Combining gender and classifiers in natural language

Workshop on Gender and Classifiers: Diachronic and Synchronic Variation

Following two previous workshops – 'Gender and Classifiers: Cross-linguistic perspectives' in 2014 and 'Gender and Classifiers: Areal and genealogical perspectives' in 2015 – for our third workshop we want to take a closer look at gender and classifiers from the perspective of both diachronic and synchronic variation. The workshop will take place on 28th - 29th January 2016 at the University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.

Everyone is welcome to attend. However, since lunch will be provided it would be helpful if you could let us know if you are planning to come by emailing Tim Feist (


Gender and classifiers are usually thought of as two distinct, yet mutually exclusive, systems of noun categorisation. In a gender system, as for example in Italian or German, nouns are assigned one or more genders on a semantic or formal basis, and the genders of the language can be defined by sets of markers on agreement targets. In a classifier system, as we find it in Chinese or Vietnamese for instance, a noun appears with a semantically compatible classifier in certain contexts, e.g. quantification with a numeral. But recent research has turned up more and more languages (mostly Papuan, South American, and Australian) in which the two co-occur, yielding overlapping and interacting systems of classification.

The role that diachronic and synchronic variation play in languages which exhibit both systems is an exciting and new area of enquiry which promises to expand our understanding of the relation between the two systems, particularly in light of the fact that they are often involved in processes of grammaticalisation (e.g. gender systems which develop from classifier systems).

This workshop is part of the research project “Combining Gender and Classifiers in Natural Language” funded by the AHRC (UK). 

Invited Speaker: Professor Maria Polinsky (University of Maryland) 

Language tutorial:

As a special part of this workshop, Professor Gunter Senft (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen) has kindly agreed to give a language tutorial on the system of classifiers in Kilivila, the Austronesian language of the Trobriand Islanders of Papua New Guinea.


Thursday, 28th January 2016

09.30–10.00 Welcome coffee
10.00–11.00 Keynote — Modelling the rise and fall of gender. Masha Polinsky (University of Maryland)
11.00–11.40 Against the agreement analysis of 'classifier' morphemes in sign languages. Adam Schembri (University of Birmingham) 
11.40–12.10 Coffee break
12.10–12.50 Concurrent systems: Refining the typology. Sebastian Fedden & Greville Corbett (University of Sydney / University of Surrey) 
12.50–13.30 The noun classification system of Hamar: between gender and classifiers. Sara Petrollino (Laboratoire Dynamique du Langage du CNRS - Lyon 2) 
13.30–14.30 Lunch break
14.30–15.10 Mapping diachronic pathways in nominal classification: Issues in complexity. Matthias Passer (University of Amsterdam)
15.10–15.50 'Stones' and 'grains' as counting devices: Grammaticalisation and lexicalisation in a possible North Peruvian Coastal–Upper Amazonia Sprachbund. Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia & Rita Eloranta (MPI-Nijmegen & University of Leiden LUCL) 
15.50–16.20 Coffee break
16.20–17.00 Keeping track of discourse participants: Just how helpful are gender and classifiers? Timothy Feist (University of Surrey) 

Friday, 29th January 2016

09.30–10.00 Welcome coffee
10.00–11.40 Kilivila tutorial. Gunter Senft (MPI-Nijmegen) 
11.40–12.10 Coffee break
12.10–12.50 Microvariation in noun class membership in North Bougainville. Bill Palmer & Ellen Smith (University of Newcastle, Australia / UCL) 
12.50–13.30 Gender assignment in Tsova-Tush and the role of minor classes. Thomas Wier (Free University of Tbilisi) 
13.30–14.30 Lunch break
14.30–15.10 Interaction of gender and numeral classifiers: A typological survey. Kaius Sinnemäki (University of Helsinki) 
15.10–15.50 Heterogeneity and variation in the use of Ecuadorian Siona classifiers. Martine Bruil (University of California, Berkeley) 
15.50–16.20 Coffee break
16.20–17.00 A study of complex nominal classification systems: The Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan sandwich. Marc Tang & Marcin Kilarski (Centre of Linguistic Research of South-East Asia (CRLAO)-INALCO/EHESS, Paris / Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań) 

Project members

Prof Greville G. Corbett
Dr Matthew Baerman
Dr Dunstan Brown (University of York)
Dr Sebastian Fedden
Dr Timothy Feist


Prof Maria Polinsky (University of Maryland)
Prof Gunter Senft (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen)

Period of award:

April 2013 - May 2016


Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)