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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a linguistic category that is typical primarily of substantives denoting living beings. This category constitutes the universal semantic opposition of animateness-inanimateness, which is reflected in the structure of languages of different types.

To a considerable degree, animateness determines the structural appearance of languages with an active typology (Amerindian language groups, such as Na-Dene, Siouan, Gulf, and Tupi-Guarani). The opposition of active and inactive noun classes is based on the distinction between animate realia (persons, animals, and sometimes plants) and inanimate realia (objects). Active and stative verbs convey the distinction between animate and inanimate actions.

These principles of lexical organization determine features of syntax and morphology: for example, active verbs form an active sentence construction; stative verbs, an inactive construction. Active verbs include personal affixes of the active series; stative verbs, personal affixes of the inactive series. The morphological structure of active verbs is considerably richer than that of stative verbs. An active and inactive case correlation may exist in a noun declension paradigm.

Considerably fewer structural elements are conditioned by the animate-inanimate opposition in languages of the ergative type (for example, the Chukchi-Kamchatkan languages) and nominative type (for example, Indo-European languages). In languages of the ergative type, there are more noun classes, owing to the introduction of an additional classification principle, and there are two plural forms and several cases (for example, the ergative). In languages of the nominative type, animateness-inanimateness is manifested only on the periphery of the linguistic structure. Compare, for example, the Russian distinction between the plural accusative case forms of animate and inanimate nouns: vizhu belykh koz, “I see white goats,” versus vizhu belye oblaka, “I see white clouds.” In Russian, vetrom slomalo derevo (literally, “by-wind it-broke tree”), “the tree was broken by the wind” or “the wind broke the tree,” is a possible construction; however, it is not possible to construct sentences of the type medvedem slomalo derevo (”by-bear it-broke tree”).

In the history of many languages there is a complex interaction between animate-inanimate opposition and the categories of gender (compare the dependence of both on the number of noun agreement classes in Russian) and person-nonperson. The most common tendency in the development of languages is to reduce the influence of the animate-inanimate feature on structure, although in some languages, such as Bantu, there is evidence of an opposite tendency.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(12.) Any attempt to relate the feature of animateness to gender finds diachronic support from what Meillet (1931) has observed about the genesis of gender in Indo-European.