Crosslinguistic categories, comparative concepts, and the Walman diminutive

Matthew S. Dryer 1
  • 1 Department of Linguistics, University at Buffalo, 616 Baldy hall, Buffalo, NY 14260, United States of America.
Matthew S. Dryer


In this article, I consider the notions of crosslinguistic categories and comparative concepts as they apply to a diminutive category in Walman, a language in the Torricelli family spoken in Papua New Guinea. I discuss three interpretations of the question of whether the Walman diminutive is a gender. One interpretation is the question whether the Walman diminutive is an instance of a crosslinguistic category of gender. I argue that this interpretation is problematic since it assumes the existence of crosslinguistic categories and I argue that there is no reason to believe that crosslinguistic categories exist, since the similarities among languages can be explained without appeal to crosslinguistic categories. A second interpretation involves a question of how the diminutive fits into the grammar of Walman, whether the diminutive should be considered a third value of a feature in the grammar of Walman which has two clear values, masculine and feminine. I argue that the evidence supports the view that the Walman diminutive is not a gender in this sense. The third interpretation is whether the Walman diminutive is an instance of a comparative concept of gender. But the answer to that question depends on how one defines gender as a comparative concept.

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Linguistic Typology publishes research on linguistic diversity and unity. It welcomes articles that report empirical findings about crosslinguistic variation, advance our understanding of the patterns of diversity, or refine typological methodology.