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Gender typology and gender (in)stability in Hindu Kush Indo-Aryan languages

Henrik Liljegren

This paper investigates the phenomenon of gender as it appears in 25 Indo-Aryan
languages (sometimes referred to as “Dardic”) spoken in the Hindu Kush-Karako-
rum region – the mountainous areas of northeastern Afghanistan, northern Pak-
istan and the disputed territory of Kashmir. Looking at each language in terms
of the number of genders present, to what extent these are sex-based or non-sex-
based, how gender relates to declensional differences, and what systems of assign-
ment are applied, we arrive at a micro-typology of gender in Hindu Kush Indo-
Aryan, including a characterization of these systems in terms of their general com-
plexity. Considering the relatively close genealogical ties, the languages display a
number of unexpected and significant differences. While the inherited sex-based
gender system is clearly preserved in most of the languages, and perhaps even
strengthened in some, it is curiously missing altogether in others (such as in Kalasha
and Khowar) or seems to be subject to considerable erosion (e.g. in Dameli). That
the languages of the latter kind are all found at the northwestern outskirts of the
Indo-Aryan world suggests non-trivial interaction with neighbouring languages
without gender or with markedly different assignment systems. In terms of com-
plexity, the southwestern-most corner of the region stands out; here we find a few
languages (primarily belonging to the Pashai group) that combine inherited sex-
based gender differentiation with animacy-related distinctions resulting in highly
complex agreement patterns. The findings are discussed in the light of earlier obser-
vations of linguistic areality or substratal influence in the region, involving Indo-
Aryan, Iranian, Nuristani, Tibeto-Burman, Turkic languages and Burushaski. The
present study draws from the analysis of earlier publications as well as from en-
tirely novel field data.


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