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Functions of gender and numeral classifiers in Nepali

  • Marc Allassonnière-Tang and Marcin Kilarski EMAIL logo


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.

Marcin Kilarski Faculty of English Adam Mickiewicz University Collegium Heliodori Święcicki Grunwaldzka 6 60-780 Poznań Poland


7 Acknowledgements

We thank the three anonymous reviewers and the editors for their constructive comments, which led to significant improvements of the paper. We are also grateful for the fruitful discussion with the audience of the workshop “Genders and Classifiers: Diachronic and Synchronic Variation” at the Surrey Morphology Group in Guildford, Surrey, 28–29 January 2016. Special thanks to Pustak Ghimire for the insightful comments and suggestions on the grammatical structure of Nepali. Many thanks also to Devi ram Ghimire for his comments and good food. We are fully responsible for any remaining errors.





sortal classifier



F, fem



high honorific


interrogative quantifier


low honorific

M, masc



mensural classifier


middle honorific


modifier particle























Speech levels (LOW.HON MID.HON, HIGH.HON)

are only indicated in the glosses when relevant to the discussion

otherwise low honorific forms (LOW.HON)

are indicated.


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Published Online: 2020-03-10
Published in Print: 2020-03-26

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