Functions of gender and numeral classifiers in Nepali

Marc Allassonnière-Tang 1  and Marcin Kilarski 2
  • 1 CNRS/University of Lyon, Lyon, France
  • 2 Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland
Marc Allassonnière-Tang and Marcin Kilarski


We examine the complex nominal classification system in Nepali (Indo-European, Indic), a language spoken at the intersection of the Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan language families, which are usually associated with prototypical examples of grammatical gender and numeral classifiers, respectively. In a typologically rare pattern, Nepali possesses two gender systems based on the human/non-human and masculine/feminine oppositions, in addition to which it has also developed an inventory of at least ten numeral classifiers as a result of contact with neighbouring Sino-Tibetan languages. Based on an analysis of the lexical and discourse functions of the three systems, we show that their functional contribution involves a largely complementary distribution of workload with respect to individual functions as well as the type of categorized nouns and referents. The study thus contributes to the ongoing discussions concerning the typology and functions of nominal classification as well as the effects of long-term language contact on language structure.

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