Noun classes grow on trees: noun classification in the North-East Caucasus


Plaster, Keith, Maria Polinsky, and Boris Harizanov. “Noun Classes Grow on Trees: Noun Classification in the North-East Caucasus”. Language and Representations (Tentative). John Benjamins, In Press. Print.


Noun classes (genders) have long played an important role in the understanding of language structure and human categorization. The current study presents and analyzes the division of nouns into classes in Tsez (Dido), an endangered Nakh-Dagestanian language of the Northeast Caucasus. Computational modeling of the Tsez system shows that noun classification in Tsez is highly predictable, with a simple semantic core and a set of highly salient formal features, that can be ranked with respect to one another. Such a system would be easily accessible to children acquiring the language, and the proposed analysis does not require additional semantic or categorical assumptions. The study serves as a proof of principle for the computational approach to the analysis of noun classification.