The Original Nominal System of Proto-Indoeuropean - Case and Gender

As shown above - see the pages referring to early Proto-Indoeuropean syntactic structure and verbal endings - I assume that the later Indoeuropean nominative is a recent case which did not exist when Proto-Indoeuropean was an ergative type language. Regardless of noun constructions where the genetive was probably already used I assume at least three cases as fundamental for the syntactic structure of early Proto-Indoeuropean. These cases are the locative ending in -i which I suppose to be used as ergative case, the dative in -ei/-oi which I suppose to be used as agent case in a reflexive sense and the later accusative which I suppose to be used as absolute case.

 I assume that Proto-Indoeuropean was a two gender language originally distinguishing animate and inanimate nouns. This hypothesis is not new and is based on the fact that Hittite (and its relatives) which is documented by written sources as early as the first half of the second millennium BC does not distinguish between male and female but only between animate and inanimate gender, i.e. it lacks the female gender marking a-declension. Nevertheless, some scientists maintain that Hittite may have lost a former a-declension and therefore also the female gender. I can hardly believe this loss, but even if it happened one must realize the weak position of the Indoeuropean female gender. There are no different endings in comparision with the "male" gender, but the nominative singular of the a-declension which lacks the -s-ending. This ending agrees with the ending of the inanimate gender's nominative plural ending and seems to be of the same origin. From this point a new paradigm of female marked lexems has arisen - originally just a matter of word-formation and not a real gender. The female gender was born by introducing a special female gender concordance system based on the a-declension. It is worth noticing that the separation of the new gender has not changed the old animate gender itself. So I think it is incorrect that Indoeuropean languages possess the three genders male - female - neuter. The real gender system is animate versus inanimate with the special case of female gender within the animate gender. There is no marker for a male gender and I think that there is no real male gender within the Indoeuropean languages. Therefore it becomes clear that this class of simply animate nouns represents the normal case. This preference has nothing to do with patriarchal mind (as maintained by feminist linguists) - it is just a matter of general versus special.

 From the point of view that Proto-Indoeuropean lacked the nominative originally and that the current accusative was used as absolute case at that time, it is not surprising that this case is the only one distinguishing the original genders animate versus inanimate by the markers -m and -d. See the page referring to a special phonetic law for the reasons why I am assuming the inanimate ending -d of the absolute (later accusative) case not only for pronouns but also for nouns. I am further assuming that the endings -m/-d are not case endings at all but the original gender markers - the absolute case bore no special case ending at nouns. See the page referring to relations between Indoeuropean and Afroasiatic languages for possible connections of the gender markers -m/-d! Regarding personal pronouns which do not distinguish gender in Indoeuropean languages one must be interested in their accusative (absolute case) ending. I think that the ending in this special case is -e due to Greek enclitic personal pronouns me < m+-e ("me"), se < t(u)+-e ("you") and he < s(u)+-e ("himself"). This ending corresponds with the endings of the intransitive verb which are the nowaday perfect endings as shown in the pages about verbal endings and syntactic structure.

 Last but not least it is interesting how the nominative case came into being. The form for the inanimate gender is not different from the accusative at all. The nominative of the animate gender generally ends in -s (provided that nominatives with long ending vowel like Greek patér show -s-compensating lengthening). I think that the later article *so / *seh2 / *tod (animate / female / inanimate) has simply been suffixed to the endingless noun stem. As the verb already corresponded to the agent of the sentence, it is not surprising that this primitive innovation was well-suited to win the run for the agent representation. This was the begin of the Indoeuropean nominative era leading to the commonly reconstructed Proto-Indoeuropean stage.

Back to table of contents

Written by Hans-Joachim Alscher