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El abundante agua fría: Hermaphroditic Spanish Nouns

Authors
  • Eddington, David
  • Hualde, José Ignacio
Type
Published Article
Journal
Studies in Hispanic and Lusophone Linguistics
Publisher
De Gruyter Mouton
Publication Date
Mar 01, 2008
Volume
1
Issue
1
Pages
5–32
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/shll-2008-1004
Source
De Gruyter
License
Yellow

Abstract

According to some Spanish grammarians, including the Royal Spanish Academy, nouns like agua ‘water’, asa ‘handle’, etc., are feminine and take a phonologicallyconditioned allomorph of the definite article (el) that is identical to the masculine article. Our data, both from an experiment and from electronic searches, show that there is considerable fluctuation in the gender of prenominal, but not postnominal, modifiers, with nouns in this group even when no phonological conditioning is found. The facts are incompatible with models where nouns bear a specific gender feature of the lexicon, which they assign to all targets of agreement. Instead, these facts of hybrid agreement are best accounted for in an exemplar model. Regardless of the phonological origin of the phenomenon, speakers interpret sequences such as el agua as showing masculine agreement, which creates an analogical attractor for non-etymological agreement with prenominal modifiers, as in poco agua, el abundante agua, etc.

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