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Grammatical Gender

The oldest attested Indo-European language, Hittite lacks several grammatical features exhibited by other “old” Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit, Latin, Ancient Greek, Old Persian, and Avestan. Notably, Hittite does not have the IE gender system opposing masculine-feminine; instead it has a rudimentary noun class system based on an older animate-inanimate opposition.

Many Indo-European languages, though not English, provide archetypical examples of grammatical gender. Research indicates that the earliest stages of Proto-Indo-European had two genders (animate and inanimate), as did Hittite, the earliest attested Indo-European language. According to this theory, the animate gender, which (unlike the inanimate) had an independent accusative form, later split into masculine and feminine, thus originating the three-way classification into masculine, feminine, and neuter.

Many Indo-European languages retained these three genders, including most Slavic languages, Latin, Sanskrit, Ancient and Modern Greek, and German. In these languages, there is a high but not absolute correlation between grammatical gender and declensional class. Many linguists believe this to be true of the middle and late stages of Proto-Indo-European.

However, many languages reduced the number of genders to two. Some lost the neuter, leaving masculine and feminine; these include most Romance languages (see Vulgar Latin: Loss of neuter; a few traces of the neuter remain, such as the distinct Spanish pronoun ello), as well as Hindustani and the Celtic languages. Others merged feminine and the masculine into a common gender, but have retained neuter, as in Swedish (and to some extent Dutch; see Gender in Dutch grammar).

Finally, some languages, such as English and Afrikaans, have nearly completely lost grammatical gender (retaining only some traces, such as the English pronouns he, she and it), whereas Bengali, Persian, Armenian, Assamese, Oriya, Khowar, and Kalasha have lost it entirely.

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