Noun Classes

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Noun Classes


lexical-grammatical categories characteristic of some of the world’s languages (African, Northern Caucasian, North American Indian, and certain other languages), the markers of which (affixes) can take part in both word formation and agreement of words in the sentence. In the typologically diverse African languages, noun classes are most clearly expressed in the Bantu languages, where they operate both on the level of word formation and the derivation of word forms and on the syntactic level (for example, Swahili kitu kidogo kipo hapa, “there is a small thing here”). The Bantoid languages have morphemes that correspond genetically to noun-class markers, but they fulfill only word-formative functions and do not produce agreement in the sentence. In the Bantu languages the noun classes are expressed by prefixes, and in the Bantoid languages, by prefixes, suffixes, or confixes. The various Bantu languages have different numbers of noun classes; there are 13 in Swahili, 14 in Zulu, and 16 in Kikuyu. In the hypothetically reconstructed Bantu parent language there are 23 noun classes.

In the Northern Caucasian languages noun classes can express the category of number and may be found in nouns and words with which they agree. The noun itself does not always have a noun-class marker. More often this marker is connected with the words that agree with the noun (verbs, adjectives, numerals, and sometimes adverbs). The distribution of nouns into classes is based on principles that vary for different languages (animateness-inanimateness, masculine gender-feminine gender, shape of the objects, and so on). For example, in Avar ustar v-ačana, “the master came”; čužu j-ačana, “the woman came”; ču b-ačana, “the horse came.”


Johnston, H. Comparative Study of the Bantu and Semi-Bantu Languages, vols. 1–2. Oxford, 1919–22.
Meinhof, K. “Die afrikanischen Klassensprachen in ihrer Bedeutung für die Geschichte der Sprache.” Scientia, 1931, vol. 50, nos. 7–9.
Dirr, A. Einführung in das Studium der kaukasischen Sprachen. Leipzig, 1928.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The noun classes go back to an original Proto-Bantu (5) system where singular and plural nouns are paired, meaning that the nouns in class 1 take their plural in class 2, etc.
Washington, March 13 ( ANI ): The new study reveals that four-to-seven-year-old children rely on the sounds of new nouns more than on their meaning when assigning them to noun classes, even though the meaning is more predictive of noun class in the adult language.
The notion of gender adopted in this paper conforms to that of mainstream typological literature, where gender and noun classes are viewed as the same grammatical phenomenon and the term gender is used as a hyperonym of the two.
Ndebele nouns, like other Bantu noun systems, have noun classes. Acronyms have to fall into these noun classes.
Although the boundary between these two kinds of possessive relations is language-specific, certain noun classes almost always appear in inalienable constructions in languages with a clear alienability split.
Craig (Ed.), Noun Classes and Categorization, 139-180.
Noun classes and noun classification in typological perspective.
In most noun classes the two vowels are identical, as illustrated by maja ~ maja, 'puu ~ puu, mote ~ 'motte and auto ~ auto.
Anindilyakwa is renowned for its long words and its complex grammar that includes five non-human noun classes and extensive prefixing and suffixing systems.