Gender Agreement in a Tamil-Hindi Bilingual Situation: The Role of Feature Valuation


  • Madhusmitha Venkatesan Indian Institute of Technology Delhi


Within the Generative paradigm, variation is understood in terms of features. A crucial mechanism for this is the Borer-Chomsky Conjecture, explained in Baker (2008) as: ‘All parameters of variation are attributable to differences in the features of particular items in the lexicon.’ This paper is an attempt to understand a case of asymmetric bilingualism of Hindi-Urdu (Indo-Aryan) and Tamil (Dravidian) and to explain the resultant changes in gender agreement in terms of featural configurations of functional heads. The empirical core is set in New Delhi, with simultaneous bilinguals acquiring Tamil (L1) at home and Hindi-Urdu (L2) from the external environment. While both grammars mark gender information on the verb, Hindi-Urdu has grammatical and biological gender. In Tamil, on the other hand, gender is purely semantic. The Hindi- Urdu grammar of this bilingual population appears to find gender agreement challenging. This paper adopts a representational approach; the loss of Gender is analysed as the deletion of an uninterpretable valued feature on a functional head. The first approach is to posit the uninterpretability of the feature as the cause of deletion. The inability of this claim to hold up empirically is then taken to mean that the explanation for the deletion of the feature lies in its other property: Value. Reanalysis of the change in contact situations reveals that losing valued features could simply be a strategy adopted by languages in an effort to be more parsimonious.