member

    Det can be more general in certain contexts, but I can't think of any situation where both den and det are possible.
    There is generally no best way to say it. I am happy as long as the use of the articles match the genders :)
  7. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member

    So you would say "Gi meg det!" if you wanted someone to give you et stykke knekkebrød? Not "Gi meg den"? It's weird because the Norwegian chap I know says he would say "gi meg den" regardless of the object's actual gender, and that it sounds more specific/better sometimes.

    Maybe it's a young people thing?
  8. myšlenka Senior Member

    Yes I would.

    It could be a young people's thing but I don't see how it can sound more specific.
    EDIT: Neither can I see how your Norwegian friend can use den/det to refer to knekkebrød in that joke.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2014
  9. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member

    Me neither, but would you consider saying "Gi meg den" and pointing at et stykke knekkebrød incorrect?

  10. myšlenka Senior Member

    Yes. I would probably look for other possible reference objects instead. All neuter objects would be put in the background while masuline/feminine ones would be more salient.
  11. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    'Det' is also used as the formal subject.
  12. Ben Jamin Senior Member

  13. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US English
    Just a thought:

    We have 3 mysteries here:

    1. The "joke" doesn't seem to make sense.

    2. As myslenka has been trying to point out, if Wasa is speaking TO the bread, then in saying "give me that", "that" can't refer to the bread.

    3. sjiraff's native Norwegian friend strangely perceives "den" as more "specific" than "det".

    All three of these things could be explained if the joke isn't being reproduced correctly and a common-gender noun has been omitted. Then (1) the joke might actually be funny, (2) there would be a logical reference to "den" in "gi meg den", and (3) sjiraff's friend would be saying "den" is more specific because it clearly refers to this common-gender noun, while "det" could be just a general "that".

    So, a challenge: Add a common-gender noun (and perhaps a few other words) to the OP phrase, resulting in something that's actually funny. :)
  14. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member

    I think the joke may have been a bad example for me to use, I probably should have paraphrased it in hindsight.

    The real issue was just that some native Norwegians told me that it was OK to say "Gi meg den" even when pointing at a gender-neutral object (Which one would expect to be "gi meg det".

    I just assumed it had some meaning with the bread brand that I didn't get and accepted it, I guess I should chose my examples better!
  15. raumar Senior Member

    Oslo, Norway
    I agree with the explanations you have got from myšlenka and others: it should be "gi meg det". However, I would like to add that it is possible to use different words -- with different genders -- to describe an object. If you are thinking about the knekkebrød as "ei skive knekkebrød" or "en bit knekkebrød" (instead of "et knekkebrød"), it will be natural to say "Gi meg den".
  16. MindBoggle Senior Member

    Danish. English from childhood

    In Denmark we have some western dialects that (more or less) use only one gender. Speakers of these dialects use 'den' even to refer to neuter words. I don't know if similar dialects exist in Norway, but if so, this might be an explanation.
  17. raumar Senior Member

    Oslo, Norway
    Even though the use of dialects may be a problem for those who learn Norwegian, I don't really think that is the explanation in this case. I can't think of any Norwegian dialect with only one gender.
  18. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Raumar is correct - no Norwegian dialect has only one (or no...) gender. As a matter of fact, the 3-gender system is still prevalent in Norwegian. A study a couple of years ago revealed that only about 15% of Norwegians use the 2-gender system (of C and N). The 3-gender system is used to varying degrees around the country, but it is only in Bergen you will not find it at all, since there the 2-gender system is part of the natural dialect.

    The so-call sociolect 2-gender system is rapidly declining in Norway, mostly due to the increased social mobility and the extensive use of dialects in spoken and visual media.
  19. MindBoggle Senior Member

    Danish. English from childhood
    Maybe the speaker simply means 'give me the pack/bag' (of bread). Both 'pakke' and 'pose' are fælleskøn. :)
  20. myšlenka Senior Member

    Declining? From what I have read, the trend is quite the opposite.
  21. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    No - many of the local sociolects (e.g. in Stavanger and Trondheim are dying). Norway is actually moving towards a dozen or so regional dialects, and not towards a standard spoken Norwegian. The trend is quite clear in Oslo (where the local dialect is heavily influenced by and merging with the dialects of Østfold and Romerike), in Bergen (where the city dialect is becoming a regional dialect), in Stavanger (where the city dialect is merging with the dialects of Jæren), and in the way the Trondheim-dialect is dominating the other dialects of Trøndelag. Oslo is particularily interesting, because both the sociolects and the old local dialects are being replaced by a creolized regional speech
  22. myšlenka Senior Member

    The sociolects are dying yes, but the 2 gender system is gaining ground.
  23. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Hi, myslenka - I do not see any proof of that. Last fall, the newspaper Aftenposten published a study showing that less than 11% of people in the greater Oslo area used the 2-gender system. This is less than previous studies (which you will find at UiO or UiB). The decline in the 2-gender system is linked to the increasing acceptance of dialect in Norwegian media
  24. myšlenka Senior Member

    Then I can provide you with the following links, discussing (beginning) trends in Oslo and Tromsø. These were the only studies I could find, but I also remember reading in some papers about how the masculine plural -a(n), which is used in quite a few dialects, had spread into the feminine paradigm, creating a substantial amount of syncretism. There is already a lot of syncretism in the Oslo dialect (in all the regional varieties in fact) so the only thing that keeps the feminine from merging with the masculine is the little word ei :)
  25. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Using the article "en" instead of "ei" does not change the grammatical gender of the word. Both "en" and "ei" are used for feminine gender, and both can also be used in written language for feminine. To say en jakke - jakka is perfectly normal. This is largely a dialectal feature in south-eastern Norwegian dialects, but somewhat a historical feature.
    The reason in that in Norse, the article were (M) einn and (F) ein. The M article developed thus: einn > ein > en. The F article developed either: ein > ei OR ein > en, since many Eastern dialect did not retain diphthongs.
  26. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member

    One thing which I don't get is why sometimes the dictionary says one then, but people generally say another.

    For example tapet is listed as neuter, but I always see written "Tapeten" rather than "tapetet".
  27. myšlenka Senior Member

    Gender manifests itself in words surrounding the noun, i.e. adjectives, numerals etc. If ei is replaced with en, the last characteristic of the feminine is gone. It's true that the definite singular feminine form with -a will be distinct from the masculine -en, but I'm afraid that one distinct form is not enough to posit the existence of a separate noun class. It will just be a subclass of the common gender.
  28. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Not at all! An article that evolved into two different form is not the carrier of the entire gender. Both ei jakke and en jakke are feminine. Example: Jeg kjøper en ny jakke. Den nye jakka mi er rød. Therefore feminine. En jente - jenta is also feminine; "Du har en jente på 4. Hva heter jenta di?" Traditionally, the article ei has been associated with feminine, but en can be used as well, and is indeed common in many areas. Attributing elements such as possessive will agree and be feminine. The use of an article alone is not an indication.

    Well, that depends on how one interprets 'gender'. If en ku - kua take the same possessive (e.g. mi) as ei ku - kua, it cannot be argued that it is a subclass of the common gender. Technically, there is no such thing as common gender in standard Norwegian.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2014
  29. myšlenka Senior Member

    I can only repeat the definition of gender: grammatical gender is found in associated words in the noun phrase. The masculine and the feminine already share the same demonstratives, adjectival forms, numerals etc. which means that the basis for the feminine noun class relies on two things: the indefinite article and the possessive determiners. The definite singular a-ending is itself not enough to say that we have a different gender. As for the indefinite article, Oslo and possibly Tromsø will be shifting from ei to en. When it comes to the possessive determiners, it's a little more complicated because they can be pre- and post-nominal. In most cases they are post-nominal and are thus treated as suffixes or even clitics, i.e. not separate words (as argued by Janne Bondi Johannessen in the link I shared about Oslo). The pre-nominal ones are not used that much, but I would like to point out that Cerb judged pre-nominal feminine possessive determiners as ungrammatical here.

    I have been trying to find the article you referred to without success. I haven't met a single linguist who is optimistic on behalf of the feminine gender.
  30. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Myslenka – I trust you understand I do not wish to come off as argumentative, but I simply need to clarify a couple of elements.

    I agree that the feminine and masculine in Norwegian are already on their way to merge, the way it has indeed already happened in the sibling languages of Swedish and Danish, and share the same demonstratives, adjectival forms, and to a certain extent numerals. However, there is no Common gender in Norwegian as of yet, outside riksmål, which is not an official standard. There are great similarities between M and F, and it has been so for centuries, but there are also crucial differences.

    [Masculine] Article: en | Def. sing: -en | Unique possissives: min, din, sin
    [Feminine] Article en or ei | Def. sing: -a | Unique possessives: mi, di, si

    This is how the M and F are defined as grammatical genders in Norwegian – the agreement between a noun, its possessive, adjective and demonstrative forms. Granted that the adjective (with one notable exception) and demonstrative forms are the same, this leaves sufficient markers to classify F and M as separate grammatical categories – which is how it is treated in both official standards.

    Honestly, I do not understand the claim that a predictable a-ending, with a possessive in agreement, is insufficient as a gender marker. It is considered to be the very hallmark of feminine gender traits in Norwegian, and by which it is officially classified.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014
  31. myšlenka Senior Member

    I take it that you by this mean that it is very likely that they will merge at some point. Is that right?

    There is no official common gender, that is correct. But as both of us know, the Bergen dialect has common gender and from the studies I have read, the Oslo dialect is considered to be moving towards a 2 gender system as well for reasons I will explain below.
    Let me first comment on the definite suffixes. The generally accepted definition of grammatical gender is based on agreement with associated words in the noun phrase and not on inflectional endings. If inflection was a governing criterion for gender, we would end up with unwarranted conclusions concerning the number of genders in languages with a lot of nominal inflection (Slavic for instance). Thus, if inflection cannot be used as a governing criterion, the definite singular -a cannot be used as a diagnostic for a feminine gender by itself.

    As for the possessives, we have to distinguish between pre-nominal possessives and post-nominal possessives. The post-nominal possessives are analyzed as inflectional endings for various reasons, one of them being the fact that you can't put anything between the noun and the post-nominal possessive (as Janne Bondi Johannessen points out in one of the articles I shared with you). This means that post-nominal possessives cannot be used as diagnostics for gender either, which means we are left with pre-nominal possessives. From what I have read about the Oslo dialect, feminine pre-nominal possessives are banned. This is what Cerb said about feminine pre-nominal possessives in the thread about sin, just to illustrate:
    So, the feminine ones are ok when they are inflectional endings, but not when they appear as independent words. Today I also asked a friend from Kongsvinger who now lives in Oslo about what he would say; min bok or mi bok. His answer couldn't be any clearer: he would never ever say mi bok. This is not a rapid decline of the 2 gender system.
    In what way is it predictable?

    The classification in the official standards is one thing. I don't deny that Bokmål optionally has a 3 gender system but the Oslo dialect is moving towards a 2 gender system. It will probably not be identical to the one found in Bergen but nevertheless a 2 gender system.
  32. Cerb Senior Member

    Norwegian - Bokmål
    Using "en" with female nouns is quite common. There are also a few notorious examples where people don't tend to agree with the dictionary. "Et kilo" (used as M) and "en kompliment" (used as N) at the top of my head, but I'll add "et tapet" to that list :)
  33. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    In my opinion - yes. Given time, a few hundred years perhaps, there will be a gradual abolition of the gender system through merger. This has happened in Afrikaans, in English and in a few Danish dialects. Swedish, although not dialectally, has two genders, and there is a tendency in Dutch and certain regional German languages to move towards the same.

    I believe one point of contention here is that there has yet to be shown any reduction in the use of feminine. The fact that the feminine article ei is being replaced by the dialectal (and equally) feminine article en, does not constitute a wholesale conversion of the feminine gender into a common gender. The fact that more people will say en bok, does not mean they are more likely to use boken as definite form. In a way this boils down to how we define "gender" (where the two of us respectfully seem to disagree).

    Your explanation can be taken to mean there are no genders or numbers in Norwegian at all, since definitions are given by inflectional endings only. Norwegian cannot produce definite form or plural without endings. Also, feminine is indeed accompanied by words in agreement. Both the articles ei and en are feminine, and so are the post-possessives mi, di and si.

    Granted – pre-nominal possessives in feminine are rare in certain dialects, but so, increasingly, are pre-possessives in general! Here is where Norwegian is at odds its Scandinavian siblings. There is a tendency in Norwegian to use the post-possessive over the pre-possessive, with one glaring exception – Bergen (no surprise there).

    If one takes a sample from a fairly conservative newspaper such as Aftenposten from today, then 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago, one cannot help noticing the increased use of post-possessives in the past 20 years. This is because it reflects the development in the Norwegian language. Pre-possessives are still used, but are much rarer now than they used to be. In the process, look for a word like boka in the same newspaper. Previously unheard of in writing, it is now the dominant form.

    However - the line of reasoning here pertaining to grammatical gender, hinges on one's definition of "gender". Is en bok - boka feminine, or a variety of the common gender? We might differ on that. When I say it is a predictable a-ending, it is because the word is inherently feminine, and feminine produces a-endings in definite singular. After all, en as a feminine article is allowed in bokmål due to its prevalence in the southeastern dialects.

    Well, I am not so sure about that. But then again - it depends on how we define it. I will concede when I see/hear an increased use of the forms boken and jakken - which I do not think is happening - since (to me) the hallmark of the feminine gender is the production of the definite -a from a noun with the articles ei or en.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014
  34. myšlenka Senior Member

    What happened to the rapid decline of the 2 gender system?

    Gender is about agreement so it belongs first and foremost to the syntactic domain. This does not exclude possible morphological manifestations, but morphology alone is not considered to be enough. There is plenty of syntactic evidence for 3 genders in most Norwegian dialects accompanied by morphological reflexes, but the syntactic evidence for 3 genders in the Oslo dialect is fading.

    As for the post-possessives, they have already been dismissed as a diagnostic for gender by people working on this. You may dislike their conclusion, butthat doesn't change anything.

    If we follow your line of reasoning with morphology as the basis for gender, we could argue that neuter nouns that have traditionally taken -a for the definite plural instead of -ene (e.g. barna, beina) form a gender which is different from the neuter. We could even split the feminine in two genders for the dialects that still have definite singular -i and -a.

    Rare is one thing, but Cerb questioned the grammaticality of feminine pre-nominal possessives while masculine and neuter were fine.

    Yes, a-endings are used extensively. This is true. However, the a-ending is not an instance of syntactic agreement, it is morphological.
    Perhaps you could explain to me what your definition of gender is on a cross-linguistic basis?

    I understand that you want to establish a link between gender and noun declensions because this is how gender is taught in school. Tables of noun declensions, be it in Norwegian, Latin or Czech, is a very straightforward and simple way of presenting things. Nevertheless, gender is not primarily found in declension tables but outside them.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014
  35. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Please pardon my ignorance, but I really do not understand what you trying to convey. Are you arguing the lack of a feminine gender in the Norwegian language? Because if you are, you claims are demonstrably at odds with the regulatory and advisory authorities of the said language. That aside - here are my comments.
    200 years will be a rapid decline of the gender system indeed! Compared to the survival of other features in Norwegian, such as cases and plural inflection, which lingered (in terms of cases still does) for far longer than that. 200 years is a very short period of time for a substantial change such as the abolition of gender.
    Feminine gender is not represented by morphology alone. That is my key argument. It is in agreement with two determiners – the post-possessive and the article. Demonstratives and adjectives have not agreed specifically with either masculine or feminine since the Middle Ages.

    However, what I do not understand is the claim that it is becoming masculine.
    If the general consensus is that post-possessives, and then I presume determiners in general, are not indicative of a grammatical gender, and the morphological manifestation of a separate feminine ending in definite singular is not sufficient, then all the markers are rendered invalid. In that case, only adjectives constitute a separate neuter from.
    By that logic we would have to constitute separate categories for nouns ending in -er, and one-syllable words in neuter as well, since they have different plural endings. Which we do not - because they agree with their respective articles and possessives. However, if there is a general consensus that grammatical gender cannot be assessed through determiners, nor though through morphological structures, the very notion of genders in Norwegian evaporate. Then we would have to say that Norwegian has a common gender with two very distinct pattern: One major (sub-)category using the (former masculine) article en, the ending -en in definite singular, and the post-possessives min, din and sin. The other major category using the (former feminine) articles en or ei, the ending -a in definite singular, and the post-possessives mi, di and si.
    Personally, I have a hard time seeing how “mi bok” is more ungrammatical than “min bil”. For that matter, on a principle level, I cannot see how post-possessives are disqualified, if pre-possessives are not.
    But then, just to see if I get you right - an a-ending does not constitute a grammatical gender, regardless of its article and post-possessives; therefore it is merely a variant. Which is fine with me, but is very much as odds with arguments presented earlier in this thread, where it was mentioned that feminine was being replaced by masculine. By the same criteria, there is no such thing as feminine and masculine, and neuter is hanging on by its adjective forms only.
    How about: A grammatical category in inflected languages governing the agreement between nouns and pronouns/determiners and adjectives
  36. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    If you want include all inflected langauges, not only Norwegian, Danish and Swedish, then you should also add "case endings": "... governing the agreement between nouns with their case endings, pronouns/determiners and adjectives". By the way: Is English still an inflected language or not?
  37. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Yes - I'd say so. I believe the "official" designation is weakly inflected

    Princeton.edu says: Languages that have some degree of overt inflection are inflected languages. The latter can be highly inflected, such as Latin , or weakly inflected, such as English, depending on the presence or absence of overt inflection.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014
  38. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian doesn't lack the feminine gender as a whole but certain dialects do. This includes Bergen and Oslo is on the way. That's not a decline of the 2 gender system, it's an increase.

    It's not represented by morphology alone, but morphology alone isn't sufficient. Syntacticians at the University of Oslo have rejected that post-possessives is agreement.

    Determiners and adjectives are indicative of grammatical gender because they belong to syntax. Pre-possessives are included in that group while post-possesives aren't.
    It's not ungrammatical in Norwegian as a whole, but increasingly so in the Oslo dialect. It is simply not used. As for the post-possessives they are disqualified because they are considered to be inflectional endings. They attach to the noun so there is no syntactic agreement.

    That's basically the definition which is used. The only thing you don't seem to accept is the analysis of post-possesives as inflectional endings and not as determiners.

    You may want to read Hvor mange genus er det i Oslo-dialekten? by Helge Lødrup. Janne Bondi Johannessen reached the very same conclusion in her study. The decline of the 2 gender system is simply not there. It's quite the opposite.
  39. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    I will not use quotes on this one, so instead I will try to list my concerns regarding this in a more straightforward way:

    1) The mentioned study published in Aftenposten (which I unfortunately have not been able to retrieve as of yet due to my location abroad, and the limitations of Aftenposten online)(but I am working on it)(you might have better luck domestically) shows that about 11% of the population in the Greater Oslo Area does not use a-endings in feminine definite singular. In my opinion, 11% is a lot less than I experienced. However, if post-possessives and article is to be disregarded, as well as the morphological product of -a, then I agree that a 2-gender system is on the rise. Then again - this concerns the entire Norwegian language, not the Oslo-dialect specifically.

    In my mind, the presence of the a-ending, and its increased use in media compared to the situation 20 and 30 years ago, is evidence of a 3-gender system still thriving. If I notice a decline in the a-ending use in media - written as well as spoken - I will concede to a 2-gender prevalence. As of yet, I have not noticed such.

    2) Syntacticians at the University of Oslo have rejected that post-possessives is agreement.

    Have they only rejected post-possessives, or possessives in general? If they still allow the lesser used form of pre-possessives, I have doubts about the validity of this statement. Disregarding the aspect of cherry-picking - is there a (scientifically valid) reason post-possessives are disregarded as opposed to pre-possessives? Usage alone will rank the prevalence of post-possessives above pre-possessives.

    3) That's basically the definition which is used. The only thing you don't seem to accept is the analysis of post-possesives as inflectional endings and not as determiners.

    In other words, my previous assessment is correct: "Norwegian has a common gender with two very distinct pattern: One major (sub-)category using the (former masculine) article en, the ending -en in definite singular, and the post-possessives min, din and sin. The other major category using the (former feminine) articles en or ei, the ending -a in definite singular, and the post-possessives mi, di and si."

    I wonder how that - in a pragmatic sense - is different from a 3-gender system? Do more people now - outside Bergen - actually say "boken min" and "hytten min" as opposed to "boka mi" and "hytta mi"? I have yet - with the resources I draw on - to see that.

    Other than that, I trust you understand this discussion, as far as I am concerned, is purely technical, and does not reflect any kind of personal viewpoints.

    PS (EDIT): This is not the article I am referring to, but this one says: "A-endinger ppå fremmarsj" (I will continue to look for the other one): http://www.forskning.no/artikler/2008/mars/1205399595.48
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2014
  40. myšlenka Senior Member

    Johannessen's study did show an increase in the use of a-endings, but it doesn't necessarily entail a 3-gender system.
    Read Lødrup's paper and you'll see why pre-possessives and post-possessives are treated differently :)
    It can be compared to Slavic languages where you have two groups of masculine nouns: animates and inanimates. They share adjectives, determiners etc but they have distinct morphology for certain cases.

    This is Johannessen again, the one who said that a 2-gender system is on the rise in Oslo.
  41. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Yes - you are absolutely correct. I actually asked Janni Bondi Johannessen about this today (I also got input from others), and the short answer/explanation is as follows:
    - The distinction between F and M in Norwegian, both bokmål and nynorsk, has been tenuous at best, for a long time. Taxonomically, neither M nor F constitute proper genders in Norwegian anymore, only variants within the same genus. A proper gender will have to agree with adjectives, possessives, determiners and articles, and this has not been the case with F and M for several hundred years in Norwegian. Therefore, Norwegian does technically speaking have 2-gender system.

    - For practical reasons, the Norwegian noun system will probably continue to be classified as a 3-gender system, with its three "traditional genders". For three reasons:
    • Outside Bergen, the traditional F a-ending is more common in print and writing now than it was in the past. There is no indication that the (former Feminine) ending, and its corresponding post-possessives, is in decline (perhaps on the contrary)
    • The association between a-endings and F is strong. Whereas there is compliance between min and bok (min bok), there is no compliance between boka and min (*boka min). This does not constitute a gender in itself, but it would mean that a Common gender would consist of two sub-categories with near identical properties as the current definition. In practical terms, Norwegian will be a 2-gender system, with three traditional genders.
    • Swedish and Danish have logical 2-gender systems, without traces of F. Even if Norwegian technically is a 2-gender system, it has the remnants of two "broken" genders in the one gender.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2014
  42. myšlenka Senior Member

    I don't know how strict the definition should be interpreted but requiring distinct forms for the whole set of adjectives, determiners etc to posit a gender is perhaps a little too strict. Many dialects use the article ei, pre-/post-possessives mi/di/si and certain adjectives like lita/eiga (also inga) obligatorily for F nouns even though determiners and adjectives in general don't have a distinct form for M and for F. I would say that that's enough to have a 3-gender system. Especially if it is accompanied by morphological marking. In my dialect the F nominal paradigm (number and definiteness marking) is the most distinct one.
    According to Johannessen, the definite singular a-ending is increasing (in spoken language), but Lødrup didn't find any direct evidence for this in his study so it's hard to say what is true. However, I have no problems believing that it's getting more common and acceptable in print.

    It seems to be the case that what is developing in the Oslo dialect is a draw between those who supported den dannede dagligtale and those who supported the use of a-endings. What we get is a 2-gender system with a lot of a-endings :)
  43. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Well, from what I understand from Dyvik, Fretheim, Julien, Johannessen et al. is that there are efforts made to redefine Norwegian (in general) as a 2-gender system with three natural genders. That being said, Norwegian will be the odd one out among the Scandinavian languages having a very predicatbale 3-gender basis within a 2-gender framework. Then again - it will make my life easier trying to explain why F and M agrees in virtually every aspect, save the definite singular endings, and the post-possessives, is so predictable.
    Yes - which is going to be darn confusing for Norwegian students! However, after seeing your line of reasoning, I am absolutely in favor of a reclassification of the gender system. Taxonomically speaking it makes a lot of sense. It has been educational for me to get a different view on the paradigm of grammatical genders. I am much indebted to you for that! :)
  44. myšlenka Senior Member

    This is maybe hair-splitting but I don't understand what you mean by "predictable". You explained earlier that the a-ending is predictable because the word is inherently feminine, but then again you have to really know that it is feminine and gender in Norwegian is generally unpredictable (unlike in Romance and Slavic). As I understand it, the prediction works better the opposite way. If a word takes -a for the definite singular, you can safely conclude that it is feminine.

    Also I am not sure that redefining Norwegian in general as a 2-gender system is a good idea. My dialect still shows F agreement with pre-possessives, the indefinite article, and the aforementioned adjectives in addition to having unique forms in the declension (-∅, -a, -e, -n respectively). The use of inga and the determiner hun/ho for F varies a lot, but in general I think I will be difficult for Johannessen et al. to squeeze all this into a 2-gender system. The Bergen dialect has beyond doubt a 2-gender system, the Oslo dialect is on the way to get one (a little more complicated) but there are many Norwegian dialects where M and F are distinct enough (In my opinion at least). Something worth pointing out is that a 2-gender system doesn't necessarily represent a simplified system :)

    Well, I am not necessarily in favour of a complete reclassification of gender in Norwegian as a whole, but one argument to analyze M and F as "broken" genders in C is that M and F never contrast like M and N, or F and N do.

    M and N contrasts: kar, fyr, kurs, ark...
    F and N contrasts: rot, ur...
    M and F contrasts: maybe skål?
  45. Ífaradà Junior Member

    I still hear people say ei bok, boka mi, boka di, and a pretty big increase in a-endings. I'm not that into grammar, but I don't understand why anyone would classify that as a 2-gender system when it's clearly not. Bergen seems like the only real exception.
  46. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Predictable in the sense that most Norwegian speakers (my estimate is more than 80%) will identify '"bok" with -a and with mi/di/si as post-possessive, but also identify "sykkel" with -en and min/din/sin. So, even with an increasing number of Norwegians will say "en bok" and "min bok" (in the sense pre-possessive are used), and that only one adjective differs in M and F, and hardly any determiners, we can assume ("predict") that 15-20% of Norwegian nouns will will have a definite singular ending of -a. For no other reason that most speakers associate that particular subcategory of nouns with a-endings. Consider the two aspects in the following: (1) en is replacing ei as the non-neuter article in South-Eastern dialects. (2) a-endings are increasingly common. That means we can predict that "en bok" also will be "boka", and "min bok", but "boka mi". If (1) is correct, then it seems to anticipate a merger of F and M, but is (2) is correct it seems to contradict it. Johannessen points out that more people use the form "elva" now than was the case previously. However, it is very often "en elv". This puts "elv" in the same subcategory as "bok" - a noun that has the same adjective forms and determiners (incl. articles) as "sykkel", but will most likely (outside Bergen) take an a-ending in definite singular, and not an en-ending. Because of this, it will use a different subset of post-possessives than "sykkel".

    But yes, this is based on knowledge, or rather, usage. A non-Norwegian speaker will not know this intuitively. When I say "3-traditional genders within a 2-gender framework", I can only imagine that the dictionary listing for "elv" will be "Elv, C-f", and for "sykkel" it will be "Sykkel, C-m".
    No, I agree, but if that is the case, I see the benefits. A noun classified as C means that the whole adjective and determiner system will be the same by default. Which it for all practical reasons is anyway. Think about it, it may not be any easier to describe F and M as having the same forms except for definite singular and post-possessives, than to say that F and M is the same form, but differ when it comes to definite singular and post-possessives.
    Which might be a valid point! Perhaps it is more accurate to say that M and F is the same thing - with two differences - than to say they are two different things that actually agrees in more than they differ.
  47. myšlenka Senior Member

    When you also think about the fact that in such a system (1) a-endings are limited while en-endings aren't and that (2) the choice of -en or -a for nouns that can take -a is governed by extra-linguistic factors, then you will have a lot of fun teaching this to your students. It will be a very complicated thing to learn :)
    If we are talking about the developments in the Oslo dialect, this will most likely be the case, but I will still keep 3 genders for most of the other Norwegian dialects where the differences between M and F are more numerous.

    EDIT: I spent some time yesterday trying to find nouns where a change from F to M would result in a change of meaning and I found 2 that would work in my dialect: skål and kork but their meanings as M or F are obviously closely related. The M/F-N contrasts I found represented very different meanings.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2014
  48. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member

    Hello all, bumping an old thread here since it's kind of hard to "seek" examples of this, and I remember there was a bit of confusion since I had heard one thing about genders which didn't seem correct.

    Anyway, there is a dialogue here where I wouldn't expect "den", (I might be wrong, but I can't really see what it's referring to)

    One friend says to another (a bit angrily):

    - Som om det er noe å le av! Har du tatt en kikk på skulpturene dine i det siste, eller?

    And the other replies:

    - Ojsann, den svei! Jeg skulle gitt deg en rett venstre om jeg ikke hadde vært så sulten!

    So she is replying "That stung!" (as in, the passive-insult the first friend made hurt) - but why does she say "den svei"? Is it referring to anything in particular?

  49. myšlenka Senior Member

    Maybe referring to the comment itself :)
  50. sjiraff

    sjiraff Senior Member

    I thought as much, but do you mean that it is "den" because she is referring to "en bemerkning"? It seems a bit ambiguous to me, since you could call "that which was said" almost anything, en fornærmelse, "et stygt utsagn" maybe?


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